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Simulacrum

From Academic Kids

Simulacrum is a Latin word originally meaning a material object representing something (such as an idol representing a deity, or a painted still-life of a bowl of fruit). By the 1800s it developed a sense of a "mere" image, an empty form devoid of spirit, and descended to a specious or fallow representation.

In the book Simulacra and Simulation (1981/1995), the French social theorist Jean Baudrillard gave the term a specific meaning in the context of semiotics, extended from its common one: a copy of a copy which has been so dissipated in its relation to the original that it can no longer be said to be a copy. The simulacrum, therefore, stands on its own as a copy without a model. For example, the cartoon Betty Boop was based on singer Helen Kane. Kane, however, rose to fame imitating Annette Hanshaw. Hanshaw and Kane have fallen into relative obscurity, while Betty Boop remains an icon of the flapper.

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia itself may be seen as a large-scale field experiment in the spread of simulacra. It is notable that many pages are littered with factoids about the meaning of words in the fictitious context of popular movies, video and role-playing games, usually derivative cliches in imitation of other such fictions. This self-reference would no doubt amuse Baudrillard. For instance the 1999 movie The Matrix explores the relationship between people and their simulacra; and in a further example of self-reference Neo, one of the lead characters from the movie, uses a hollowed out copy of Jean Baudrillards Simulacra and Simulation as a secret store.

Fredric Jameson uses the example of photorealism to describe simulacra. The painting is a copy of a photograph, not of reality. The photograph itself is a copy of the original. Therefore, the painting is a copy of a copy. Other art forms that play with simulacra include Pop Art, Trompe l'oeil, Italian neo-Realism and the French New Wave. Jean Baudrillard puts forth God as an example.

Simulacrum is also the name of one of the worlds most popular podcasts, hosted by the enigmatic Chris Skinner, it blends intellectual irreverence with slander and vulgarity. It can be found at [1] (http://www.listentothestars.co.uk)

Another usage so far specific to Fantasy and Science Fiction is the android that is specifically intended to impersonate another creature (usually a human being). For example, as is depicted in the film Blade Runner, androids built in imitation of humans are banned from the planet Earth, yet return to Earth in search of their creator. In hopes of having their pre-programmed termination undone, one of the androids meets the engineer who designed his artificial eyes and says to him, "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes." In Blade Runner, the androids are not copies of actual humans - all of whom, in the film, have physical defects - but of idealized, perfect versions of humans. Therefore, the replicants are imitations not of reality but of another imitation - ergo, they are simulacra.

The novel on which Blade Runner is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was written by Philip K. Dick, whose novels often blended the lines between reality and its copies. Dick even published a book in 1969 called Simulacrum, which had a somewhat similar plot involving androids.

In occult literature, the word simulacrum is often used to designate an object intended as a representation of a whole, according to Magic principles. For instance, a nail or hair can be used to represent the whole person it belongs to, believed to trap part of the essence of that individual and used for rituals to represent the person. Simulacra can be inserted into a doll representing a person to cast spells upon, to establish the binding bridge between the representation icon and the subject.

See Also

Simulacra in art

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