Saturday, 31 January 2015

Philosopher Profiles: Baudrillard

After my post on The Distorted Simulation of Reality I thought I would take a look at the philosophical teachings of the man who inspired my thoughts on the  advertisement campaign of John Lewis. Firstly, Baudrillard can be described as a dystopic postmodernist, a man who seemingly felt as though we had already lost to the current cultural implications of having disassociated ourselves from the real. In other words, Baudrillard believed that we had so far sepatated ourselves from true reality, that we were now dependent and obsessed with our separation from it - he expressed this in a number of ways.

Baudrillard was a cultural observer in many ways and his ideas of postmodern society are bleak, suggesting the real is irretrievable. The real is, essentially reality, and Baudrillard argued that postmodern societies had disengaged with what is real by it having been manipulated by media and the systems we now associate with. In the process of having lost the real we have replaced it with a hyperreality, something that continues to shape the way we see the world.

An example of hyperreality would be video games, television dramas, internet dating and artificial intelligence - any system that replaces or simulates reality. One of the problems with mass media, and living in a world full of systems and images that seek to represent reality is that we have become increasingly disengaged from what is real. The hegemonic system which has replaced reality seeks to rebut any attempt to reengage with the real, and one of the consequences of the system is that it enables us to perceive everything nihilistically, and encourages meaningless.

Let me explain, being a twenty-something year old I have been subject throughout my life to the systems Baudrillard talks about, but I am still old enough to remember the frustrations of dial-up internet! I grew up on video games, television and alcoholic-infused evenings throughout my teen years, as well as the expanding prominence of the internet. Exposure to video games, the internet and emotional melodramas has desensitised me to a number of different examples of what would have previously be seen as despicable and ghastly. Here are some examples:

Video games and films: Having played zombie games, GTA, Manhunt and seen a number of gory films like Saw, although disgusting, depraved and wrong, I have always met crime, death and horrific plots with indifference, being able to watch and play these games/films without feeling any real disgust or seeing any real significance in the acts they are simulating. Sixty years ago these video games and films would not have been sold/aired, and any films like The Exorcist or Psycho are not movies I find particularly scary or terrifying because society has moved to new levels in the horror and terror genres. In other words, I am more desensitised to violence, crime and death as a result of the systems I have engrossed myself in.

Consumerism: We have become disenfranchised from the true values of life, and these true values are being represented by products that we are corn-fed into thinking will bring us happiness. We have become engulfed by the worlds of currency and wealth, we now think about everything in terms of exchange and value, whether that be sustenance, sex or time - we have replaced farms and natural produce with large buildings filled with non-nutritious food and drinks, sex and communication are now things we can readily find on the internet in forms of social networking and porn - sex becoming an image of objectification and control rather than one of compassion and love. Time is, of course, given for the sake of earning money - 'how much is our time worth?' has become a cultural form of Capitalism.

Baudrillard believes that these elements are byproducts of the societies we now live in, but these simulations show an obsession with the real that preceded them, further distorting the real. Historical films are a perfect example, events such as the holocaust have been replaced to an extent by the images, melancholy music and sounds that are played through movie showings. This is a part of the system because we are constantly reliving events through systems and images/signs - showing that we have a connection to the past, which is even now being distorted by misrepresentations of those events.

As a result, Baudrillard believes that we are permanently melancholy, and we cannot break out of the cycle which the systems keep us in. The systems' representation of the real are hyperbolic, melodramas on television being an example of what we all aspire our lives to be like - dramatic and action-packed, however this is unrealised. Even reality shows convey misrepresentations of the reality they are supposed to be showing; shows such as The Only Way is Essex and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here all seek to distort reality in a way that it is now unrecognisable.

So that's my profile on Baudrillard (as well as me going off on a tangent about systems...). I hope you enjoyed this and found it informative. If you'd like to know more about Baudrillard I would recommend this book on Amazon, an introduction into some of Baudrillard's ideas on Simulacra and Simulation. Please comment below to let me know your thoughts, thanks. :) Feel free to share any of my posts as well!

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