An Essay on Baudrillard

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Cultural critic? Radical thinker? Critical terrorist? Nihilist? These are just a number ways French sociologist, Jean Baudrillard is described in academic literature. Famous for his well-documented theories on Post-Modernism and the media, Baudrillard presents numerous commentaries on the media’s portrayal of ‘reality’ within society. His theories are extensive and include thoughts and narratives on Marxism and the rise of ‘new’ technology, to note a few. As Richard Lane suggests, “Jean Baudrillard is not only one of the most famous writers on the subject of postmodernism, but he somehow seems to embody postmodernism itself.” (Lane, R. 2000, p.1) However, the focus of this essay is to explore and explain one of the most significant elements of Baudrillard’s theories - ‘Simulation and the Hyperreal.’ In order to completely understand this element of Baudrillard’s theory, it is essential to underline its main arguments. In addition, all theories have strengths and weaknesses and Baudrillard is not exempt from such analysis. Media and communication theory is rich with social commentators and influential minds that make up the fabric of content. Jean Baudrillard is one such commentator who has had a profound impact on the history of media and communication theory. Baudrillard’s impact will be discussed in relation to social theory, namely structuralism and post modern theory. Furthermore, in order to completely understand Baudrillard’s view it is essential to apply the element of simulation and the hyperreal to today’s society. As Baudrillard boldly stated that ‘the gulf war did not take place,’ this discussion will look at the current media portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the current, on-going intifada. References to relevant scholarly literature will be made to support opinions and justify statements.

Although Baudrillard’s many writings on post modernism gained him a substantial following, Social theorist, Andrew Hussey explains that Baudrillard’s most famous commentaries would have to be his identifications of the terms Simulation and the Hyperreal. “Jean Baudrillard is celebrated for his ideas of simulation and hyperreality, which he uses to describe a world in which, as he sees it, images have replaced reality to the extent that objective truth about any human experience from art to war has become impossibility.” (Hussey, A. 2003, p.33) To elaborate, Baudrillard’s most recognisable notion that “the Gulf war of 1991 did not take place” (Hussey, A. 2003, p.33) simply means that what audiences or media consumers were offered wasn’t a ‘real war,’ it was in fact a construction of media. It was a war, devoid of bloodshed and suffering – a mere media circus. Hussey, in ‘The Game of War states the Gulf war confirmed Baudrillard’s theories of simulacrum and hyperreality.” (Hussey, A. 2002, p50) To expand, the terms simulation and hyperreality refer to Baudrillard’s idea that reality no longer exists; that reality is replaced with images, signs and codes that are created by and take place in the mass media.

Generally the role of media is thought to be, to represent or report on reality. However, Baudrillard’s main argument is that media no longer acts as a mechanism for mere representation, but is, as Douglas Kellner explains “ coming to constitute a hyperreality, a new media reality – more real than real – where ‘the real’ is subordinate to representation leading to an ultimate dissolving of the real.” He continues in upholding Baudrillard’s view that the “media neutralizes and dissolves all content…leading to a collapse of meaning and to the destruction of distinctions between media and reality.” (Kellner, D. 1989, essay UCLA) Ultimately, Baudrillard’s claim is based on the premise that mass media is responsible for the eradication of truth and certainty in the representation of society. Furthermore, arguing that representation no longer exists. This means that what is ‘represented’ is in fact...
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