rench theorist Jean Baudrillard died March 4 at age 77. Though he technically was not a member of the Sixties generation, his work certainly influenced writers, artists, filmmakers and philosophers who grew up in the late 20th century.
He was one of our foremost intellectual figures whose work combined philosophy, social theory, and an idiosyncratic cultural metaphysics that reflected on key events of our time. He was a prolific author who published more than 30 books and commented on some of the most salient cultural and sociological phenomena of the contemporary era, in particular consumer, media and technical aspects of society. He analized a modern world in which boundaries between information and entertainment, images and politics, were imploding and blurring.
Baudrillard was perhaps best known for his concepts of “hyperreality” and “simulation.” He advocated the idea that spectacle is crucial in creating our view of events — what he termed “hyperreality.” Things do not happen if they are not seen to happen. His other famous assertion, infuriating to many, illustrated his big idea: that we no longer can distinguish between imitation and reality — and that we sometimes prefer the imitations because they seem more real than life.
According to an obituary in the Los Angeles times:
This state of what Baudrillard called “hyperreality” explains why we are swamped by TV “reality shows,” which are anything but. And it accounts for the perennial allure of Disneyland, which he said is “presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.”
Disneyland is what Baudrillard called a “simulacrum,” a copy more perfect than the original, such as the replicants who cause havoc in the sci-fi film classic “Blade Runner” or the alternate universes depicted in the blockbuster “Matrix” movies. Asked once to describe himself, he said, “What I am, I don’t know. I am the simulacrum of myself.”
Unlike many other French intellectual philosophers, Baudrillard cast his eye away from “high culture,” instead examining pop culture, television and consumerism.
According to the Times’ obit, Baudrillard echoed this view. “While others spend their time in libraries,” he wrote, “I spend mine in the deserts and on the roads. Where they draw their material from the history of ideas, I draw mine from what is happening now, from the life of the streets.”
A true “child” of the Sixties. For more information on Baudrillard, see Wikipedia’s entry.