The Precession of Simulacra, Jean Baudrillard

Throughout the readings for this course, we have seen how media prevalence affects how we view the world, how we react to it and ultimately how we are constructed to live in a way that sustains the hegemony. What we  know about reality is constructed for us and framed in a way that we are expected to learn in line with the status quo. We have discussed who these ideologies serve, how they are formed and transmitted through society, the different ways that people can receive certain messages and what they do to reinforce the dominant culture. However, schools of postmodern thought challenge the idea of one reality. If we already know that it is shaped to serve a specific party, perhaps it is only one of multiple realities that the society at large chooses to follow.

This concept that there are multiple truths in reality is relevant in media studies because it takes a critical look at issues of representation of culture, identity, politics and so on. The perspective of the real and the imagined for one person is invariable different from that of another, that is until the objective frame of reference has been coded into culture as the singularly correct way of interpretation. Jean Baudrillard delves into this concept in his essay “The Precession of Simulacra,” in which he extends that the world around us is merely a copy or reproduction of reality. In this state of hyperreality, everything we as individuals take in through our lens is shaped through what has been deemed as the correct way to see things. The simulation of these events are repeatedly engrained into us until they are, in fact, real to us. What we truly encounter, however, are only symbols to fabricate a set of meanings and messages.

A prime example of this state of simulacra drive the meta-narrative of the film The Truman ShowThe social science fiction movie follows the day-to-day life of Truman Burbank, the unsuspecting star of his own show. Born into the social experiment of a TV program, his entire life has been carefully constructed with actors and specified plot lines that direct his life. This is all done for the sake of broadcasting his life on a 24/7 circuit to the public, who share his life experiences through the screen. Truman’s life is not his own, but he believes it to be so through the actors and events that serve as symbols to help him distinguish his world’s reality. He understands that he lives a fairly normal life based on what is presented to him firsthand and the messages he decodes from the social influences enacted upon him.

Perhaps what the filmmakers would have wanted to come out of the film, Dusty Lavoi published a sociological analysis of the film called “Escaping the Panopticon: Utopia, Hegemony, and Performance in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. The author comments that in Truman’s ability to finally recognize the falsity of his surroundings and escape the constructed world, he is able to cast off the hyperreality constructed for him and see the real thing for himself. However, off the screen, “The Truman Show’s extradiegetic audience and their own conceptions of ‘reality,’ calling into question what is real and what is simulated, fabricated, staged. When and where does control and and freedom begin?” In terms of Baudrillard’s simulacra, the reality is that there is no end to the control that the dominant order places in the messages and symbols that people interpret every day. 

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