The Annotated Spectacle of the Real: 2
Background Series: The Spectacle of the Real
Images influence our sense of what is real. Without direct engagement, however, they can deceive us.
Simulating the "Real" Story?
The Boston Marathon bombings were watched by millions on television and discussed all across social media platforms and online communities. The event, though, was mostly absorbed through pictures. The bomb at the finish line exploding over and over again. The pictures of the injured and maimed being wheeled away to rescue workers and hospitals. The faces of the two brothers as they became known as the bombers. Facts were few in number; reporting rich in conjecture, and all born through images that touched our emotions.
Fueled by a 24/7 news cycle, actual news - a statement of "facts" that an event, an accident, a death, an agreement, a visit or something has taken place, described in the traditional journalistic parlance of "who, what, when and where" - is transformed into a spectacle of opinion and virtual reality driven by the images of faces speaking words of crisis, fear and self-righteous anger. Televised analysis - more important than the "facts" of the story- drives the news through the ambiguity of the visual image and is its source of validation.
One of the reports of the bombing. It is disturbing. This is difficult to watch. If you are affected by violent images, move on to the text that follows.
Almost ten years later, this video retains the visceral nature of news reporting from that day. The images, the sounds, the descriptions of the damage and injuries are all intended to hold our attention, focus our judgment, and feel a kind of emotional dependency upon the media as the providers of reasons to feel justified in our judgments.
This is just one example of a spectacular event. Consider two years later when Donald Trump announced that he was running for President. Why was there such rage and hysteria? Not just momentary, but constant now for seven long years. I know plenty of people who hate Trump. They have the same list of reasons, with the same wording. It is as if their hatred is a kind of programmed mass hysteria. I’ve lost friendships because I didn’t participate in their campaign of hatred. I was called insane and a danger to the nation. Imagine.
I have identified a sequence of steps related to the effect of the simulation upon us. The Simulation Seduces us to adopt an Identity that is centered on our inclusion in various social classifications. Much of this seduction is focused on our desire for fulfillment, pleasure, or some other state of emotions that the simulation aims to provide. When we hear that in the future we will not own anything and be happy, we are presented with a seductive state where we are dependent and no longer responsible for our lives or our communities. This seductive state is not a stable state. Therefore, it requires a belief system, a kind of secular religious belief that essentially is a False Consciousness. Think of your own personal spirituality that provides you both comfort, and a sense of self-importance, and yet does not provide a context for a community spirituality. This inadequacy means that our lives are Controlled through the function of the Simulation in society. This linear framework has a correspondence to a reality-based experience seen in this diagram.
This is the background and foundation for what follows in the post.
Imagine a gathering with family and friends, catching up on the news of each other's lives, and the conversation is like the panels of "experts" who fill televised news each day. No one intentionally chooses their backyard barbeque guests to mirror the political divisions of the nation. That would be boring, tedious, and just inhospitable and unwelcoming.
These televised events aren't conversations seeking truth, but, rather, people talking at and past one another in a game of leveraging images for social and political influence. We are drawn to the image on the screen of these "experts" having something to say that is meaningful, hoping that at some point some sense of the moment will be revealed, bringing reality into view.
Politics has degenerated into an unreal media-driven spectacle of dissimulation and simulation. What we are given is not a story about what is real because to do so, the experts and our politicians would have to admit to their own limitations of insight and foresight.
Rather, we are given a simulacrum, a virtual story whose narrative appearance conceals a different purpose, enveloping the listener, the viewer, in an alternative world of meaning. Politics is a game of deflected attention, a sleight of hand, an allusion to the real that is an illusion. Get the public to focus on what inflames their passions, isolating them into their defensive enclaves, then we can go about the real purpose for which we were elected, to secure the next election and pass legislation that the public would not approve if they really knew. This is what the modern practice of politics has become.
French theorist Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, describes how the portrayal of what is real has become the hyper-real.
