An Idiot’s Guide to Baudrillard
Author’s Note — This is the first of (hopefully) many philosophy related articles to come. Credit goes to my good friend Jake Lee (go check out his medium btw), who inspired me to write about Philosophy.
French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007), is one of the the most significant contributors to the contemporary philosophies of Post-Modernism and Post-Marxism, as well as dubbed “high priest of Post-Modernism”. His work is oftentimes known for being incredibly incomprehensible, with increasingly archaic language as he rambles on and on. Due to this, the everyday layman has trouble comprehending his work (as do I), and even the online descriptions of his work is a slog to get through, so I thought to write an article going into the concepts on a surface level.
The crux of Jean Baudrillard’s work lies on the idea of the Simulation, Simulacra and an idea known as “hyperreality”. Most of his work focuses on critiquing the media and consumerism ,and it’s influence on modern society, although he also has ventured into topics such as the Gulf War. To lay the basic terminology to be used, one must understand the most common “big words” he uses. The most basic idea that Baudrillard states is that what we experience as “reality”, is not real. Yes, I know this is a edgy statement, that makes you think we’re plugged into the Matrix (fun fact — the Matrix was inspired by Baudrillard, but Baudrillard distanced himself from the movies). However, the simulation is not literally a computer simulation, or what we typically think of, rather it is saying that what we experience as reality, is a false, watered down, version of what the “true reality” is. To make it simpler — imagine a hamburger. When we want to eat a hamburger, we don’t desire the pathetic, grey looking, smooshed McDonalds burger that exists in reality, rather we desire the juicy tall burger in the Commercials. The simulacra is the thing being simulated — that being the McDonalds burger in the above scenario. In Baudrillard’s view, reality is replaced with these drab watered down versions of reality have had dire impacts in our postmodern world.
Baudrillard states that society has progressed through 3 stages — the real, which is the original reality, the distorted reality, which is romanticized, (think of a comparison between a romantic style painting and the thing being represented), which still has connections to reality. However, as time progressed, society involved into the hyperreal with the onset of mass media, where there is no connection between the thing being simulated and the reality. For example, the creation of virtual profiles (such as catfishing profiles, which have no resemblance to the actual person) and products being sold before they even exist are all examples of the hyperreal.
Another criticism Baudrillard presents in his critique of the postmodern world is that of spectacle. The spectacle is the circuses that the ruling class gives us, the oversaturated, commoditized, society that we live in, where we are blasted with ads every 2 seconds. Baudrillard states that spectacle is what drives modern conflict, with the West itching for the next disaster to watch, for the next piece of entertainment to consume. This is ever more present in the movies we watch, with every movie having the “stake of the world” at it’s hands, while we watch millions of people die on screen, becoming more and more desensitized to the violence. When we exit the movie theater and flip on CNN or Fox News, we see the suffering on TV, and the line between the suffering on the big screen begin to blur together. The hunger for that spectacle is what drives the West’s exploitative model of development, with us artificially creating problems in order to solve, all in order to bring home a spectacle showing ourselves as the good guys, the saviors. Essentially, our savior complex is created by the media which we consume, thus causing us to create problems to solve when we run out of real ones, in order to justify the continuation of the spectacle. Baudrillard’s empirical example of this is the Gulf War, which he claimed never happened. Rather, the war was a spectacle, and the portrayal of the war a simulation of what really happened, which was a one sided beatdown of the Iraqi military. The West was not presented with the Iraqi side, and all the general public learned about the war was the propaganda spoon fed to them by the mainstream media, which was a heavily stylized simulation of reality designed to serve the interests of the American spectacle. It is impossible to distinguish what truly happened and what we learned about the war through the media, thus the war itself was a simulacra.
If you have any questions or want to talk about Baudrillard, feel free to message me on discord @ Pi#4166