Jean Baudrillard’s essay ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ from Simulacra and Simulation (1981) is a key postmodern text to understanding the contemporary technological Western world. ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ explores Baudrillard’s central concepts of simulacra, simulation and hyperreality. Baudrillard argues that we now live in a world of signs, that ‘just about everything is a matter of signification, […] obviously connected with an explosive growth in media, but related also to changes in the conduct of everyday life’.1 In ‘The Precession of Simulacra’, Baudrillard laments the onslaught of television, media growth and the constant bombardment of images intended to represent reality. Since ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ was published, we can only add more examples of the contemporary obsession with signs and images, such as user’s addiction to social media, mobile phone app’s, instant messaging, Netflix and the proliferation of streaming services, to name but a few. Now more than ever we live in a postmodern world dominated by images and signs.
this essay, I will use Baudrillard’s ‘Precession of Simulacra’ to discuss the episode ‘Hated in the Nation’ (2016) from the television series Black Mirror (2011-present). This text offers a representation of social media to critically engage with philosophical questions of subjectivity and reality in the contemporary, postmodern technological Western world. This essay will argue that the subject is fragmented and decentred in hyperreality and becomes an object to be consumed by the public. First, I will briefly explain Baudrillard’s theory, I will then apply the theory to ‘Hated in the Nation’ and explore how the text presents modern technology as hyperreal products by conveying phones and social media platforms as more real than ‘reality itself’.2 I will also consider what the consequences of hyperreality might be for the human subject. I will demonstrate that ‘Hated in the Nation’ invites an examination of the consumption of death as spectacle through hyperreal media. This essay will ultimately argue that hyperreality leads the subject to be reduced to a signifier or an image to be consumed by other users of social media.
audrillard’s concept of ‘simulacra’ refers to ‘copies without an original’, which Baudrillard uses to explain the lack of depth, meaning or ‘real’ behind signs which penetrate our technological lives.3 Frank Webster gives the example of when a user downloads ‘a tune to your iPod, the notion of an original is meaningless’ as the song that has been downloaded has no physical original, it is a copy of a song downloaded from a digital platform.4 Walter Benjamin, as early as 1936, argued that ‘the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity’, as he argues authenticity is missing from a world of mass-produced commodities.5 Thus, no original in a culture of mass production equates to what Baudrillard will concretise as simulacra. Baudrillard’s term ‘simulation’ refers to the idea of creating a reality, but it is a reproduced reality based on the simulacra of signs. Simulated reality appears so real, however, that one cannot separate the ‘real’ from simulation. Simulation, in fact, dominates the real, ‘never again will the real have the chance to produce itself’, because simulation is all there is.6 Thus, simulation precedes the real. Baudrillard’s ‘hyperreality’ refers to a simulation of reality that acts as more real than the real, or a created heightened reality.