top of page
  • Writer's pictureAVIROOP ROY
Simulacra, Virtual Art & Ethnography

Baudrillard is actually trying to bring out the media's contribution in the Gulf War, he says that the Gulf War was mostly a media created event rather than a real war. He elaborates on that and he bases his arguments basically on these three concepts simulations, simulacra and hyper reality to move into the first term simulation - what is simulation? It means imitation we are all familiar with the term imitation and in philosophy they have been umpteen number of theories of imitation. The theory of imitation is not new because it goes back to the time of Plato. He talks about a reality which exists somewhere outside the world and he talks about how that reality is reflected in the things that we see around us. So he says reality is twice removed from the things that it represents. The idea of imitation was later taken into literature and art by the people like Aristotle, romantic writers and later writers who considered poetry as an imitation of life, who considered literature in general as an imitation of the society as a reflection of the society in which they belonged. Coming to Baudrillard's idea of simulation he defines simulation as the process of imitating as the process of creating "simulacra".

Simulacra basically means copies of something which is original. The main idea focuses on four stages of simulation, the first stage is what he calls the sacramental order. A sacramental order is a faithful copy or a faithful image of the reality that already exists. It is just like a camera copying your picture where you are the reality. As we believe there is no other reality that is as real as me, and we take ourselves as the reality, the camera which copies me becomes the first stage which is a faithful copy or image. And that is what he calls a sacramental order because there is no addition, there is no deletion it is the exact representation of the reality.

Secondly, second order is what he calls the order of malfeasance. The order of malfeasance is a perversion of reality, here the original undergoes a few changes it still looks like the original, it might still feel like the original but there is a perversion of reality happening. There are certain additions or deletions happening and it is not a faithful copy of the original that is what he calls the order of malfeasance he says that in the order of malfeasance the simulation the process of imitation actually masks or denatures reality or denatures the original. So taking going back to the example we talked about in the first one me as a reality me as the original and the camera copying me I turn on the Beauty mod all the pimples all my scars on my face are removed and that is the order of malfeasance I very clearly know that this is not a faithful copy of me but it is a perverted sense of reality.

The third stage of simulation is what he calls the order of sorcery there is no black magic involved here (lol). In the third stage it pretends to be a faithful image but it is marked by the absence of the original so what happens here is there is a reality but that reality undergoes a lot of changes and that is presented in the third stage. Going back to the example me as a reality, the beauty mode which brings me to the second stage of simulation and I make a cartoon image using the previous image of me and that is what comes under the order of sorcery. Here there is an absence of a profound reality but it pretends to be real.

If you see an a cartoon image of yourself, you very clearly understand that this is you but the reality is it is not actually you there are certain characteristics which take it away from the original so there is an absence of a profound reality. It pretends to be a faithful copy but it is a copy with no original. This third stage is marked a lot by artificiality it is what characterizes the third stage of simulation.

The fourth stage which he calls pure simulation is where the original no more has any role here is where there is a confusion, you don't know how to differentiate between the real and the fictional. The fourth stage becomes so real to us that you start forgetting that there is no originality behind it. So, it is an imitation with no reality and it has no direct connection to reality as well. Now this is the stage where he calls the feature where hyper reality comes into play. Hyper-reality is where there is the the consciousness is unable to distinguish between the real and the artificial, there is so much blending of the real and the artificial,

of the physical reality and the virtual reality that it becomes hard for the person who observes to distinguish between the real and the artificial. Baudrillard actually characterizes these four stages of simulation into three stages, he calls it three orders of simulation it is basically the same thing which is put into three ages, three parts of history. So he says that the sacramental order and the order of natural malfeasance were basically found during the pre modern age when the technology was not very prevalent, people used to create faithful copies and there were not many copies of the original as it was hard to produce so many copies so quickly. The cap on production value marked limitations of the first and the second stages, he calls it the pre-modern age the first order simulation was mainly found in the pre-modern Age. The second order of simulation he says is marked in the order of sorcery and it's a combination of the order of malfeasance and the order of sorcery he categorizes that as the modern age or the age of Industrial Revolution so as we said before the perverted copy of reality which comes in the order of malfeasance and the copy which has no direct connection with the original which comes in the order of sorcery was basically happening during the industrial revolution. It promoted factories to produce number of copies of the same thing where the labour was alienated from the product. So here he says that these two orders, the order of malfeasance and the order of sorcery are characteristic of the modern age or that of Industrial Revolution. The last one, pure simulation he says that happens mostly in the postmodern age of late capitalism here he examines the relationship between symbols culture and the society he says that the copies that are produced during this time during the postmodern age had the freedom to move away from the original. Where they looked almost similar to the original and they did not have the features or they did not have all the qualities of the original. This is what happens in the postmodern age so these are the three orders of simulation three ages into which he categorizes the stages of simulation the stages of imitation.

