Jean Baudrillard: Distinguishing Between Image and
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Walter Kirn of the New
York Times gave Baudrillard "first prize for cerebral cold-bloodedness"
for his book The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers.
"In terms of collective drama," wrote Baudrillard, "we can say
that the horror for the 4,000 victims of dying in those towers was inseparable
from the horror of living in them – the horror of living and working in
sarcophagi of concrete and steel." "It takes a rare, demonic
genius," wrote Kirn, "to brush off the slaughter of thousands on the
grounds that they were suffering from severe ennui brought about by boring
Critics have long complained that Baudrillard's complexities are no
more than pretentious gibberish and have dismissed him as a charlatan, "a
suit of clothes with no emperor inside… an academic gown with no professor
inside." But in this age of television reality shows and blossoming
virtual net communities, it is worth considering that Baudrillard is on to
something when he argues that we can no longer distinguish between imitation
and reality, we are lost in a world of simulacra created and presented as
"real" by the mass media, and we sometimes prefer the imitations
because they seem more real than life.
Baudrillard's deliberately provocative claim that the "Gulf
war did not take place" raised the eyebrows and the tempers of many
literal minded critics who understood the phrase as a denial of empirical
reality. But although the reality on the ground was one of horrendous death and
destruction, the reality on TV for American viewers was largely a staged
set-piece, a video game of computer effects, patriotic graphics and CNN
cheerleading. American viewers, at least, did not experience the Gulf War; they
experienced only a highly manipulative state and media representation of a war.
How many knew the difference?