Lecture: Digital Media as Simulation Culture: Hyper-reality & the ‘Crisis of the Real’

This lecture sets out to answer two key questions to illustrate Baudrillard’s theory. What are the implications of digital imaging for our visual culture and what do we mean by simulation culture and the ‘crisis of the real’?

First of all, what is the difference between analog versus digital imaging?

Digital images don’t deteriorate and can be replicated precisely. Furthermore digital images are inherently mutable and allow for manipulation although, according to Manovich (1995) normal photography never existed. In the present digital age in which we find ourselves only the photographer can vouch for the reliability of a picture (Briggs, 2002, p. 464-476), therefore analog photography is seen as having a privileged relationship to reality. Thus, digital images being inherently mutable Manovich calls into question our ontological distinction between the imaginary and the real. Digital technology has also allowed us to create images through computer graphics simulating the real. Lastly digital technologies allow us to create virtual spaces, creating the illusion of inhabiting and moving through those spaces in video games.

Some of the implications of the creation of digital images obviously is the loss of the ability of discerning the real from the simulation. With the coming of the digital image, manipulation has become an issue into the imagery world, as people are not aware of the fact that they perceive a simulated construction of reality and therefore their perception of reality being influenced by their consumption of media texts. This inevitably leads to an alteration of his or hers behaviour through the lens of media images.

According to Plato, there are three orders of representation: original (reality), copy (representation) and copy of the copy (simulacra). What Baudrillard suggests is the fact that living in the digital age, we are ‘bombarded’ daily with so much media (so many representations of reality) that we have begun to behave in ways that are portrayed by the media. In other words, people are living in reality through the lens of media representation of that particular reality. Therefore people are living in a simulation of the simulation; a simulation of, for example, interpersonal relationships in the media.

“Baudrillard’s basic assumption is that the world of today […] has lost something very important: its connection to reality […]. There is a basic loss of referentials, as that what surrounds us to an ever increasing extent consists of pure form with no content” (Kingsepp, 2007, p. 367)

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