Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/15/2010

Baudrillard and Simulating a Times Square Safe for Disney

(Please Note: the format of this blog is one WordPress provides. I’d change a few things about it; for example, I’d underline hyperlinks. As it is, my hyperlinks are in this faint red. I try to remember to italicize them. Anyone who knows how to manipulate CSS and help me make a few formatting modifications could make me very happy.)

Posting begins here:

Simulate, simulate, simulate

Simulate, simulate, simulate

You would think anyone would be able to put his hands on a couple of books that changed her life. Well, no. Somewhere in this mess of books on four sides of this room I have copies of Baudrillard Live and Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism), by Jean Baudrillard.

Baudrillard changed my life (obviously an exaggeration) because, for the first time, I discovered academic writing that seemed to be about me. That statement reveals at least two characteristics of mine that you, dear reader, need always to keep in mind: 1) I am not a scholar, and 2) I am more self-centered than I ought to be. That goes without saying because those two characteristics apply to almost everyone who regularly blogs.

Of course, academic writing (or serious philosophical/sociological/historical –however one categorizes Baudrillard) is not supposed to change one’s life—or have any real-life application. It’s supposed to obfuscate the obvious and make every really good idea as complicated and mysterious as possible.

But Simulacra and Simulation. Ah, there’s a book to sink your teeth into. When I read it, I discovered someone whose philosophical understanding of existence seemed to be based on my experience of the world. I’m sure that’s not what Professor Haynes had in mind when she assigned the book for our graduate seminar. But that’s what happened.

My understanding of Baudrillard is: we live in an age of simulation. Everything (well, everything “out there” that we all understand and talk about) is a simulation. Queen Elizabeth II is a simulation of a real monarch. Disneyland is a simulation of the real world (a friend of mine travelled to Europe, and as part of his tour saw the Matterhorn; his postcard to me said, “It’s just like Disneyland”). It’s as if we made a map of the United States that covered the United States, and then we lived on the map instead of on the country.

The next couple of paragraphs are secret language for those of us who are blessed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (you’ll see why Baudrillard’s writing is so dear to my heart). I’ve known since my first seizure when I was in third grade that nothing is real. Everything stands for something else—that is, everything only stands for the thing the rest of you think it IS. My computer where my hands are resting right at the moment is a simulation of a computer. In fact, my hands are a simulation of hands. Fellow TLEptics—you understand, don’t you?

I was in a graduate seminar at a major university working, it might be said, on a simulation of a PhD because I already had one—which was a simulation of something else—which I’ve never actually finished, but which lives on in my head as a simulation of the idea of another PhD. Am I getting post-postmodern enough for you yet?

My favorite (tacky) example of all of this is thinking about having sex with a clone of a human being and with the original at the same time. Imagine it. Which one are you really making love to? And what does it mean to make love to a simulation of a person. Does it make you a simulation of a person? Think about it. Or don’t think about it. A simulation of a person.

Smile for the camera!

Smile for the camera!

Rosencrantz: I wouldn’t think about it if I were you. You’d only get depressed.  Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?  Two early Christians chanced to meet in Heaven. “Saul of Tarsus yet!” cried one. “What are you doing there?!”… “tarsus Schmarsus,” replied the other, “I’m Paul already.” They don’t care. We count for nothing. We could remain silent till we’re green in the face, they wouldn’t come. (1)

Back to Baudrillard. George H. W. Bush did me the great favor (oh, don’t get moralistic on me; just get used to the way I use language) of promulgating the Gulf War just before I entered that simulated PhD program, so Baudrillard could write his The Gulf War Never Happened (2). In that war, journalists were not “embedded,” but the coverage of the war was so closely orchestrated by the military that Baudrillard and others wrote about it as being nothing more that a TV spectacular. (I do not mean to belittle or demean the many US military personnel who returned with Gulf War Syndrome and serious injuries—many of whom have never been properly treated.)

But anyone who was around at that time knows that what we saw on TV was not a war but more a simulation of what the government wanted us to know about the war. And that simulation effect reached its perfection in the Iraq War when journalists were allowed access only to views of the war the US military dictated, with no possibility of reporting much of the reality of the war.

Soon after the Gulf War, the most “simulated” war of all time unfolded in when the

. . . Somalia operation [in 1992] did, nonetheless, feature one of the most surreal interactions between military personnel and television film crews. This occurred when the first U.S. occupation forces landing on Somali beaches at night found their landings illuminated by the [in place and waiting] television lights of international news organizations. (3)

Wars are not the only obvious simulations.

‘Before Disney we had a lot of questions about the future of Times Square. Once Disney signed on, we were getting calls from brokers wanting to make deals,’ said Gretchen Dykstra, president of the Times Square Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization. . .(4)

The problematic future for Times Square was that it was the “red light” district of Manhattan, with adult bookstores in the storefronts, and prostitutes plying their trade. Disney leased the New Amsterdam Theater for 49 years and restored it. It became the “anchor” for the commercial restoration of the area (think “mall”). Disney uses the theater for an ultimate simulation: presenting staged versions of its movie musicals, the first of which was The Lion King. One of the little-known aspects of the transformation (I can provide a citation for this) was that, in the first year, a “concession” was sold to (Arnold Schwarzenegger?) to make the streets of Time Square interesting to tourists by hiring actresses to play the part of the prostitutes who had been run out. Simulation?

"Back on Times Square Looking at Times Square"

"Back on Times Square Looking at Times Square"

So now I have to double back to a simulation of my understanding academic discourse. Baudrillard does not, I think, deny reality completely. Something is present, that is, “Presence is not effaced [“wiped out”] by a void, but by a redoubling of presence that effaces [“wipes out”] the opposition between presence and absence” (5). The real is not destroyed by nothingness but by an intensification that destroys the difference between something that is there and something that isn’t, that is, simulation destroys the difference between the real and the unreal.

I have a great deal more to write about my simulated seizure life (and your simulated life, too). Think, for example, about the effect of the TV “simulation” of the events of 9/11—the simulation of our constant revisiting of those events—and that simulation’s effect on our acceptance of the [apparently eternal] “war on terror.”
(1) Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. London: Grove Press, 1994. These are quotes from the play. I don’t know Act and Scene. I know only snippets of Rosencrantz’s lines which I can look up online. I played the part at the School of Theology at Claremont, CA, in 1972.
(2) Baudrillard, Jean. The Gulf War Never Happened. Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1995.
(3) “War on Television.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. 2010. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.
(4) Dubroff, Henry. “Disney makes Times Square safe for Mickey.” Denver Business Journal .  Friday, May 2, 1997. Web. 13 Sep. 2010.
(5) Baudrillard, Jean. “Fatal Strategies.” In M. Poster (ed.), Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Trans. J. Mourrain. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988, p. 189.


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