Implosion, Manipulation, and Surveillance

Kelly Maudslien

...implosion -- an absorption of the radiating mode of causality, of the differential mode of determination, with its positive and negative charge -- an implosion of meaning. That is where simulation begins.

Simulation collapses formerly opposing poles; those of the representation and the real. This both kills the relation of the sign to reality and equates the two. Simulation involves creating a model which exceeds or precedes the reality on which it is based. Indeed, simulacra need not have a base or relation to any reality at all. Communication on the internet may be a good example of a Baudrillardian simulacrum. An earlier form of communication, the letter, travels through time and space in order to convey meaning through written words, signs. Simulcast television can bypass or implode time but not space. A programmed viewed in real time is still a representation of the actual event. The internet implodes not only time but also space. Two people interacting in cyberspace are experiencing the same time and the same place, though they may be on opposite sides of the globe. Another equally valid way of putting it is that the infinite reproducibility of hypertext implodes spatiality itself. The streams of exchanged information do not substitute for a real presence, as do written letters. Rather, they simulate a real presence. Simulated communication -- the words on a computer screen ;-) -- refer not to the absent author but only to itself. The technology is barren of meaning.

The spatial implosion is also a good description of the internet since it implies an oversaturated, finite nucleus. The internet may seem to branch off indefinitely, but since it is a simulacrum, it is finite and feeds only off itself. This relegates it to the third order, the true simulation. The first order is that of the transcendent Romantic separation of the real and the imaginary. The second order includes the productive, excessive, and science fiction. The third order of the simulacrum involves the transparency of models; there is no real anticipated beyond the fiction. There is no end interpretation toward which to strive and expand. Such transparency kills the desire which belongs to the second order: "The ideal of the simultaneous all-at-once-ness of computerized information access undermines any world that is worth knowing." (Heim, The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace) The quest for expansive knowledge yields to indifference when meaning implodes into a finite, graspable medium.

However, if people no longer wish to interpret, they still need to ingest.

People have the desire to take everything, to pillage everything, to swallow everything, to manipulate everything. Seeing, deciphering, learning, does not touch them. The only massive affect is that of manipulation... the absurd challenge of the transparency and democracy of culture -- each person taking away a fetishized bolt of this culture itself fetishized. (69-70)

The simulated medium makes no pretense at objectivity. Simulation does not simply alter or reconfigure the message; simulation is the message. In this kind of framework, endless manipulations and interactions are possible. Cloning is an example of taking everything in; it is almost a literal implosion of the body in potentially endless self-referential reproductions. Technology may render sexual reproduction unnecessary, a remainder.

Another example of this desire for the power of manipulation is surveillance. Baudrillard describes surveillance cameras in terms of deterrence. These cameras need not physically prevent shoppers in a mall from stealing merchandise. They need not even be monitored constantly. Their mere presence is a deterrent to shoplifting since it both alludes to and is a policing authority. Surveillance collapses the distance between the allusion and the real; it simulates repression. Taken beyond repression, however, surveillance finds a new medium in television shows such as COPS and The Real World. What are the implications of simulacra on this form? It is true that the people/characters on The Real World are not actors. Yet they are specifically instructed before each season begins to act naturally. If this actually was the real world and not a simulated world, then no such instructions would be necessary. In normal sitcoms, the distance between actor and real person is clear (despite the frequent use of the star's name in shows such as The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Seinfeld, and Ellen.) In The Real World, the distinction between performance and reality does not exist. It implodes. The people/characters do not have to actually lie or act falsely in order to become simulacra; their actions refer not to a script but to their own selves.

[To other discussions of Baudrillard by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

Theory Cyberspace OV Website Overview