simulacra

To turn to the past with explicitly political motives—say, to attempt to discover a traditional or old-fashioned approach to a problem—is to saddle history with the task of solving our modern problems, and our own interests can therefore subtly color our understanding of the history we encounter. Alastair Roberts, a contributing editor to the journal Political Theology Today, cites the philosopher Charles Taylor’s concept of “authenticity” in locating contemporary individualism in the conservative tendency to seek the past:

“The turn to historic liturgies among many [conservatives]today has been shaped by a need created by expressive individualism’s quest for authenticity. Plagued by a disquieting sense of inauthenticity amidst the simulacra of postmodern consumer culture, many in quest of traditional liturgy can be like the stereotypical hipster who seeks out ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ vintage styles in the thrift store.”

The hipster relates to the smoking jacket he scavenged from a secondhand shop as a symbol of old-fashioned masculinity. This is very different than the way the wearer once related to it, and the affected performance of old-fashioned masculinity is as thoroughly contemporary as any brand new performance of gender; indeed, it can only be intelligible by comparison with modern alternatives. And the same is true of liturgy: To insist that the Church differentiate herself from the world by adhering to the praxis of the past—be it saying Mass in Latin or ignoring man-made climate change because it is not present in biblical text—is to relate to the past in a wholly modern way. Those who ignored climate change in the Middle Ages did so because it was unknown, not because they intended to make a particular statement about the transcendent factual bearing of the biblical text. We can ape their attitudes, but the outcome is always historical reenactment, no closer to medieval practice than Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.

The Computers Are Coming! [Uptade 1980]; 666-1984.

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Say: I am real, this is real, the world is real, and nobody laughs. But say: this is a simulacrum, you are only a simulacrum, this war is a simulacrum, and everybody bursts out laughing. With a condescending and yellow laughter, or perhaps a convulsive one, as if it was a childish joke or an obscene invitation. Anything which belongs to the order of simulacrum is obscene or forbidden, similar to that which belongs to sex or death. However, our belief in reality and evidence is far more obscene. Truth is what should be laughed at. One may dream of a culture where everyone bursts into laughter when someone says: this is true, this is real.
—  Jean Baudrillard
7

Noel Cruz repaints dolls to make them look almost frighteningly lifelike, although “lifelike” is a slippery concept in the age of Photoshop and CGI performers in major feature films, which makes Cruz’s work particularly fascinating. Via Design You Trust.

Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
—  Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations
10

So, as I type this, I’m watching “Donnie Darko.”  Now I have a problem with this movie: my problem is how to interpret the film.  By that I mean which incarnation of the film am I supposed to interpret as “the film.”

It isn’t that I’m completely bogged down by its ambiguity or complexity or whatever—and I do feel it to be a complex movie.  I’m more concerned with which incarnation of the movie should be the point of departure for exegesis.  Now it is problematic for the viewer that there are two versions of the movie.  The Director’s Cut of the film makes clear the implication of the text within the movie (the Philosophy of Time Travel), and, thus, the viewer is allowed to read the film as a parallel to this fiction within a fiction (Simulacra to the second degree, if you will).  There is the option of reading the text of the philosophy of time travel and then watching the first version of the film.  This is a good approach, in my opinion, since the original was better edited and had a more poetic sensible.  It was visceral and bleak thanks to the controlled chaos of its structure, imagery, and music.  But my problem still remains.

I watched this movie when I was a freshman in high school.  Did I understand it? No, but I don’t think it would have been possible for me to understand it since the text of “The Philosophy of Time Travel” wasn’t available.  I watched a little documentary about Darko’s fandom when the Director’s Cut came out a few years later.  One English girl suggested that, unlike Americans, they don’t have to be “spoon-fed plots.”  I took issue with this because surmising the plot is extremely difficult even to a seasoned film buff since so much of the plot depends on at least a basic knowledge of the supplemental text.

Well, at least I thought that was the case.  I remember watching it when I was just about to turn 16.  My mind was in a little bit of a panic because I was watching this movie that everyone said was brilliant that I didn’t understand.  I will say that despite all of that peer pressure to “see brilliance,” that I found some form of pleasure from watching it.  I don’t know if it was the inexplicable aspects that gave me a sense of freedom when watching it or just following the story of a very troubled teenager with very big problems.  This has led me to a little revelation about the film.

Before I get to this revelation, I want you to read a quote:

"The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions."  -Virginia Woolf, "How Should One Read a Book?" from The Second Common Reader

That said, there are ways of reading, and Mrs. Woolf also acknowledges this in her lovely essay, that can be more stimulating, enlightening, or indulging, but ultimately it is one’s own subjectivity that is the master of reading.  You are breathing life into another individual’s words.  No matter how powerful or brilliant a writer is, you are in control.

There is no “right way” to watch “Donnie Darko,” but I would advise against one particular notion.  So often I see that when a viewer becomes aware of “The Philosophy of Time Travel” and the role in plays in the work, their interpretation stops there (this is often accompanied by a smug sense of superiority).  Well, that is a seemingly lazy approach.  Sure, this individual has uncovered a major intricacy of the plot, but there is more work to be done.  What does it mean?  What does this mean to the structure?  Is this newly discovered second plot the “primary” plot?  No, because there is so much more to it than that.

Darko is a film that plays with genres and the themes associated with those genres.  Darko is a period piece, as denoted by Donnie’s sister’s new-found political freedom, and the moralizing crusade of the Sparkle Motion lady.  It is also a critique of educational institutions (specifically how adults continue education in an informal setting), particularly the almost cult-like forms of self-help that run rampant in our bookstores and on our bookshelves (“The Secret” comes to mind?).  It is about the problem of trying to reduce the complexity of the world for children and what happens to those kids who do try to understand the world and existence itself (it is really interesting how teens and children are policed into “normalcy” in that film).  It is also a horror film.  If postmodernism were a genre of film, Darko would fall into that category (the intertextual dialog that it begins with the works of Graham Greene, the film “Harvey,” Stephen King’s novel IT, and the Evil Dead series led me to this conclusion).  It is a multifaceted work, and it has great structural depth that one needs to consider.  It isn’t just about a tangent universe on the brink of collapse—indeed it is about collapse on all levels.  The film wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if the plot perfectly lined up with the guiding-text within the film.  It is loaded with disparities between what is happening and what is supposed to be happening as dictated by “The Philosophy of Time Travel.”  

But let’s say you were watching the film with no understanding of the fictional book within the movie.  What kind of movie are you then watching?  Is this a Hamlet situation, plus schizophrenia?  Is it a coming-of-age film?  Here’s one interpretation that I really like (when the Philosophy of Time Travel is taken out of the picture): this is a portrait of a very dark world that is corrupted and violent on all levels, from the basic interactions of the characters to the metaphysics of the world.  It is the most atypical of coming of age stories, where the teen rebel thinks it’s him against this world: well, this time the teen is basically right.  But, again, that’s just one way to view it.

Also, I would warn against putting full-stock in the “Director’s Cut.”  This gives the intention of the director complete power.  What if the director had accidentally made something more profound and wonderful than he intended?  Honestly, I think that was the case with this film.  

Simulation is different than a simple representation. A representation is our way of communicating and abstracting a “real” entity. So, our word “pumpkin,” or an image of one, represent the real thing that is a pumpkin. Simulation, on the other hand, is the negation of the “real” pumpkin. A simulacrum doesn’t cash in it’s value for the real thing, it only seeks to be exchanged with other simulacra and itself. It’s where semiotics meets capitalist commodity fetishism.