HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse
Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
The Real Strikes Back
by Nick Rombes

Author's Links

This semester, in my film studies class, students are dutifully reading Jean Baudrillard's classic Simulacra and Simulation, the ultimate postmodern manifesto, whose proclamations about the disappearance of the real and the emergence of the hyperreal have escaped from the safe ivory towers and into pop culture. Baudrillard writes that "the world is hardly compatible with the concept of the real which we impose upon it." In The Matrix, the fake book where Neo hides information is called Simulacra and Simulation, and Fight Club, a film rich with Baudrillardian conceptions, has Edward Norton spout the line that "everything is a copy of a copy of a copy," which is basically Baudrillard's thesis boiled down to one sentence.
     While postmodern academics (o.k, I'm one) will dutifully line up to use the events of 9-11 as yet another example of Baudrillard's theory that reality is basically an illusion we create to keep ourselves sane (you can bet that within two years there will be cultural studies readers designed for freshman composition courses that "deconstruct" the attacks and attendant media coverage from a Baudrillardian perspective), what are the chances that their efforts to argue it away will fail, or will be met with hostile resistance, the derision of those for whom reality is "real"? Is this an instance where Reality trumps Theory, showing its fangs and claws to a professorial elite lulled into believing resistance means simply being ironic? After all, it's easy to proclaim that "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place," (the title of one of Baudrillard's essays) from the comfort of an air-conditioned office thousands of miles away from the bombs exploding. If irony was postmodernism's defensive response to the ravaging realities of World War II--the death camps, the atom bomb--and if reality and history itself has receded in the years since the war, then what to make of its sudden and violent emergence on the scene? Remember that the people who flew the jets into the buildings trained on simulators. Who needs a professor to connect the dots?
     If irony is an accumulated, delayed response to the horrors of the real--a way to deaden one's self through a process of separation--then the entire post-war culture industry has been built on this discourse. David Foster Wallace was among the first to write about this in his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," where he examined the barren emotional terrain of irony and cynicism: "And to the extent that it can train viewers to laugh at characters' unending put-downs of one another, to view ridicule as both the mode of social intercourse and the ultimate art-form, television can reinforce its own queer ontology of appearance: the most frightening prospect, for the well-conditioned viewer, becomes leaving one's self open to others' ridicule by betraying passé expressions of value, emotion, or vulnerability." And remember, this was before the era of "real T.V." and shows like "The Weakest Link," "Survivor," and others that specialize in a very structured, almost institutional form of betrayal.
     The discourse of contemporary academic cultural criticism in the United States is no different, and--as loath as it is to admit it--emerges out of the same fractured, disconnected, ironic matrix from which pop culture emerges. But the fact is the dissolution of the Real reached its theoretical end point on 9-11, the date on which the Real struck back. At the end of David Cronenberg's film eXistenZ, two revolutionary Realists approach the designer of hyperreal virtuality reality games and, before, pumping him full of bullets, ask him, "Don't you think the world's greatest game artist ought to be punished for the most effective deforming of reality?"
     Today's simulated reality game designers--theoreticians and professors in the liberal arts at colleges and universities across the nation (myself included)--have never wanted to ask themselves that question.
     But now they must.



HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.