Jean Baudrillard

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Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007) was a French sociologist and post-modernist. Baudrillard was born in Reims, France and also attended university there, studying an emphasis on German, German texts and literature, and eventually German philosophy. While he was learning and teaching German and German thought, he was simultaneously acquiring his degree in sociology, afterwards writing his first book, The System of Objects, under a Marxist historian. He combined the Marxist political economy with the study of semiotics and developed his own independent thought derived from, but not entirely accepting the totality of those courses of study. Baudrillard's work created the foundation for future post-modernist thought and continues to influence theory and research today via his unique perspective of society and how it operates in a technological world.[1]


Post-modernism is a school of sociological thought that posits that, due to the nature of symbols, symbolic reproduction, media distribution, and development of technology, we are living in a world that is presenting images that are not reflective of reality as it really exists, but rather reflective of a reality that is consistently asserted to exist without existing. For instance, to imagine a type of any food existing in the form of a candy bar with artificial flavoring is not actually a manifestation of that food, but rather a simulation of the manifestation of food. Strawberry flavoring gets to the point where it is treated as 'real' strawberry flavoring, despite it having plain and obvious difference to the flavor of actually existing strawberries.

The strawberry example applies to reality as well, in the form of media and symbols shaping the definitions of the world around us beyond what actually exists, asserting things that aren't real, and rejecting things that are. Human behavior is regarded as 'natural' despite there being clear societal forces at play in determining the world around them, and shaping the decisions and desires that individuals hold in the context of a modern society. However, post-modernism doesn't just address this situational behavior existing the way it is, but goes further and analyzes how situational behavior is merely seen as the default character, the original and base perspective, the 'normal'. In particular, it vehemently questions the legitimacy of such claims of 'human nature' and the existence of a mass-idea that the images and representations that we see throughout symbolic distribution are in fact reflective of real life, and tries to point out when they are not reflective of real life but rather a presentation of a reality of nonexistence. The relationship between what the person does, wants, and fears with the blatant assumption that reality exists in the way that is thought to exist, and how we are living our lives as if we are living in a reality that isn't ours, is the fundamental basis of postmodernism.[2]

Simulation and simulacra[edit]

Baudrillard's main work that summarizes his work on Post-modernism and the existence of simulations within reality. According to Baudrillard, simulations are forms of reality at which it is no longer derived from anything real, but rather that it is its own separate, distinct reality(he likes the word desert here) with bits of reality poking through here and there. He describes simulations as neither real nor fake, neither true nor false. They are their own separate entity creating and shaping its own artificial reality distinct from 'baseline' reality, complete with (functionally)real consequences and developments. Essentially, the structure of reality and how it forms is circularly determined and distributed, with no forseeable end in sight. The symptoms/consequences of society are not just real, but are also constructed by the very structure of the society itself. While real consequences may exist in reality, there is no distinction between those manifesting from the simulation and those that are simply natural reactions from reality itself.

He uses examples of psychological medicinal care, the army, and religions to make his point. Within medicinal psychological and psychiatric care, there is a clear base assumption of what is psychologically 'normal', and what is not. Rather than being a reflection of reality, it instead presents this interpretation regardless of reality's makeup as a reality in it of itself. It presents illnesses in a way defined not by reality but rather by the definition of illness within the confines of the simulation. Because the simulation is not based on reality, definitions of psychological illnesses within a simulation are definitionally and necessarily not reflective of reality either. Within the army, a 'direct principle of identification' exists, where people within are labeled based on equivalent definitions blurring the lines between the real and the produced system. Even in religion, Baudrillard indicts the character of god as a simple simulacrum, an artificial character that has no bearing on reality, but is presented as existing within reality. Beyond the simple image, the symbol held a constructed character, a model of existence.

Effects of a simulation[edit]

There are four stages of the development of the image. First, an image directly represents that which it took an image of. Baudrillard labels this as a 'good' image, as it loosely represents reality unbiasedly. The second stage is one at which the image is presented a specific way to assert a certain 'correct' perspective on reality, such as a framing of a value-statement, or an opinion being injected in the information. It distorts it to the point where it's technically true but does not actually make sense. The third stage involves a 'cover-up' of reality, in which the image actively attempts to negate the fact that it is not based on reality, such as a propaganda engine that tries to quell any indicators that they aren't covering reality. The final stage is one at which the image presented has no relation to reality at all. Similar to the disclaimer at the beginning of movies, it is akin to the philosophy of "any persons or events that happen in this movie holding similarity to things happening in reality are purely coincidental". It disregards an objective existence of a reality entirely and instead uses reality to shape its own version of what is 'real'.

