Ceci n’est pas une blog

June 07, 2011

The title says “This is not a blog” and plays on Rene Magritte's The Treachery of Images. It is also true.

It is in fact the image of a pipe. Seems like a pedantic statement to make but the concept there is crucial in the ideology behind what is and isn’t real. Reality and virtuality have coexisted for many years but since the dawn of postmodernism, the lines have blurred and virtuality has become reality and it is harder to decipher which is which in certain cases. Take for example, “reality” TV shows. What you see isn’t reality, or even an image of reality but an image of a perceived image of reality. People aren’t truly being themselves when they know the camera is there, they are being what they think other people think they should be and this persona is then projected to the masses in the form of another image. This idea is then glamourised and promoted through the use of advertising and word of mouth and sometimes loses any remnants of meaning and becomes nothing more than virtuality. But we’re still told it’s real, and because people are now beginning to behave like this even without cameras there, it surely is. And there lies a paradox: it’s real but it’s not real at the same time.

This kind of behaviour is dangerous and echoes the map-territory relation, the relationship between the object and a representation of that object. Jean Baudrillard argued in his book Simulacra and Simulation that the “development of electronic media blurs the line between map and territory by allowing for the simulation of ideas as encoded in electronic signals”. Imagine a map drawn to the exact scale of the territory it is representing. The map would be so accurate that the territory itself would not precede the map and the territory would then have to fit the map and not the other way around. In other words, the image (or simulacrum) has taken precedent (Baudrillard, 1994:1). We allow the interpretations and perceptions of events and actions to become those events and actions and consciously or subconsciously spread these to other people where their meanings become lost in those misinterpretations and furthermore, those mistranslations. Deconstruction is needed, therefore, to bring back the initial foundations of what was real in the first place. Just because a stone hits someone on the foot and causes pain does not mean that all stones cause pain when dropped on all feet in the same way a politician is not entirely corrupt because of one’s perception of his or her action that that person deemed corrupt.

The simulacrum and real must therefore be separated before meaning of anything is lost. I was watching TV with my parents this evening and there was a storyline about euthanasia. The person in relation to the storyline was euthanised and everyone involved with the act were beside themselves with grief. My mum took this to heart and felt depressed after watching. My dad reassured her it wasn’t real and that it was just a programme. This isn’t an uncommon situation when watching an adaptation of an event. What we seem to forget is during the recording of that event, when the director said “cut”, the “dead” person would wake up and would be fine, the grief stricken mother would stop crying and smile and the third party would wipe away the fake vomit from his mouth, sniff and smile too. It was only a representation of euthanasia. This may seem obvious and needless to say, but in the moment of watching, this is all forgotten.

This proves the programme is doing what it set out to do, but the feelings conveyed are based on something that wasn’t real. Real feelings based on unreal events. Harmless enough if induced by a television programme but looking at it from a deconstructive point of view, this can be serious if it leads to real harmful events. That is a strong if, however, and I am not saying “unreal violence on TV will cause real violence in the real world”, but the possibility is always there, in the most extreme case. Video game violence is nothing more than code and numbers manipulated through the perception of violence from a human programmer who perceives violence in a way that he thinks the masses would relate to. Real (and complex) mathematics manipulated by a simulacrum of violence from a fallible human for another fallible human to feel real (and complex) emotions towards. Kind of like a real/unreal sandwich. It can leave a strange taste in the mouth.

I have also perceived social networking to come under this kind of topic. If you take the words social and networking, you have both the real and virtual put together in one term; a common way of terminology, fusing binary signifiers together to create one sole meaning. The word social denotes people and the surroundings they live in. Networking represents the connection of objects or ideas and has been synonymous with technology since way before the dawn of the Technological Age. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to connect with other people and share ideas of their own and “interact”. But is this true interaction or the replacement of interaction? Am I really talking to my best friend or am I talking to an image of my best friend? It’s not unknown for people to create personas of themselves or of people they would like to be online (lord knows I’ve done it in the past, I’m ashamed to admit) and when you do eventually engage in forms of social interaction, these “personas” are shed and don’t pass through.

The whole ideology of social networking creates simulacra of society for the purposes of virtuality: to share information. You don’t expect your friends to speak in the same way they would online, sharing links to videos and funny lolcats photos. However in recent years there has been an emergence of what is called “leet speak” in spoken word, terms such as lol and lmao now used to denote varying degrees of laughter when laughter isn’t perceived to be warranted (I’ve used them, I am also ashamed to admit). Another case of the unreal becoming real and the line between the two becoming blurred, as Baudrillard had previously stated. Many say this is just the evolution of society and nothing to worry about, the convergence to a cosmopolitan-esque society through the use of sharing information, skills and a unique “language” to coincide with this way of living. Other see it as a dangerous way of life and perceive the loss of awareness of reality to be damaging to the way people live and see the world they live in.

David Boyle’s Authenticity talks about this idea of the real and the unreal and asks what is real and what isn’t and conveys the idea that despite people wanting images of reality, they can still differentiate between the two and in fact, prefer the authentic from the replica. But you don’t have to listen to a word I’ve said. These aren’t even my original ideas and have probably been lost in interpretation and translation. So that begs the question: is this a blog post or the image of a blog post?