In a society like ours – with Photoshopped people, Instagram filters, and ‘reality’ television – it hardly makes sense to discuss concepts like ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ anymore, but one can try. Taking Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations, and Jacques Rancière’s The Future of the Image as foundations, this essay aims to discuss the notions of truth, reality, and image in our contemporary world.
First things first, it is important to clarify some dubious (and crucial) terms that Baudrillard discusses at length in his text. In a very basic sense, simulacra (the plural of simulacrum) are copies that depict things that either had no reality, to begin with, or that no longer have an original; while simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.
Baudrillard claims that our society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs and that human experience is a simulation of reality. And that simulacra are not merely mediations of reality (nor even deceptive mediations of reality), they are not based in a reality nor do they hide a reality: they only hide that anything like reality is relevant to our current understanding of our lives:
“It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. (…) The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. (…) It is a hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere. (…) The age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials.”
To clarify his ideas, Baudrillard gives the very-American example of Disneyland. The park is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that all the rest outside it is real when, in fact, all America surrounding it is no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. This lack of reality is not restricted only to this country: we live in a world that is all make-believe to entertain a mass of longtime numb and lazy people. What else can explain the proliferation of places like Las Vegas (where you can go from Paris to ancient Rome to Hollywood just by walking down the street) or Dubai – where you can snowboard, in the middle of the desert, inside a shopping mall?
We don’t even need to leave our couch to get a grasp of this: What about ‘reality television’? We have this obsession in perceiving the so-called-‘reality’ so much that it only ends up blinding us: some of us bluntly-stupidly believe that the people and problems portrayed in these TV shows are somewhat accurate; and some just don’t even bother to question that anymore. The exponential multiplying of The Real Housewives of Anywhere, the 8th season (aka year) of the Kardashian’s show and Big Brother Brazil in its edition #14 (aka year) are all proof of this long new ‘reality’. It is no longer a matter of a false representation of reality, but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
To be fair to a small portion of humanity, not everybody actually believes in everything they see on TV – but, still, in order to keep on with our lives, we have to be oblivious to the fact that the world that we live in is a simulation - and the younger the generation, the worst. To exemplify, a speech by a ‘modern thinker’, Dave Grohl (ex-Nirvana drummer, current Foo Fighters vocalist):
“When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”
Well, it is easy to say when your garage band actually turned out to be Nirvana but the point is that our generation believes that to be a musician, you just have to sign up for a reality show; to find love, you just need to download an app or join a dating website, and to be an artist you just have to draw or paint or Photoshop something and sell it on Etsy. There is no real effort anymore. With everything at a button-click distance away, we tend to believe that success is easy – and for everybody - but it is not. That is why the ‘generation Y’ has this chronic, permanent dissatisfaction with what they do; there is no ‘hard work’ anymore.
An article called “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy", published by the Huffington Post in September of 2013 that had a million likes and almost 4 thousand shares, explains (ironically) with drawings this modern phenomenon through the not-so-lovely story of ‘Lucy’ (that can, actually, be anybody). Summing up the narrative:
“Lucy is part of Generation Y (born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s) and she’s kind of unhappy – kind of like everybody else at her age, because reality turns out to be worse than the expectations. Lucy's Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security and raised her parents to build practical, secure careers. They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they'd need to put in years of hard work to make it happen. A few years late, Baby Boomers all around the world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches. So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better. A second delusion comes into play once they enter the job market: while Lucy's parents' expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it's just a matter of time and choosing which way to go. Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they're actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.”
Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GY expert, found that Gen Y has "unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," and "an inflated view of oneself." He says "a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting."
Jacques Rancière ideas can also be related to this concept, as he states that “there is no longer any reality, but only images, and there are no more images but only a reality incessantly representing itself to itself.” Thus, “if there is now nothing but images, there is nothing other than the image. And if there is nothing other than the image, the very notion of the image becomes devoid of content.”
The images that are produced by us and for us, spread all over social media portraying our oh-so-marvelous ‘reality,' when added to “Lucy’s Parents” and the already mentioned ‘reality TV’ phenomenon equals disaster. We have a whole generation of delusional people feeling ‘superior’ and frustrated because the rest of the world doesn’t recognize them as special.
To end this essay, borrowing from Baudrillard’s ideas, “when the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity (…) This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us; a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.”