Please, I need a detailed explanation of Jean Baudrillard's simulacra and simulation.
We are used to thinking of the world as made up of things (people, plants, objects). We think that these things exist in the world first and then words are invented and used to signify them. Baudrillard says that this used to be the case. He contends that now, the "nature-first, culture-second" structure has been reversed. He claims that signs (culture) have taken priority over the things they signify.
Using a concrete example: the mountainside is dominated by billboards and signs (even signs which describe the mountainside). We see the signs first, the natural landscape second. Any attempts to reestablish the mountain (nature) as prior to cultural signs will result in further obscuring the natural because we will use signs to reestablish it.
Baudrillard takes this thinking (the reversal of nature-culture to culture-nature) to hyperbolic (exaggerated) lengths and applies it to all aspects of society. Another obvious example: we get the news coverage of the event; not the event itself. Therefore, we get the signs (coverage) before the event. Or, in some cases, we only get the signs.
Baudrillard uses the term "simulacrum" because it denotes a representation and a counterfeit or fake version. Simulacra appear to refer to signified things (the mountainside, the event covered by the news, etc.). But, in Baudrillard's analysis, simulacra are pretend representations; they mark the absence of things they supposedly signify. A good example of this how consumer society creates a demand for a product before there is a need for that product. The demand for a product (let's say a twinkie) comes before the actual product. The sign comes before the thing itself. This example also shows how the demand, the "need" is not natural. Thus, a cultural need is created, and marks the absence of a natural need (something more nutritious). An even better example of this would be any type of luxury which, aside from making one more attractive to a superficial mate, serves no natural, healthy, or evolutionary purposes.
Sexual desire is also manipulated by simulacra. Although a biological drive, sexual desire is largely guided (Baudrillard would go as far as saying "replaced") by bodily images we see in the media. These images (signs) replace or obscure our natural desires and are, in the sense of being fake and shallow, superficial. We look for mates who fit these fake representations (simulacra).
Baudrillard says that we, consumers, are manipulated by this parade of images and signs into thinking that they are reality. He calls this parade a "precession of simulacra." We are bombarded by images and signs via the media so much that they have replaced what was once a more natural, less simulated reality.
In short, this precession of simulacra has made it difficult to have an authentic experience. One last example. A freshman going to college has heard stories of what college is like, seen movies, songs about college, and so on. By the time she gets to college, she already has an established set of roles and expectations about what a college student should be. Even in rebelling from those roles, she is starting with those roles, signs, those simulacra. She begins with the blueprint (simulacra) and then has the actual experience. As Baudrillard says in Simulations:
The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory-PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA-it is the map that engenders the territory . . .