CCTP-725: Fall 2011

Week 5 Discussions

The Politics of Architectural Simulacra
- Jess Steele

In film today, we are no strangers to the mix of “simulation of simulacra” (Ozturk). Traces of the Matrix have long since become absorbed into our reality, as Seyda Ozturk’s Simulation Reloaded argues, “the Matrix[will] be soon eclipsed by, besides other movies quoting from it and expanding its theme, enactments of
making The Matrix
else”. In this way, Ozturk focuses on the applicability of Baudrillard and The Spectacle in today’s hybrid media mix. Rather than focusing on a false dichotomous breakdown of “the real”, Ozturk insists value lies in the “will-to-artistic-creation”, allowing the recreation of “our subject selves”. In the “representation of our fantasies on the screen”, and, perhaps off, Ozturk argues makes "it [the “real”] something else”.

Following the idea of a reality which “becomes simulacra” (Ozturk), the political implications of media become critical as applied to Baudrillard. As one example, much of today’s architectural pieces present the mixture of the “real” and the “represented” as continuously at play. For instance, while the 9/11 Memorial site, “preserves and displays the physical remains of the site of the twin towers,” the visitor is presented, “a sequence of experiences which allow for individual and personal encounters within an overall context of a historical narrative” ( Exploring the representation “the power of language” and “signs and symbols” (Ozturk), Walter Benjamen and Baudrillard alike argue for the political implications of reproduction of simulacra. In this hybridity of time, perception/context, and place, we see the transitory “mix” of the digital and the referential, as well as a deliberate creation.

In a similar method, photographer Eric Smith created a “hyper real” documentation of a Detroit landmark through high dynamic range imaging ( As “a constant journey towards authenticity”, Smith argues his work allows him, “to question the indefinite relationship between reality and perception” while providing a medium “which provides the viewer not only the opportunity to observe and detect, but also to emote and respond” ( Smith also allows us to see the dialogic mix between author/artist, reader/viewer as the photographs take shape through the sequence of clicks chosen by viewer, changing the perception/context of the historic monument and/or art.

In an always already hybrid world, it seems the implications of simulacra are already limitless. However, it also seems even more critical to examine the artistic construction of “the mix” in all forms of art and the mediated world. From online communities to children’s virtual games, we seethrough Baudrillard/Ecclesiastes, "reversibility, challenge, seduction are indestructible"(Ozturk)...“The simulacrum is true.”

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is a text that has proven itself relevant time and time again, to just about every facet of human life. To look at it within the scape of world history is to see the true value of thinking and writing in a tangible and momentous point in time. Walter Benjamin, a German Jew, was writing in the mid-1930s about art and its technical reproduction, but on a greater scale, about the process of becoming a unthinking Nazi clone, and the dangers that originality and authenticity pose to those clones. In speaking of how the “original preserves authority over reproductions” Benjamin is referencing the mindlessness of the Nazis, and their subservience to Hitler, the original. His art theories “differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism. They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.” His thinly veiled indictment of Nazi Germany cited that without roots in ritual (aura) “art in the mechanical age of reproduction would inherently be based on the practice of politics.” Written in 1936, this text was one of the reasons the Nazis hunted down Benjamin, and why in 1940 he took his own life.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction has always been in my mind, a transformative text. It brings to light the vast and vital applications of philosophical and theoretical thought. I had a similar reaction in reading Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, and was immediately struck by its truth and relevance in our contemporary society, despite its 1967 publication date. Debord’s thesis of what he terms the “spectacle”, which he defines not as “a collection of images, but as a social relationship between people, mediated by images” is, though at times difficult to break, an in-depth look at the characteristics and pieces of our social reality that simply exist and self-regenerate, without being acknowledged or questioned. The idea that mass media have taken control over our social relationships, and that our reality has been replaced by representation is supported by the notion that to describe “the spectacle requires that one speak the language of the spectacular.” We cannot even see the spectacle, because it is everything that we know. The omnipresence of the spectacular, and our lack of societal awareness of its existence is at once a brilliant observation, and an overwhelming realization.

In section 17 Debord speaks of the domination of the economy over society, stating, “The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual ‘having’ must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function.” This is potentially the most concise explanation of how we ended up in our 2008 recession that I have ever heard. When appearance is the driving force of a society, our human and social needs take a backseat to the capitalistic needs of our greater economy. Similar to Benjamin’s argument that aura resides in the ritual or tradition in which an object is rooted, our social worth became about projecting an image, rather than tangible and beneficial accomplishments.

Section 18 of Debord’s writing also spoke to this notion of the ubiquitous system, defining the spectacle as “that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue.” So much of our social framework continues without any critical thought or analysis, a frightening thought when looked at through the lens of a time like Nazi Germany. The mythic icons in our lives are quite dangerous, silently affording our society an unquestioned momentum toward possible implosion.

