BAUDRILLARD has proven to be an important
influence on postmodern theorists and artists, making his presence felt
from Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism to the Wachowski brothers'
The Matrix. Like Jameson, Baudrillard paints a rather bleak
picture of our current postmodern condition, arguing that we have lost
contact with the "real" in various ways, that we have nothing
left but a continuing fascination with its disappearance. His vision
is highly dystopic.
In Baudrillard's version of postmodernity, there is hardly any space
for opposition or resistance because of the supreme hegemony
of the controlling system: "Everywhere, always, the system is too
Nihilism" 163).. Baudrillard's vision, then, is one of supreme
nihilism and melancholia: "Melancholia is the inherent quality
of the mode of the disappearance of meaning.... And we are all melancholic"
Nihilism" 162). The problem is that "The system is itself
also nihilistic, in the sense that it has the power to pour everything,
including what denies it, into indifference" ("On
Nihilism" 163). When reading Baudrillard on postmodernity,
one sometimes gets the sense that we have already lost, that Baudrillard
is merely pointing out the various ways that consumer society and the
have won in their colonization of all "reality." (On the "simulacrum,"
see the next module
Baudrillard points to a number of factors
contributing to humanity's death knell within the postmodern present,
1) the loss of history.
As Baudrillard puts it in "History: A Retro Scenario," "History
is our lost referential, that is to say our myth." He goes on to
say that "The great event of this period, the great trauma, is
this decline of strong referentials, these death pangs of the real and
of the rational that open onto an age of simulation" (43).
The fact that movies and television (the media) keep turning
to history and to various "retro" recreations of the past
is merely a symptom (a reaction-formation,
Freud would say) for the loss of history. Indeed, such media works continue
the process of forgetting history; as Baudrillard writes of the NBC
miniseries Holocaust, "One no longer makes the Jews pass
through the crematorium or the gas chamber, but through the sound track
and image track, through the universal screen and the microprocessor.
Forgetting, annihilation, finally achieves its aesthetic dimension in
this way—it is achieved in retro, finally elevated here to a mass
49). Television, film, and the internet separate us from the real
even as they seek to reproduce it more fully or faithfully: "The
hyperreality of communication and of meaning. More real than real, that
is how the real is abolished" ("The
Implosion of Meaning in the Media" 81).
proliferation of kitsch: Our culture, according to Baudrillard,
has been inundated by trashy, kitsch, mass-market products, which contribute
to our society of simulation and consumerism: "This proliferation
of kitsch, which
is produced by industrial reproduction and the vulgarization at the
level of objects of distinctive signs taken from all registers (the
bygone, the 'neo', the exotic, the folksy, the futuristic) and from
a disordered excess of 'ready-made' signs, has its basis, like 'mass
culture', in the sociological reality of the consumer society"
society. A culture of consumption has so much taken over our
ways of thinking that all reality is filtered through the logic of exchange
value and advertising. As Baudrillard writes, "Our society thinks
itself and speaks itself as a consumer society. As much as it consumes
anything, it consumes itself as consumer society, as idea.
Advertising is the triumphal paean to that idea" (Consumer
"cool smile". Like Jameson, Baudrillard argues that
the parodic, self-conscious, self-reflexive elements of pop-cultural
forms only aid in their capitalist complicity: "This false distance
is present everywhere: in spy films, in Godard, in modern advertising,
which uses it continually as a cultural allusion. It is not really clear
in the end whether this 'cool' smile is the smile of humour or that
of commercial complicity. This is also the case with pop, and its smile
ultimately encapsulates all its ambiguity: it is not the smile of critical
distance, but the smile of collusion" (Consumer
For comparison, see the Jameson
module on pastiche and the Hutcheon
module on parody.
and simulation. Above all else, Baudrillard keeps returning to
his concepts, simulacra and simulation, to explain how our models for
the real have taken over the place of the real in postmodern society.
See the next module.