Friday, August 7, 2009

Birth Certificates to Beer Summits: It's a Baudrillard World!

Nobody talks about Baudrillard anymore, but this has been a summer replete with political absurdities of Baudrillardian proportions.

Budrillard is most famous for his use of the concept simulacra, the idea of a copy passing itself off as "the real McCoy" without anything original or genuine actually vouchsafing it. This was his post-Marxian and post-Freudian attempt to talk about the newfangled nature of late 20th century culture, especially as funneled through--and even concocted out of wholecloth--by mass mediation itself.

There was that delicious reference to his book, Simulacra and Simulation, in the first installment of the Matrix trilogy, but Baudrillard is often dismissed as too ridiculously hyperbolic to take seriously (for instance, his 1995 claim that "the Gulf War did not take place"). His critics describe him as even more theoretically vacuous than other fetishized, French-imported social critics. But after watching the bizarre wall-to-wall coverage of Michael Jackson's death for the last month or so, I am starting to think that Baudrillard has become more useful (to think with) than ever before.

Who else but Baudrillard can make sense of the nonsensicial mainstream ratcheting up of absurdist (and seemingly unfalsifiable) claims about Obama's supposed foreignness? What better justifies globally covered "beer summit" over race-relations proffered as a technique for innoculating ourselves against future racial misunderstandings? How else can we wrap our heads around Sarah Palin's decision to open herself up to new attacks on her political preparedness (just as she is wont to fend them off)?

Is the Baudrillardian moment upon us? Have we moved unabashedly from "real" politics to mere simulacra? I think so. This has been the summer of simulacra.

Indeed, the only folks who might have a more productive handle on the contemporary political moment might be the early 20th century surrealists. Although, truth be told, it seems to me that we might have already collectively "jumped the shark" (as a global public) so much that we could be experiencing something closer to a simulacra of the surreal, its artificially manufactured, cynically pre-fabbed, and hyper-produced Reality-TVesque carbon copy.

And if even our contemporary surreality is a sham, we are in real big trouble.

Think about it. Imagine a world where a Boston police officer calls Skip Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey" and declares that he would have actually used pepperspray on the professor. And then the officer seems dumbfounded that people think he sounds like an unreconstruced racist. And this, even after the media's hyper-scrutiny of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comments. Is this all too stupid to really be surreal?

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