In our syllabus Prof. Irvine posed the question “how much of our image-world or visual culture has no connection to non-mediated world?” This seems like a trick question because my immediate reaction is: all of it. Every image we see in any single place on earth is connected to a overly-mediated world. Images themselves are mediated in every sense. From framing, editing, production, post production, to external factors such as placement, context, and captions. Beyond that, I would venture to say that everyone in our class is part of a greater mediated world, in which language, citizenship, ethnicity, nationality etc. were all chosen for each of us. Even if an unmediated world existed beyond the ever expanding borders of our globalizing sphere, it is still connected to our mediated world, if only in the binary the two form. In Simulacra and Simulations, Jean Baudrillard states that “perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction's charm.” The worth of imperialistic society was never real, but rather was extracted from the comparison of the East and West. The East was created in the image of the West, and thus the West was defined as the opposite (and superior) to the East..

Side note: The artist that I mentioned in class last week, Fazal Sheikh, whose International Human Rights Series are all available online can be found __here__.

Also, on a lighter note, when reading Debord’s section 25 (or rather thesis 25?), I was reminded of the photographs that my friend Jason Parker makes. Debord wrote “The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of the conditions of existence. It is its own product, and it has made its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity.”
These photos are strange and wonderful, and kind of represent the 5% of each of us that, at any given time, abstains from participating in whatever social/professional/life activity we are performing. Here is a link to his __Flikr page__. He also had a billboard campaign that relates to our class, that you can check out on his __webpage__.

Serene Al-Kawas

In contemporary society, documentary film has become the new filter of reality. Just as Walter’s describes why people are drawn to film because of the absence of the mechanical equipment, documentary is supposed to show us “reality”. It is easy to forget, however, that there is always a lense both figuratively and literally that the director creates the documentary. There is also the “reality” that occurs in the background where the camera is not filming. I wanted to examine this concept through the documentary, “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” which attempted to explore the reasoning behind the torture of the prisoners and the horrific photographs that followed. The director, Rory Kennedy, describes it as being an “investigative piece”, however, “it doesn’t let the soldiers off the hook”. She “wanted the audiences to understand it from their perspective”. When I saw this documentary, I would have never known that this was the director’s intent. To me, it was clear that the director was vehemently opposed to the torture that had happened there and was not objectively investigating the reasons behind the soldiers intent. Although her intention was to take a journalistic approach, I personally took away from the film that she was disgusted by the soldiers actions and that she was trying to persuade the audience to take her side. Although I do believe that the torture of Abu Ghraib was a horrible, and unforgivable act, I had hoped to get a less emotionally involved perspective, which takes me back to examining the reality of documentary. Even though I know as an informed viewer that this is not a unbiased depiction, I was still hoping for a true, non judgemental perspective even though I know a documentary can never be that.

Abu Ghraib TrailerDirector's discussion of Abu Ghraib

In addition, I was particularly interested in Walter's perspective on the reality of film. He describes film as pivotal because it “...spurs interest of the masses through illusion promoting spectacle and dubious speculations.” Walters goes on to argue how “for the contemporary man the representation by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the throughgoing permeation of reality of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment.” Going with the topic of Abu Ghraib, I found two artists who exemplified this point through their artwork. Botero uses the photographs of Abu Ghraib as the basis of his paintings. Although they are still disturbing and horrific, because you know they are not “real”, they are less emotionally effective than the photographs. 1_botero.jpg
Josh Azerella, on the other hand, uses the photographs of Abu Ghraib but removes the actual image of torture. This goes back to the documentary and what is not being filmed; in Azerella’s photographs what is not being shown is the most important aspect of his work but as informed viewers we are still able to get the reference and fill in the blank.
AbuGhraib_MudChrist.jpg josh_azzarella_untitled_ssg_fredric.jpg

