Simulation and the hyperreal

Jean Baudrillard has stated that the postmodern culture is dominated by simulation. Objects have no firm origin, no referent, no ground or foundation (Baudrillard 1988: 1). This aspect of postmodernism is a very modern phenomenon. Postmodernism continues the modern condition in its search for the mechanisms, or structure, behind meaning making practices.

Following the ethos of poststructuralism, and postmodernism in general, Baudrillard rejects traditional assumptions (historicity, I assume) about referentiality. According to him, the link between a concept and an object “is broken and restructured so that its force is directed, not to the referent of use value or utility, but to desire.” (Is this where Shanks [e.g. Shanks 1992, 1995, 1998] keeps referring to with his notion of making the past through desire?) Baudrillard argues that the meaning of things can only be reached by using a semiological model. (Baudrillard 1988: 1-2.)

Baudrillard follows Lyotard’s famous statement and rejects the possibility of a meta-narrative. He even goes as far as suggesting that the contemporary modern society is returning to a premodern organization (Vanhanen 2010: 130). This is due to human nature in which, according to Baudrillard, is to value modes of production which do not contribute to a utilitarian system of consumption and accumulation of wealth (Vanhanen 2010: 130), but to the organization of all this (Baudrillard 1988: 21-22). All objects of consumption are signs that are consumed for their difference, not their materiality. Only the idea is consumed. (Baudrillard 1988: 22, 24-25.)

An important aspect of Baudrillard’s philosophy, and all postmodernism, is the role of the individual in the consumption society. Baudrillard (1988: 52) states that, as a consumer, the individual has become necessary and even irreplaceable. Consumption, for Baudrillard (1988: 52-53), then, is social labour; an element of control by atomizing or necessitating individual consumers.

For Baudrillard, the end of modern consumption and modernity marks the beginning of the age of simulacra, characterized by a unique mode of “simulation”. What was once real, labour, production and use-value, has been abolished. Objects have become signs that refer to other signs in an infinite recession. Reality has become to emulate its simulations, as if everything has shifted to a meta-level of articulation, essentially putting an end to the distinction between real and simulation (Vanhanen 2010: 131.) Simulation, for Baudrillard, however, is more real than reality, it is hyperreal (Baudrillard 1987: 67; Vanhanen 2010: 131).

By postmodernism, we have arrived at the hyperreal state of affairs. Postmodernism is characterized by the end of production (but not consumption), the end of ideologies (a modern trait), and the end of critique. (Vanhanen 2010: 131-132.) For Baudrillard, Las Vegas and the Disneyland are what epitomize simulation. They are not artificial copies of the original, since artificiality no longer exists. One can go to Luxor to see the Pyramids, or go to Las Vegas and do the same. There is no longer an essential distinction between the two. (Baudrillard 1988: 171-172; Vanhanen 2010: 132.)

The past in postprocessual archaeology has become an object of consumption  and can be experienced as even more real than the real past which does not exist in the first place. The past, since it is simulation in the simulated present, can be reached and experienced in theme parks (Holtorf 2005, 2007, 2010; Shepherd 2002: 185.)

“It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real”. Disneyland is presented as imaginary so that that which remains outside can be made look real, when in fact what remains outside is hyperreal and simulation. (Baudrillard 1988: 172.) Just as Disneyland itself.

  • Baudrillard, Jean 1988. Jean Baudrillard. Selected writings. Stanford University Press, Cambridge.
  • Holtorf, Cornelius 2005. From Stonehenge to Las Vegas – Archaeology as popular culture. AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek.
  • Holtorf, Cornelius 2007. Archaeology is a brand. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.
  • Holtorf, Cornelius 2010. On the possibility of time travel. Lund Archaeological Review 15-16, 2009-2010: 31-41.
  • Shanks, Michael 1992. Experiencing the past. On the character of archaeology. Routledge, London.
  • Shanks, Michael 1995. Archaeological experiences and a critical romanticism. Helsinki papers in archaeology 7: 17-36.
  • Shanks, Michael 1998. The life of an artifact in an interpretive archaeology. Fennoscandia archaeologica 15: 15-30.
  • Shepherd, Robert 2002. Commodification, culture and tourism. Tourist studies 2: 183-201.
  • Vanhanen, Janne 2010. Encounters with the virtual. The experience of art in Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy. Helsinki University Printing House, Helsinki.

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