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Simulacrum (plural: simulacra), from the Latin simulare, "to make like, to put on an appearance of", originally meaning a material object representing something (such as a cult image representing a deity, or a painted still-life of a bowl of fruit). By the 1800s it developed a sense of a "mere" image, an empty form devoid of spirit, and descended to connote a specious or fallow representation.
In the book Simulacra and Simulation (1981/1995), the French social theorist Jean Baudrillard gave the term a specific meaning in the context of semiotics, extended from its common one: a copy of a copy which has been so dissipated in its relation to the original that it can no longer be said to be a copy. The simulacrum, therefore, stands on its own as a copy without a model. For example, the cartoon Betty Boop was based on singer Helen Kane. Kane, however, rose to fame imitating Annette Hanshaw. Hanshaw and Kane have fallen into relative obscurity, while Betty Boop remains an icon of the flapper.
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia itself may be seen as a large-scale field experiment in the spread of simulacra. It is notable that many pages contain factoids about the meaning of words in the fictitious context of popular movies, video and role-playing games, usually derivative cliches in imitation of other such fictions. For instance the 1999 movie The Matrix explores the relationship between people and their simulacra; and in a further example of self-reference Neo, one of the lead characters from the movie, uses a hollowed out copy of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation as a secret store.
Fredric Jameson uses the example of photorealism to describe simulacra. The painting is a copy of a photograph, not of reality. The photograph itself is a copy of the original. Therefore, the painting is a copy of a copy. Other art forms that play with simulacra include Pop Art, Trompe l'oeil, Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. Jean Baudrillard puts forth God as an example.
Science fiction and fantasy literature
In Fantasy and Science Fiction literature Simulacra are artificial life forms that are designed to mimic the characteristics of a naturally occurring species. The most common form copied by Simulcra are human beings. It is believed that Simulacra are a modern day adaptation of the Golem myth.
Many stories that include Simulacra share several common themes:
- Simulacra are always imperfect copies.
- Simulacra are distinguishable from the original, because they are based on an idealized form of that which was copied.
- There is a desire on the part of the Simulacrum to either be more like the original (i.e. Pinocchio), or to replace the original (i.e. Doppelgangers)
Specific examples of Simulacra in film and television include:
- The Replicants from the movie Blade Runner
- The 'Soong Type Android' from Star Trek: The Next Generation, including Commander Data
- The 'Synths' from the Alien Series of movies.
- The Machines from the Matrix.
- The anthropoid Cylons from the new Battlestar Galactica.
- The conversations and social examples of simulacra in the film Beautiful Tamar (2005).
Simulacra do not need to resemble their progenitor in appearance. In many stories it is the mental capacities of man that are being emulated, not the physical form. See M5 (Star Trek).
Philip K. Dick often explored the concept of the Simulacrum. Two of his more famous works include the novel "The Simulacra" (published in 1969) and the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", which was later adapted into the Ridley Scott film "Blade Runner". In the film Blade Runner, androids built in imitation of humans are banned from the planet Earth, yet return to Earth in search of their creator. In hopes of having their pre-programmed termination undone, one of the androids meets the engineer who designed his artificial eyes and says to him, "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes." In Blade Runner, the androids are not copies of actual humans - all of whom, in the film, have physical defects - but of idealized, perfect versions of humans. Therefore, the replicants are imitations not of reality but of another imitation - ergo, they are simulacra.
The novel on which Blade Runner is based is Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Dick's stories often blend the lines between reality and the perception of reality. The electro-machanical 'Andies' in the short story became bio-engineered 'Replicants' in the movie. And despite the Androids/Replicants being hunted by a character named Deckard and being detectable by the special test, the two story lines have almost nothing in common. So in a fitting bit of irony, a movie about Simulacra is in fact a Simulacrum itself.
Commander Data, in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation also represents an example of the post-modern sense of Simulacrum. Data is Sci-Fi adaptation of Walt Disney's character Pinocchio. Disney's character, in turn, was based on Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. The Collodi Pinocchio has more in common with Data's Evil twin Lore than with the innocent character depicted in the Disney film.
In occult literature, the word simulacrum is often used to designate an object intended as a representation of a whole, according to Magic principles. For instance, a nail or hair can be used to represent the whole person it belongs to, believed to trap part of the essence of that individual and used for rituals to represent the person. Simulacra can be inserted into a doll representing a person to cast spells upon, to establish the binding bridge between the representation icon and the subject.
- Anomalous phenomena
- Body double
- Fortean Times, a British monthly magazine of Fortean phenomena which also features regular simulacra submissions.
Simulacra in art
- The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, painting by Salvador Dalí
- Simulacrum Flickr-group (photography depicting simulacra)
- Word of the day, Dictionary.com, May 1 2003
- pp.166-184 of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation
- Byron Hawke, "Baudrillard and Simulation
- Hyper-Real Wikipedia and the Evolution of Mu-lacra
- Various 'Simulacrum' Themed Articles
- Various 'Simulacrum' Themed Links
- Official Website of the Original Simulacrum Band
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