Katy Schwager

Does it matter whether representation is “backed” or simulacra? Does it matter if paper money is sponsored by tangible material wealth or not? Does it make a difference if what we accept collectively as “real” is “real” or not? The answer resides in the matter of collective experience and acceptance; if production and representation are decidedly legitimate—a shared decision to believe—than, the “backing” of the representation’s “authenticity” is unimportant.
Considering Benjamin, Debord, and Baudrillard, I found myself largely in agreement and vaguely nihilistic about the significance of their claims—perhaps a reasonable reaction to conclusions of empty representation? While final conclusions of illusory “authenticity” are brought to the extreme in postmodern or post-postmodern forms, it seems to me that all forms of representation—or many, including more basic or older forms—carry similar concerns (or simply traits) of arbitrary creation or a level of inauthenticity. Whether humans create representation through language or image, the representation is always degrees away from the “true” object or concept it seeks to reveal. Language is an abstract system of representation to express thoughts, emotions, etc. that have no “authentic” way to be shared other than though mediation which always distorts or at least fails to completely transfer the represented thought/object exactly. Similarly, no matter how carefully I paint the tree, photograph the tree, or sculpt the tree, it cannot be the primary tree in question: representation—from replication to abstraction—is never the primary thought or object once over in “exact authenticity.”
So then the question becomes one of boundary or line—at what point does the inherently changed-from-primary-thought/object trait of representation become shocking, hyperreal, or considered so far removed from lived experience? Of course, when representation has moved beyond what we can directly experience or when “everything that was directly lived has moved into a representation” the line had been crossed by the opinion of many (Debord, 1). But it seems blurry in many ways; think of child’s play, imagination, dreaming, or daydreaming—are these activities hyperreal? Or are they “real”—they seem to be “age-old,” and naturalized into human experience and therefore considered differently. Is it because they don’t exist in the same mediated way? Do novels or ancient poetries of fantastical creatures and adventures expressed and mediated through the representations of language constitute hyperreality?
My questions lead me to a conclusion that may have something to do with deconstruction; as we deconstruct further, does the significance of representation’s “falsity” decrease? To play with an example of representation I find interesting, I look to modern money. The idea that paper money and the digits in a bank account may not be backed by “actual” capital is concerning to some—but what is the “actual” capital? Is gold inherently valuable, or is it too just a representation of value? I think the line of “reality” is either complicated or quite basic: language, imagination, folklore, and ancient image are all representations that present degrees of separation from the primary thought or object they represent—and they are often representations things that do not exist in lived experience and have been part of the cultural landscape for a long time (ex, Greek mythology, fairytales). Additionally, the idea of living in a removed represented world, may just be revamped and not new—children play, adults dream at night and through the day, and we “live” in constructed realities of books and stories. Representation is just that—its always is a signifier of some primary thought or object that cannot be communicated outside of our minds (thought) or a fixed physical space (object) without mediation. While the degree of representation may carry different consequences or evoke different responses upon consideration, some traits of representation (i.e., the “inauthentic” fact of representation) are true whether for uttered language or living through the simulated reality of World of Warcraft—they are degrees away from the primary thought or object that cannot be delivered without this side effect.



Whether the representation is pretending
your stuffed animal is alive, being "caught
up" in mythical fantasy, or playing WoW
15 hours a day, its all representation that
isn't "real."

--Erica Harp

Image Sources:

Di Lu

What I find most interesting is the liar paradox in this week’s reading:

This statement is false.

The statement “this statement is false” is false

The logic of this statement keeps on and on for its contradiction of itself, and this is in fact the beauty of liar paradox. In ideology or daily life or any other area, we are comfortable in opposing one against the other: true or false, real or unreal, etc. However, just like the infinite liar paradox, we are faced with co-existence of a pair of contradicted status, especially with the technology growing to be more powerful. I think it can be well elaborated by the a physical experiment of Schrödinger's cat (one of the few physical terms I would like to learn a little about): roughly speaking, the imaginary experiment presents a mixed condition of a cat being alive and dead. Today when we try to come up with an “either..or..” conclusion as we are long taught to do by conventions, we are likely to find ourselves falling in a paradox that never ends.

In response, a blank area has been created for the development of those uncategorized, such as “hyperreal” and “simulacra”. I borrow from A Dream of Red Mansions, a great Chinese literature work, an idea that may justify the appearance of the “unreal”. It argues that “if false make the true and true as well false” (“假作真时真亦假”). My understanding is that when pushed to its extreme, true/false or real/unreal goes to the opposite. For example, if hyper-realistic painting can resemble photography to extremes (think decades later with incredible technological progress), then it will be no different with an actual photo although it’s not traditionally defined as one.

Though illusion and simulation are often questioned for deviating from the origin and consequently breaking aura of the authentic piece, I believe on the contrary they supplement what is not satisfied by the reality. Look around, we have a strong craving of thing beyond the reality, and that’s why we indulge its development. I was curious about why the image of girls in Japanese animation were always blonde and with face outline and body shape more of western rather than local girl, until I realized there was idealization more than imitation in the image building. Those representations (it doesn’t matter if they are based on reality or if one day they will be realized) are what viewers choose to see and believe. This is a reason good enough for blurring illusion and reality in visual representation.


Such a connection between audience and their desired images in media make it vulnerable for manipulation, which concerns Guy Debord in the Society of the Spectacle. The flattering media convinces us what is visually presented to us is not only what we want to believe, but also what we are supposed to believe. This strong link between images in eye and trust creates opportunities for specific purpose, such as how the image of Rosie the Riverter encouraged American women to participate in social productions during the WWⅡ.In relation to my points earlier, when people’s minds are shaped by the implication of images, they at the same time reproduce desires for further spectacles that will again influence our impression and ideas. It goes on and on and on, with neither possibility nor necessity to distinguish true and false.

