Baudrillard, social media, simulation: Making sense of media-saturated times

In 2018, Donald Glover's Emmy-winning TV series “Atlanta” hosted a special soliloquy by the philosophically tinged character Darius. A woman dizzy after a night of partying asked Darius against the backdrop of a glimmering pool, so only their silhouettes show. She asked: "Is this real?" Darius said no.

So much of popular culture and media is centered around how illusory our modern times are. Whether it be “Black Mirror" or "The Twilight Zone," the idea of a massive simulation, or the nature of a heavily fabricated modern society, permeates every step of how individuals and artists consider the current age of technology. Memes and jokes about dissociation and digital displacement run rampant.

Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher and cultural sociologist, placed a heavy emphasis on this very phenomenon. He's particularly renowned for his book, “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” where he stipulated that perception of modern warfare and international incidents that become heavily warped due to the news coverage. 

To Baudrillard, what we encounter as everyday consumers is a far cry from truth itself. We digest and process daily simulations of actual events or ideas. 

Baudrillard, in his works in the 1990s and early 2000s, didn't allow for any form of catharsis in this rite. His 1981 theoretical text “Simulacra and Simulation” cited many sources in both literature, modern news and media to place this emphasis. Instead, he forced all the viewers to acknowledge that while so much of the modern social capital is placed in both visual trust and knowledge, so much of what we experience these days cannot be nearly considered “real,” at least physically. 

It's the hallmark of our times, he suggested, to spend more than half our time dissociating within the bounds of technology and repackaged stories.

Social media, or any digital social platforms, are of equal marks. Many of us have what would historically be considered pen pals, whom we've either never met, or met proportionally very scarcely compared to communication on Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, LinkedIn or a variety of other measures to seek out others. 

I can't deny that Instagram is a familiar space for me, each page a winding road down what feels like a personal apartment, each post a very real room for me to put all my belongings down in and find some rest. Sometimes, I go to my bedroom and only find proper rest within the phone, on the small plateaus or wild plains of the multitude of applications. I can't say the conversations I have aren't genuine, aren't true, but they're never really there.

Baudrillard's theories point out an intricate feeling, a sensation that I forget to remind myself of between cold shoulders and erratic weekly posts. I've seen Paris a hundred times on my social media from my friends posting the most detailed logs of the city, but I've never truly been to Baudrillard's final city. 

The irony is that despite never meeting Baudrillard himself, I've seen so many interviews researching his topic that I can't say I don't know his skin tone, the highs and lows of his voice and the passion of his speech. That is, until I forget that this physical figure I know so well in my head passed away a while ago, and that with each breath I watch him take, I can't say for sure I remember to take my own. 

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