JEAN BAUDRILLARD has proven to be an important influence on postmodern theorists and artists, making his presence felt from Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism to the Wachowski brothers' The Matrix. Like Jameson, Baudrillard paints a rather bleak picture of our current postmodern condition, arguing that we have lost contact with the "real" in various ways, that we have nothing left but a continuing fascination with its disappearance. His vision is highly dystopic. In Baudrillard's version of postmodernity, there is hardly any space for opposition or resistance because of the supreme hegemony of the controlling system: "Everywhere, always, the system is too strong: hegemonic" ("On Nihilism" 163).. Baudrillard's vision, then, is one of supreme nihilism and melancholia: "Melancholia is the inherent quality of the mode of the disappearance of meaning.... And we are all melancholic" ("On Nihilism" 162). The problem is that "The system is itself also nihilistic, in the sense that it has the power to pour everything, including what denies it, into indifference" ("On Nihilism" 163). When reading Baudrillard on postmodernity, one sometimes gets the sense that we have already lost, that Baudrillard is merely pointing out the various ways that consumer society and the simulacrum have won in their colonization of all "reality." (On the "simulacrum," see the next module on simulation.)

Baudrillard points to a number of factors contributing to humanity's death knell within the postmodern present, including:

1) the loss of history. As Baudrillard puts it in "History: A Retro Scenario," "History is our lost referential, that is to say our myth." He goes on to say that "The great event of this period, the great trauma, is this decline of strong referentials, these death pangs of the real and of the rational that open onto an age of simulation" (43).

2) mediatization. The fact that movies and television (the media) keep turning to history and to various "retro" recreations of the past is merely a symptom (a reaction-formation, Freud would say) for the loss of history. Indeed, such media works continue the process of forgetting history; as Baudrillard writes of the NBC miniseries Holocaust, "One no longer makes the Jews pass through the crematorium or the gas chamber, but through the sound track and image track, through the universal screen and the microprocessor. Forgetting, annihilation, finally achieves its aesthetic dimension in this way—it is achieved in retro, finally elevated here to a mass level" ("Holocaust" 49). Television, film, and the internet separate us from the real even as they seek to reproduce it more fully or faithfully: "The hyperreality of communication and of meaning. More real than real, that is how the real is abolished" ("The Implosion of Meaning in the Media" 81).

3) the proliferation of kitsch: Our culture, according to Baudrillard, has been inundated by trashy, kitsch, mass-market products, which contribute to our society of simulation and consumerism: "This proliferation of kitsch, which is produced by industrial reproduction and the vulgarization at the level of objects of distinctive signs taken from all registers (the bygone, the 'neo', the exotic, the folksy, the futuristic) and from a disordered excess of 'ready-made' signs, has its basis, like 'mass culture', in the sociological reality of the consumer society" (Consumer Society 110)

4) consumer society. A culture of consumption has so much taken over our ways of thinking that all reality is filtered through the logic of exchange value and advertising. As Baudrillard writes, "Our society thinks itself and speaks itself as a consumer society. As much as it consumes anything, it consumes itself as consumer society, as idea. Advertising is the triumphal paean to that idea" (Consumer Society 193).

5) the "cool smile". Like Jameson, Baudrillard argues that the parodic, self-conscious, self-reflexive elements of pop-cultural forms only aid in their capitalist complicity: "This false distance is present everywhere: in spy films, in Godard, in modern advertising, which uses it continually as a cultural allusion. It is not really clear in the end whether this 'cool' smile is the smile of humour or that of commercial complicity. This is also the case with pop, and its smile ultimately encapsulates all its ambiguity: it is not the smile of critical distance, but the smile of collusion" (Consumer Society 121). For comparison, see the Jameson module on pastiche and the Hutcheon module on parody.

6) simulacra and simulation. Above all else, Baudrillard keeps returning to his concepts, simulacra and simulation, to explain how our models for the real have taken over the place of the real in postmodern society. See the next module.


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Baudrillard: On Postmodernity." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <>.






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