Simulacrum

Las Vegas, the (supposedly) impossible city

Simulacrum. It’s a fascinating word. According to the dictionary, it means:

an image or representation of someone or something.

The world we live in is increasingly becoming one big simulacrum. Las Vegas and its hundreds of tropical resort-themed casinos and hotels (in the middle of what used to be a desert) used to be the poster-child of simulacra, but I think it has recently been unseated, by the ubiquitous city.

The city is one big simulacrum. Everywhere I look, I see plastic replicas of things: fake flowers, petals, even trees. “Wood” textured cabinet doors made of plastic. Entire malls modelled after actual places in other parts of the world, like The Venetian in Macau and Terminal 21 in Bangkok. Things that resemble other things (but are not actually those things) are slowly but steadily appearing everywhere, and it’s a little disconcerting.

What about the real deal?

My worry of living in a world that is essentially becoming a huge imitation and simulation stems from the lack of authenticity. We want wooden doors for our cabinets but since plastic is cheaper, why not? Who cares if it’s not actually wood since it serves the same function?

In trivial circumstances, there’s really “nothing wrong” with that. But as we condition ourselves as society to accept mock-ups, as-ifs and pretences, true meaning will quickly become lost on us. What is the reason for a solid, hardwood door for a cabinet? What is the meaning behind the Eiffel Tower? Is there a difference between taking a photo with a replica of the Tower and the actual thing?

One of the things that I’ve seen consistently in Bali, Indonesia, where I frequently visit for short vacations is people taking photos along Kuta beach. While people busy themselves with their cameras (mostly boyfriends/husbands taking photos of girlfriends/wives — I don’t mean to stereotype, but take a look for yourself one day), I can’t help but ask the question,

Why do we like posing for photos by the beach in our maxi-dresses and hats when really that’s not the way we would choose to dress for the beach if we wanted to get a tan or go for a swim?

My answer to that is simulacrum. We are fulfilling our dreams the affordable (plastic) way. All is fine, though, except for one thing: most of us remain unaware that when it comes to meaning, second-rate just doesn’t cut it. Simulacra are good for temporary relief. Like surfing in a wave house, it will never be the same as surfing an ocean swell.


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