Baudrillard’s big theme is the replacement of reality with a hyperreality, the replacement of reality by virtual, or the replacement of the real by signs. Conventional thought is that nature precedes culture. Gravity, ecology, laws of physics, trees, etc. exist and culture is built upon them. Concrete is built upon grass. Things exist and then we invent words (signs) to stand for those things. Baudrillard is saying that things used to be this way, but the world is becoming increasingly the opposite. He says, that in our attempts to recreate the past we have “paved over” so to speak, we just invent more signs and therefore exponentially increase the degree of virtual and signs of reality that once was. He goes so far to say that signs ‘murder,’ because they have killed (replaced) nature.
A simulacrum is a kind of counterfeit sign. Like a counterfeit bill, a simulacrum represents a value, but it really has no value because it is a fake. In other words, simulacra represent the absence of what they are supposed to represent. (Simula-tion). Case in point, reality t.v. shows have just as many writers as other shows.
He blames capitalist consumerism and western thought. He claims that natural needs have been buried by cultural trends which tell us what we want; and we relate to the world through these signs (advertising, media, culture in general). For example, sexual desire is not as natural as it used to be. As we are bombarded with certain cultural representations of sex, we are ‘always already’ informed by this cultural (hyperreal) creation of sex. The same argument could be made for any need/desire. His bottom line is that, now, capitalist production creates demand (for profit). We, consumers, no longer produce demand for products based upon our own natural needs. Thus, our ‘needs’ are chosen for us by corporations and as we relate to the world via media, we automatically acquiesce.
Western thought, science, is based upon explanation and naming (signs). He claims that explanation has replaced the real thing. Having reduced reality to signs, we have killed it; and reframed all otherness (other cultures) in a Western discourse; so, it is biased – even further removed from reality, since culture is subjective. We get simulated Middle Eastern-ness.
So, reality has been replaced with simulacra; counterfeit signs which refer to the absence and loss of the Real. On Disneyland, he writes, “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.” So, Disneyland and other escapist places like it are purposeful illusions (childlike; and nostalgic so as to appeal to children and adults). Disneyland is an illusion that perpetuates the larger illusion that outside Disneyworld is the adult, real world. But, keep in mind that outside Disneyworld, immediately, is Los Angeles; “one giant script.” The world is a script, simulacra, signs which no longer refer to reality. They precede reality, desires and needs by producing the demand via advertising, media and cultural discourse; all in the name of profit instead of natural need.