1. Question for Discussion - Walter Benjamin's Methods

How did Benjamin arrive at this analysis? What were his methods? Where did his insight come from? Many of his predictions have panned out, for example he seems to predict phenomena like reality TV, or at least the success of documentary film film, in section X: "Some of the players whom we meet in Russian films are not actors in our sense but people who portray *themselves*--and primarily in their own work process." Is Benjamin's predictive skill simply luck, or did he develop a particularly effective "heuristic model" to reach his conclusions? Serene's post above points to a socio-political explanation, and by extension I'm wondering about a theoretical explanation.

external image walter-benjamin-madrid.jpg

2. The Spectacle, Real and Hyperreal in Occupy Wall Street and Beyond

"To describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must artificially distinguish certain inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle one speaks, to some extent, the language of the spectacular itself in the sense that one moves through the methodological terrain of the very society which expresses itself in the spectacle."

-Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, section 11

"What society seeks through production, and overproduction, is the restoration of the real which escapes it. That is why contemporary "material" production is itself hyperreal. It retains all the features, the whole discourse of traditional production, but it is nothing more than its scaled-down refraction (thus the hyperrealists fasten in a striking resemblance a real from which has fled all meaning and charm, all the profundity and energy of representation)."

-Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations, quoted in Prof. Irvine's lecture slides

external image occupydc21.png

The recent Occupy Wall Street protest movement, which is spreading to cities across the U.S. and throughout the world (including OccupyDC) presents an interesting case study for the application of Debord and Baudrillard's theoretical propositions. Though a cynical reading of Debord might indicate that these protests employ "the language of the spectacular itself," they are therefore analogous to the spectacle engendered through mass media and the greater societal spectacle of human relationships - neutralized, ineffective, and on the whole just 'part of the problem.' However, I would argue that these protests challenge the very ground of the relationships of capitalistic spectacle, while still employing its language. Moreover, the real and hyperreal are negotiated by the protesters in real time as as they themselves employ mobile technology to simultaneously mediate interactions at the individual/interpersonal/institutional "real" level, and global new media environment.

Here are some videos for analysis.


Here is similar (if not identical) footage from Russia Today (RT) TV


In video, (a) and (b) the protesters amassed at the Brooklyn Bridge facing mass arrest chant "The Whole World Is Watching, The Whole World Is Watching." By calling attention to the real time dissemination of the images of the interaction through livestream, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc., the protesters leverage the language of surveillance against the police. Note that the police themselves are also armed with video cameras, which has become commonplace at protests throughout the world in the battle to mediate these contested encounters. (I myself have experienced police filming protests in both Tokyo and Washington, DC). For the protesters at the front of the line and the NYPD officers involved, their experience was undoubtedly as real as it gets.

Comparison of video (a) and (b) demonstrates the simulacra at work. Virtually identical footage (a copy) is used by RT TV in video (b) ("courtesy of Daryl Lang"), with the exception of a lower quality in video (b) and the presence of the RT TV logo. The mediation from an international news outlet on YouTube presents some interesting questions. For whom does video (a) appear more real, and for whom does video (b) appear more real? Do either video attempt to present an "objective portrayal" of the events? Though the birds eye view of the camera allows the scene to unfold with little obstruction for the spectator, important information is missing, such as the size of the crowd, or the number of NYPD. Further, the videographer himself is likely a member of the protest (evidenced in the video by [perhaps] his chanting next to the mic). For some sympathetic to the "99%" represented by the protesters this strengthens his credibility, though for others it may weaken it. Finally, the RT TV brand logo, and posting through this account, allows video (b) more views on YouTube. Incidentally, each of these "unique views" could represent a simulation of the original. Taken collectively, the display of this view count represents the popularity of one simulation over another. Thus, protesters utilizing YouTube are subject to its idiosyncratic information economy.

Video (c) is included as an example of YouTube cinema verite (a subject of discussion in Prof. Osborn's Critical Making class). The unabashedly poor quality and constant camera movement may give the viewer a sense of 'being in the action.' Though likely unintended by the film maker, these traits influence the perception/reception of the video as "real," "unbiased" or "unmediated," although it is a mediated simulation/representation like all film. This technique is increasingly used by media makers in hybrid genres like reality TV, or mock/dockumentaries such as the Blaire Witch Project, etc.