To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But it is more complicated than that because simulating is not pretending. "Whoever fakes an illness can simply stay in bed and make everyone believe he is ill. Whoever simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms" (Littre'). Therefore, pretending or dissimulating, leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, it is simply masked, whereas simulation threatens the difference between the "true" and the "false," the "real" and the "imaginary." Is the simulator sick or not, given that he produces "true" symptoms? (emphasis mine)
This is the game of appearances. In one instance, it is like the child pretending not to have the pilfered cookie that is in his pocket. Dissimulation is the lie that we learn as children where we hide what we have. It is a denial of reality, based on what everyone knows is true.
Simulation, on the other hand, is an imitation of the real. Some simulators, like those that train pilots, are meant to mirror the real world as closely as possible. Other simulations are intended for the exact opposite, to create an alternative reality.
"the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake."
"The Main Street facades are presented to us as toy houses and invite us to enter them, but their interior is always a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively, believing that you are still playing,".
This is a simulacrum of a small town. It looks, on appearances, like it is a small town. But instead, it is a place of commerce hidden behind the image.
Patriotism is a common theme to simulate. Particularly in the use of the American flag as an icon of all things good about America. Print the flag on a can of beer, a bikini, a holiday tablecloth, woven as a blanket, painted on a motorcycle gas tank, flown in a church, and in massive numbers on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and on Flag Day, and you have attached the greatness of America to your consumer product. The image on the product distracts from the real purpose of the flag and its history in the founding of the American republic. The flag has become a commercial icon attaching itself to a powerful emotion - love of country - by simulating the perspective that buying is patriotic.
Pornography, in a similar way, is a simulation of love and intimacy. Televised sex is a provocative restatement of social relations for the purpose of advocating the primacy of sexual expression and pleasure for modern human beings. Pornography is a simulacrum that defines human beings, not as social beings, but as sexual ones. The erotic power of sex fills a person with intense sensory feeling, and by it, alters how a person views their relationships with others. The logical outcome is the practice of having friends with benefits.
Human beings may be animals, but we are not just animals. We are human animals for whom human fulfillment is more than intense sensory release. We desire to be known in the realness of our lives. We are not fulfilled by "playing" a part, but by finding relationships of openness and mutuality. The mutuality of human love, of giving, receiving, and sharing, is at the heart of the sexual intimacy that is so key to human flourishing. The lie of pornography is that sex = love, and love = sex. It is a simulacrum of the appearance of intimacy, though without the other conditions that drive human communion.
This does not just take place in the world of pornography. It takes place in every culture that is based in a visual, emotional response to content.
Here we see this pattern of simulation that best fits in a pornographic culture. The simulation, in this instance, tells us that sex is the predominant way that people are to communicate and interact. To say it this way is ridiculous. We all know that sex is just one aspect of human relationships. But it factors into a sequence of steps that affect us as persons.
The Simulation seduces us to believe, say, that pleasure is the goal of human experience. In this sense, Pleasure = Happiness, and Happiness is the goal of life and its greatest good. Yet to live a life of pleasure has a sort of deadening effect on us. As described above, the Seduction that is manifested through the Simulation cannot provide what we desire in life. The result is that it leads us to develop a False Consciousness as a defense against disappointment and the emptiness of the Spectacle of a simulated reality. This false consciousness develops as a belief system, religious in character in many ways, that isolates us even more from people.
The Context of Simulation
Lastly, it is important to understand that this culture of simulation is not some accident in history. It didn’t just happen. It is a product of how society has evolved over time. I have written about this in many places.
It is enough to say that every trend in society at whatever epoch we identify has a life cycle. It emerges from specific historical developments. It grows, matures, and then begins to recede in relevance and utility as the societal context changes.
The current expression of simulation represents the end of a time that launched the era of science and industry manifested through the aristocratic hierarchies of administrative elites. Their institutional weight and influence belie their presence as an obstruction to a future of peace and prosperity. Our current global crises are products of their leadership. It is for this reason that the culture of simulation is both a denial of reality and a mechanism for resisting the natural order of change that initially brought them into prominence.
I do not believe you can fight the culture of simulation. I believe that instead we must understand it and seeks to reclaim and recover reality from its grasp. The last section of The Spectacle of the Real looks at this situation.