Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simulacrum

Doing a Google search of "The news makes the news" uncovered this interesting item:

Simulacra

Stephen Tyler (the Deconstructionist, not the lead signer for Aerosmith) describes the simulacrum thus:

"Where modernism focused on the central notion of representation, of the substitution of appearance, of a copy for an original version, post-modernism speaks of 'simulacra,' of models, of simulations, of constructed realities, of appearance as reality. The post-modernist simulacra undermine the notion of fundamental difference between reality and appearance, so we no longer think of 'models of reality' but in 'models as reality.' Simulacra do not re-present a prior or original presentation of the real, they are the real."

I saw a cartoon recently which perfectly illustrates the idea of simulacra: A TV camera is sitting in an easy chair watching television. A cable comes out of the camera and goes into the back of the TV set that the camera is watching. This cutting out of the "middle man," of self-simulation, is the essence of simulacra.

Of course the best example of simulacrum is the evening news. The news makes the News makes the news. CNN reports on the activities of Sadam Hussein, while Sadam watches CNN to find out what he's doing.

"The news" purports to represent a reasonably accurate account of some event that transpired, but this "image" by definition is a somewhat inaccurate representation of what actually and exactly happened. Even live video and audio doesn't give you the complete picture or context. It is only an approximation.

Even beyond the truth and accuracy and completeness of the details of what happened, the higher-level abstraction of what the event was or is categorically and what it "means" and its "significance" are open to debate. And context is both debatable and subject to purely subjective definition (e.g., what to "connect" the event to.) I would simply note that it seems as though a lot of people intentionally turn to "the news" media, whether a trusted "news anchor" on TV or a cherished newspaper (or web site), for... "analysis" that offers up interpretation of the actual news (the observable details) to provide meaning, context, and significance. Just the title of the "news story" alone can be very telling about how it is being "spun." "The news" can very quickly take on a life of its own that can be quite distinct from the reality that it purports to represent.

But, which do people really want? Do they want the boring details or the juicy story concocted with the details being only the starting point? I'll take the boring details any day, but it appears that most people prefer an elaborated story, no matter how far it diverges from objective reality.

So, this is a central problem with facts: the degree to which they represent reality, even if the intent of the observer and reporter is absolutely pure.

Maybe we simply have to accept the fact that all facts are subjective no matter how objective they seem or purport to be.

Could somebody remind me why I call this The Semantic Abyss?

-- Jack Krupansky

2 Comments:

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