Baudrillard's hyperreal resonates with my experience in some ways, yet I am still uncomfortable with his basic philosophical/metaphysical underpinnings. The idea that there is only the hyperreal, that originals are simply a nostalgic quest for authenticity that can only be mediated through the hyperreal, seems untenable and self-defeating to me. Philosophical arguments like this cannot be disproven. Even in the popular films and literature that deal with these issues, such as The Matrix, Inception, The Truman Show, Alice In Wonderland, Waking Life, etc., are generally grounded in an interplay between the "real" and "simulated/dream" worlds. Without grounding theory in some sense of reality, can it still be culturally, politically, socially or economically relevant? Based on the work of Foucault and other critical theorists, this is for me the central question of post-postmodernism. Dwelling in paradox, can we (theorists and practitioners alike) find a way to affect a more just, more sustainable, more meaningful and happier world? Put differently, how can we create a world that better reflects our most basic values and human needs? How can we construct a more beautiful illusion?

external image 6192902853_f649b4e443_b1.jpg

Here is one chance to take action. This protest has been planned for some time, and OccupyDC will join forces with it on Thursday, October 6:

external image stop%20machine%20logo%20fist.preview.png

-Ben King

Yizhou Zhang

“The image-reading era has come” was the thing most frequently said by our photojournalism professor in college, which indicates not only an individual viewing habit, but a cultural and social emphasis on image rather than text, on the replica rather than the original, or on representation rather than reality. To think about the “why”, “how” and “what” behind such a phenomenon, Walter Benjamin gave us a lot insights in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Although it was written more than forty years ago, most of his ideas still can be proved in the digital age. Perhaps the only thing without the need to discuss any more in today’s context is the “aura” of artwork, because there has been no longer “pure art” ever since the birth of pop culture. In fact, the “aura” stands for a privilege in a certain power system - a hegemonic discourse owned by a unique piece of artwork. As soon as mechanical/digital reproduction eliminated such a privilege by making the distinction between the original/authentic and the copy/replica obsolete, the threshold of art changed from high to low and the value of art shifted from “cult” to “exhibition”.

In his article, Benjamin focused on two major forms of visual art - photography and film. Correspondingly, I’ve been concerned about the debate on the representation vs. reality issue of photojournalism and documentary. When people talk about how “real” and touching some documentary films are - for example, Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty, I just can’t help asking how come a totally deceptive story could be honored as a documentary classic?

As is shown by the title of a book by China’s Sixth Generation filmmakers called My Camera Doesn’t Lie, it’s the people who are “lying”, not the camera. In practice, human subjectivity penetrates the whole production process from filming to editing. Also, I used to think that the natures of technology and technique are different: technology is neutral and objective, while technique depends on human’s idea, purpose, creativity, skill, etc. However, using the digital editing softwares such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro made me rethink about the neutrality of technology. If the invention of camera reflected human’s effort to pursue the “real”, then has the further development of digital technology suggested an attempt to modify the reality and create the spectacle/simulacra/simulation?

To put this argument into a broader context, it’s not only about art, but also about our perception of society, culture and human life. According to Debord in Society of the Spectacle, spectacle is “a social relation among people, mediated by images”, which can be explained as a capitalist system dominated by images that are produced by mass media (TV, film, advertising, entertainment). We are surrounded by ideologies, narratives and illusions built by the spectacle from micro to macro level, gradually becoming the slave of symbol/sign in the absence of significance, just as Baudrillard described in The Consumer Society. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard further argued the hyperreal as “the simulation of something which never really existed” - a postmodern symbolic exchange system. By remix/hybrid, we are actually trying to reconstruct some alternatives of the absent reality to confront the implosion of symbols and nihilism.


(For those who are interested in semiotics and advertising images, here is a link to my work on Decoding Advertisements in a visual studies course, which might be helpful: )

The themes which stood out for me in this week’s readings included Benjamin’s discussion of the historical roots and implications in age of visual reproductions and Baudrillard’s exploration of what is considered real in an age of constant imagery simulation.

external image a-reality.jpg?t=20110612125003

Benjamin notes, “The greater the decrease in social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public” (234). One medium which certainly draws lines between critics and public enjoyment is reality TV. As much as critics may not like to admit, according to Benjamin, it is probably in more of a position “to present an object for simultaneous collective experience” (234) simply because of its dominating nature as film as opposed to a painting which may easily be obscured from the masses. There is no cult value which Benjamin argues would have demanded that the work remain hidden. Now the art has an “absolute emphasis on its exhibition value” (225). Benjamin puts an emphasis on historical circumstances which determine both the how “human sense perception is organized” and the “medium in which it is accomplished” (222). Works of culture created now are forever a part of the “fabric of tradition” (223) that marks this time period. Reality TV has made its mark in our time, but how will it be viewed in the future? Could reality TV ever assume a basis in ritual and therefore become more “authentic”?

external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRT3MNwFwxIFD59FiBL6qSX1OP1w-vs3zeaQB6PZFYBdbKNlOpNvg

In regard to Baudrillard, one recent instance that exemplifies the real which “no longer needs to be longer anything but operational” is the Museum of Non-Visible Art. Created by actor cum performance artist James Franco and the conceptual artists known as Praxis, the “Museum” is built solely on ideas and “redefines the concept of what is real”. I think Baudrillard would be amused at how, frankly, realistically, Franco and company have taken to heart his thoughts and predictions on simulacra and what has become of abstraction.