This form of simulation is coined as a 'hyperreal' society, one at which simulations are no longer a presentation of a reality, but are for all intents and purposes are reality. Baudrillard's hallmark example in this essay is where he mentions Disneyland, noting it as a completely fabricated and administered experience devoid of actual substance. The only 'real' thing in the amusement park is the people themselves, existing in a totally administered world of gadgets, fronts, presentations, and facades of experiences all provided with the sole intention of callous 'entertainment'. However, this is a misleading institution as its existence suggests that everything outside of Disneyland is the 'real', where the theme park is simply fantasy. In reality, the world outside Disneyland, the structure of America, is being fed 'reality energy' by the supposedly 'blatantly fantastic' worlds of theme parks. It effectually legitimizes the simulation in convincing its members that they are able to discern the real from the fake, the presented, when actually it is everything that is presented.

The parody of reality[edit]

A simulation is a peculiar concept in that a successful one is simultaneously a parody of reality and an insult to reality at the same time. It is presented as a version of reality disconnected from what is real, utilizing itself to justify its own existence. Simultaneously, it is successful when it succeeds in convincing the people within the simulation that it is, in fact, reality that is a simulation. It convinces people that whatever 'reality' is is actually not real, and that the simulation itself is the core, base, fundamental reality. This has the necessary conclusion that at this point in history we are unable to discern the differences between the real and the simulation. We are not able or knowledgeable as to differentiating key characteristics of the real and the simulation, and the nature of each and how they operate. The line of the 'real' is so blurred that it is essentially clear at this point, meaningless and unknowable.

The signs that are implemented to uphold the simulation are convincingly inseparable from the signs that reflect reality. Power itself is subject to the construction of the simulation, ultimately blending in with real power to the point where simulated power and real power are convincingly the same. They are treated with the same regard and have no qualms of separation or legitimacy, and instead are based on an arbitrary situation that is not concerned with the actual nature of reality. Similarly, the production of goods are of the same nature. No longer is the explanation of goods and services in the context of the political economy apply: they are now produced as an end to achieve 'the real', to achieve products and goods that not just emulate, but are reality. However, this conception is in it of itself contradictory, as to artificially plan and produce a 'reality', is to simultaneously redefine what reality is and to disregard the nature of actual reality. It is not truth or lies, but something else entirely. It is an assertion of existence where none exists.

Ideology to simulation[edit]

Baudrillard summarizes this idea by noting the role of work in society: while protestant work ethics have been an important ideology to consider in the development of our capitalist structure, the ideology itself has collapsed and transformed into something else entirely. A job exists only to serve the assertion of an existence when in reality there is none, and is instead a given need in the simulation. The need for a job is one that is so all-encompassing and necessary that it is an assumed reality to uphold the fiction of human needs of existence, an apolitical structure and assertion shaping our lives in a way that is in no way actually required to the scale that is supposedly and consistently assumed.

Work, instead of existing as an ideology, now exists as scenario. It exists as a taken-for-granted function of reality to cover up the fact that it, in its form, is not actually something of substance, is not actually a reference to a negation of an existing symbol. In a workers strike, it is commonly socially decided that they are incapable of making change, incapable of doing their supposed purpose. This is not an accident, and is a side-effect of the reality of our work-culture. The form of the strike differentiates itself from the work that is being done to uphold the 'real' of the work itself, unknowingly creating a dichotomy at which the strike's effectiveness in actually changing things is at a bare minimum, if at all. Rather, the illusion and simulation of the strike is instead a prescribed function of it, another event in the 'social calendar', scheduled as an effect of the situation rather than stemming from organic means. Ideology, of work or otherwise, refers to a "betrayal of reality by signs", a negation of something else that exists within. As a simulation, however, it exists not as a negation of something but rather a "short-circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs", a constructed image uncaring for the nature of reality and diluting itself to the point at which it is universal, simplified, and yet nothing at all.[3]