Lets take an example all these four stages can be traced using a simple metaphor of an egg. As we know this egg that you lets say find in my hand is the reality, it is basically characterized by its fragile nature, if it falls down it might break so this is the reality of the first stage sacramental order. I take a picture of this egg and paste it here that becomes the second sacramental order, it's a faithful copy of the original or the reality. In the second stage, the order of malfeasance (this egg) will show the same egg in a deformed state, lets say larger than life. It is still the egg but it is not the same oval-shaped reality that I might have in my hand. The third stage the order of sorcery is where there is no connection with the reality but it pretends to be the real. For example, you might have heard of eggless omelettes? which is made out of Gram Flour it can work as an example for this third stage of simulation where there is no direct connection with the reality with the egg but it is something that pretends to be an omelette. Bringing us to the fourth one, which is pure simulation lets just say a fake egg that you can buy in markets for Easter? The imaginary egg is the best example for a pure simulation it looks like reality it has every feature of reality that I have in my hand (Imagine XD) but here there is a difference, there is a difficulty to realize what is real and what is artificial so if this egg is all we have been exposed to, we will probable mistakenly take it for the real egg.

According to Baudrillard pure simulation is so powerful it is so efficient in its makeup in its manufacture. That it makes the people who it makes the consumers worried about what is real and what is not real and they might very happily go after these fake eggs because they consider that to be more real than the than the original reality.

Another example for this pure simulation is the augmented reality. The Covid Lockdown was a period when many people experimented with augmented reality. Google provided free opportunities for people to experiment with this 3D view of animals and birds in our living rooms. So lets just take you as a user start using the AR and a tiger visits your experience, is an example for the AR. The description that Google gives for this augmented reality is that you can move around this animal, you can feel and experience the animal as if it were real. This is one of the examples where Hyper - Reality comes into play.

If you look at the world around you we might start thinking it becomes a little scary to understand that we live in a hyper - realistic world, the media has a lot of impact on the people it has influenced our mindset so much that we become addicted and accustomed to the hyper reality. We start to believe that those are real, the advertisements, the news articles, etc. All of these are based on power politics every snippet that comes before you is a result of this power politics. So Baudrillard identifies five areas where hyper reality becomes highly pronounced. The first one is contemporary media Baudrillard, is of the view that media creates hyper reality and makes people believe that whatever has not happened has actually happened. Contemporary media is one such example where pure simulation or hyper reality happens the most. Another example he gives is the exchange value, a One Pound coin that we have, it might look just like a metallic coin, what gives it the value?

The vale that it attains is something which is imposed on it, something regulated by certain people in power. So the exchange value is another example of hyper-reality he says that unlike the earlier system where people used to barter things for services. The value was set by the activity itself had. Here we replace it with a coin attributing a certain value to that object. The value of the real object is far removed from reality, you can just buy gems with a metal coin.

The third instance that he gives is that of multinational capitalism, Baudrillard says that the multinational capitalism is again another area where you experience hyper reality. This is where a number of copies of the same original is being produced and we come to this question of what is the original. We completely forget about the resources that go behind it, we completely forget about the raw materials the labour that has gone behind to make that product come alive. Multinational capitalism is another area where you experience this hyper reality to a great extent. Another one is urbanization which he says has alienated people from the living world. The coming up of cities have totally alienated people from the non living world. People become disconnected with nature people become more involved in the artificial realities that is behind them. Finally, he says that language and ideology have also become hyper reality now what does that mean? language the words coming out of our mouths no more mean what we actually saw, there is a lot of connotations given to whatever we say, you take literature for example every text undergoes a lot of deconstructive reading. Every text undergoes a lot of reading beyond the lines and it loses the original intention of the author. Language and ideology are also subject to the power politics and that leads to hyper reality that leads people to believe that certain languages are superior and certain ideologies are superior.

That's how Baudrillard comes to a conclusion and says that simulation is this process of imitation which has created a lot of copies, removing it from the original sense and hyper-reality is the world we live in and that is what he exactly tries to prove and come to an understanding about.

bottom of page