Ironically, the Museum of Non-Visible Art (MONA) sells the non-visible art for real money, and people purchase it. The pieces for sale are described on the site and the purchaser receives a title card and letter of authentication--no physical art object. Now my first thought was to dismiss this as a stunt or performance artists’ inside joke, which it certainly could be. However, it does make you think about the purpose or goal which drives people to consume images. Benjamin noted, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art” (221). To me an aura is the transcendental quality which a work of art or text begets, and this is ideally what we want to experience by consuming it. In “A Manifesto: To Clarify The Non-Visible”, the creators declare that: “Art itself is nothing. All that matters is what is left. The afterglow. The ambition is to produce this. We strive for an afterglow with no thing preceding.” Perhaps the afterglow they speak of in this case is similar to the aura. Who’s to say that you couldn’t experience the same aura/afterglow feeling by sending James Franco $25 of your money via, receiving an authenticity-confirming piece of paper, and simply thinking about your new piece of art? I find it similar to Baudrillard’s examples of hyperreal culture: instead of the real world there is Disneyland; instead of touching there is contactotherapy; instead of canvases on walls there is imaginary art.

What does all of this say about our culture now? If we are defined by what we make, and we’re making mutated copies (or in some cases imaginary copies), then what does that mean for our spot in the history books? Since history tends to repeat and fall back on itself like the möbius strip Baudrillard discussed, is there ever a chance we can go from the digital/visual age back to an age where visual items had a pure cult/ritual meaning? has already created a platform for image chatting. Perhaps we will we just communicate solely by recurring images and old internet memes in the future?


-Barry Blitch

Yu-wei Wang

In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin proposed the concept of the “aura” of the artwork and criticized the phenomenon of the substantive reproductions of artworks in the mechanical age that lead to the demise of its aura which depreciated the “authenticity” of the artwork. In the digital era, the duplication of works becomes easier than the past which leads to the proliferation of the reproductions. Moreover, by using the digital technology, there are more and more Remix artworks. The authenticity of the original works seems dissolves in the remix works. Hence, is the authenticity of the artworks blurs in this epoch? In my opinion, the authenticity of the remix works not only will not fade way, but instead will still exist in a transformation of new facet. Art is nourished by art itself; inevitably, every art work is already a hybrid. However, it is because of this remix feature that allows audiences to appreciate the works without the loss of direction, since it is the intertextuality of the works that the audiences who live within the context can gain the ideas expressed by the producers in their works. Thus, the authenticity of the initial works, which remixed into another art work, can be perceived by the viewers and the authenticity of the new work, be sensed as well. The aura of the artworks will never perish but reborn in a new look.

Another interesting points that I found in this week’s reading is the concept of “simulacra” which developed by Jean Baudrillard. In his Simulacra and Simulation, he illustrates an example of the Disneyland, which is actually the simulation of the America and the simulacra of the American values that the Americans pursue and it resulting in the popularity of this recreation park. In this example, Disneyland becomes the representation of the US. As Guy Debord mentions “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images”, here the spectacle is Disneyland and what it present is not itself but the society it live within. However, the tricky point here is that since Disneyland as a social microcosm of real America, why it not only gain popularity in the national domain, but get prevalence in international wide. Indeed, the globalization of the America Pop culture is one of the primary reasons, while another point for this success, its localization should be at the stake. Although the equipments and instruments in every Disneyland will be in a same standard criteria, they will do the slight alter of the spectacle, the cloth on the cartoon characters, the display of the parade, for instances. By adapting local components into the design of the Disneyland, the park turns into a hybrid of the American culture and local culture. This phenomenon reveals the social reality of the cultural hybridity and the mixing of social values, the phantasmagoria of changing the social roles.

Mickey is wearing Chinese traditional custume in Hong Kong Disneyland.

The parade in Tokyo Disneyland, not only the characters are in traditional Japanese custumes, but the display of the park is altered into Japanese style, the cherry-blossom for example.

To stretch this cultural hybridation into a further extent, the classic example is the Japanese manga and animation. The typical appearances of the figures in both manga and animation is blond or brown hair with the light color pupil which are much similar to Western people’s appearance rather than Oriental one’s. Further, many of the stories in the manga or animation are not happened in Japan, but in the imaginative countries. All of these create a simulacra of the hybrid and intertextual world which appeals a vast body of audience worldwide. Under this assumption, the mega and animation no longer represent orthodox Japanese culture, yet the hybrid of traditional oriental culture and the western culture which forms the current plural Japanese culture. “It is the heart of unrealism of the real society. It is the present model of socially dominant life it’s the omnipresent affirmation of the choice made in production and its corollary consumption” (Guy Debord).

Sailormoon, the hair and the pupil colors of the figures are apparently not the oriental looks but more like the Western looks and the story took place at the earth and solar system.

Naruto, the outlook of the figures in this animation is still more like Western people than Asian people; ironically, the story talks about Ninja, which is a traditonal and unique occupatioin of Japan.

Pic souce:

Xindi Guo

The movie, matrix first time encourages people to think about the relationships between the real world and the virtual world. With the development of new technologies, it seems that the more people get close to realities, the more people may get far from realities. On one hand, with the development of new technology, the way that people used to reflect reality has changed from paint to photograph, and from photograph to film. For example, TV news is closer to the realities than newspapers, because TV news shows people the realities through videos, which is a medium that can directly record the reality. On the other hand, because of the photo editing and video editing technologies, the videos from TV could be edited videos, which mean they could be distortions and absences of realities according to Baudrillard. Even if the TV program is live, the camera could not catch every details of the real world. Also, when journalists and interviewers ask questions to interviewees, the reality is distorted because the interviewer’s questions push interviewees to disclose part of the truth and hide part of truth.

Then I couldn’t help to ask the question that the matrix brings out: what is real? How could I distinguish realities from a virtual world? It seems people could be cheated by simulations in anytime. Here is the most famous ironic image of Nessie is known as the "Surgeon's Photograph". Dr. Wilson said that he saw the monster at Nessie and takes the photo in 1934. This photo makes huge impacts rapidly and many people believe it at that time. Until 1992, one of the cheater, Christian Spuring claimed that he made this photo with a toy submarine with a sculpted head attached.


In this case, people cheated by Spuring’s simulated photo and Spuring tried to imitate the image of monster from the former book. Also the image from the former book may just simulacra.

Another Example:
Many American media report the “Obama Fried Chicken” in Beijing, China recently. All the news uses the following image. It is obvious that it is the appropriation of Obama and KFC. However, because all news comes from an image, some people doubt whether the image is fake.


Here is the comment under the news:

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For immediately releasing the news, media sometimes even do not care it is real or not.

Is that means simulation make our world fake? What is the significant of Simulation? Simulation has its significance on rhetoric. From the rhetoric perspective, simulation is a good way for people share commons and inherit their cultures. When football fans wear same t-shirt with a team’s logo, they are sharing the same sense of belonging. When people imitate Michael Jackson’s dance, people try to show respects to him.

Ashley Wei

I watched The Matrix ages ago when I was in middle school which was probably the first enlightenment of virtual reality for me. It was delightful to recall some of the scenes and characters from the movie through this week’s readings. I did not know Jean Baudrillard when I was 16, all I knew about The Matrix was Sci-Fi, action and cool Neo, so it is really interesting to rethink about the story through a more sophisticated perspective.

I recalled some knowledge of computer programming that I learnt in college. In the object-oriented programming, there are “classes” and “functions” defined in codes, and when the program starts running, there are “instance” generated by classes and functions to actually do what the program is expected to do. These instances are not in the codes, and I'm wondering if they are "part" of the program. When the program is running, it assigns some pointers to control these instances (create them, manage them, kill them, etc.). An interesting thing is that the program can possibly lose the control of these instances if the pointers are broken. When the connections are cut off, the instances won’t die out even when the program ends. They will stay in the memory of the computer until it’s rebooted. That’s why sometimes the operating system get stuck because tons of unpointed instances eat up its memory so it can't operate programs any more.

What I want to relate this CS knowledge to The Matrix is that I was wondering whether Neo and the world he lives within the Matrix were “instances” or “functions” of the mother program. I can’t recall enough detail of the movie to answer this question (I should have watched the movie again before starting this piece of writing though), but it seems to me that they are instances because the mother program is controlling them rather than using them as part of it. And if we borrow the idea from above, that even if the mother program is stop, those instances are still in somewhere of the memory - of course they cannot do anything anymore, however, they are not dead, they are still there. This idea trilled me because I start to ask myself: how can we say Neo is just piece of the virtual program if he still exists somewhere after the Matrix dies? It’s true that Neo is created by the program, but he is not part of the program. Like the relationship of human parents and child, that we are created by our parents, yet we are independent instances and are very different from out parents.

Besides, I was fascinated by Baudrillard’s distinction of “illusions” and “simulations”, as well as what he says about Watergate: the scandal is generated to cover the fact that there is no scandal, and furthurmore, the virtual world is created to make people believe the rest is real. I recalled a movie I watched recently, The Fourth Kind, which is a Mockumentary about alien abduction. I did not know it was a mocked documentary before I watched it and I was terribly freaked out because I believed what it claimed “real story”, “real interview clips”, “real audio records”, and the “prototype”. I was terrified because I sometimes woke up at three o’clock in the morning just like those victims suffered in the story. Not until at the end of the movie when the casting list showed the “real doctor” was also performed by some actress did I realize that I was deceived. At that moment I felt myself so stupid, how could I believe an alien story so easily? But the fact is I was driven to believe its truthfulness because in the very beginning of the movie, Milla Jovovich jumped out and said to the audiences, “I am an actress, I am acting Doctor Abigail Tyler”, and this virtual world maked me believe the rest is real without doubt. This is so interesting when it refers to Baudrillard’s theory.

The Fourth Kind: Trailer

Helene Vincent

Tonight as I sat across the dinner table from two of my roommates, we got into an argument about today’s readings. After briefly running through the ideas proposed by Benjamin, Debord, and Baudrillard, my friends and I turned our attention to a question posed by professor Irvine: why are photography/video/film-based images given the code of “reality,” some assumed direct relation to something outside the image that it represents, refers to, depicts? My roommates became agitated when I flat out rejected their main point—if you take a photo or video, you record something you have seen with your own eyes so it must be an accurate recording of “reality.” I think their reaction and argument accurately represent the way most people feel about the relation between a photo or video and the image that it represents. Because a photo/video allows us to project an image on a piece of paper or screen as it appears to us as we look directly at it, we take it to be a representation of reality. But as artists like Rene Magritte and Cindy Sherman show us, reality is not so easily identified and photos/videos may suggest a possible reality but certainly cannot be construed as a “real” representation of the world we live in.

By reading photos/videos as “real” we overlook that what we see is a result of mediation. This is one of the ideas Baudrillard puts fourth in Simulacra and Simulations. Any image we see is the result of calculation of a certain degree, it can be subconscious or actively pursued (or fall somewhere between those two). Take, for example, a mother taking a video of her daughter’s ballet recital. When we look closely at the simple recording of a little girl’s ballet recital through the lens of Baudrillard’s successive phase of the image, we can see that even something so simple, is still very much calculated. 1) It is the reflection of a basic reality—the child is onstage dancing, she is a little ballerina. 2) It masks and perverts a basic reality—the child is not really a dancer or a ballerina. 3) It masks the absence of a basic reality—the setting of the stage, the costumes, the movement suggest that the child is a dancer and a ballerina but these have no actual relationship to the little girl. 4) It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum—the image of the little girl as a ballerina to a viewer precedes her actual self and the distinction between reality and her representation as a ballerina vanishes. An example of a photo/video falling on the complete opposite end of the mediation spectrum would be propaganda. Hitler, for example, calculated every aspect of his physical appearance in posters to the point where people who knew him said that the art he created did not resemble him in the least—but it propagated the image of himself that he wanted people to know.

Some photographers and filmmakers claim capturing reality as their goal. The problem with their goal is that a photo/video is the capturing a specific moment in time, meaning that the image represented in the photo/video continues once the photo/video has been taken. There is no way then to capture a “reality” that moves backward and forward in time. In 1936 a photographer snapped a picture of a careworn mother and her two children to record the victims of America’s economic collapse, this photo has become almost instantly recognizable.

There is an assumed direct relationship between the photo and the suffering of the American people in general during the great depression. It represents the “reality” of life for a huge portion of the American public during a specific period in time, yet it is just a close up photograph of three people.
The movie, matrix first time encourages people to think about the relationships between the real world and the virtual world. With the development of new technologies, it seems that the more people get close to realities, the more people may get far from realities. On one hand, with the development of new technology, the way that people used to reflect reality has changed from paint to photograph, and from photograph to film. For example, TV news is closer to the realities than newspapers, because TV news shows people the realities through videos, which is a medium that can directly record the reality. On the other hand, because of the photo editing and video editing technologies, the videos from TV could be edited videos, which mean they could be distortions and absences of realities according to Baudrillard. Even if the TV program is live, the camera could not catch every details of the real world. Also, when journalists and interviewers ask questions to interviewees, the reality is distorted because the interviewer’s questions push interviewees to disclose part of the truth and hide part of truth.

Victoria Hamilton

Hip Hop culture is built around the concept of “keepin’ it real” and playing it “cool.” Coolness and authenticity garner respect and lend themselves to entre into intimate circles of trust and access. Access to support, success and the spoils of the material world. However, “fakery,” “inauthenticness,” etc. lends itself to distrust and disbelief. If you have no experience, no authenticity, no authority and no say.

In “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Benjamin notes, “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced...what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.”

However “real” most people would want things to be, our reality is determined by external forces and cues. TV, movies, music, social influences and experiences.

Every suddenly wants to go to Vegas for a taste of New York, Venice, Cairo and Paris. For the same reason they go to Epcot. Visitors can see Morocco, England, France, China, Japan, Mexico and Germany and even meet “natives” from each land to bring a taste of authenticity to a successful simulacrum and really “keep it real.”

epcot_china.jpg epcot_disney.jpg

Dave Chappelle
When Keepin’ It Real Goes Wrong

Ray Charles

Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye
"Ain't Nothin' Like the Real Thing"

That Subliminal Kid DJ Spooky
Be Cool, Kools, Play it Cool, That's Cool, I'm Cool, You're Cool. Ice T, Ice Cube, Kool Moe Dee.
"To be from a place as warm as Africa, we as a people sure are fascinated by "coolness"
Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antartica