You are on page 1of 13

htm in addition to my numerous other skill sets, I also possess superior written and verbal communication skills, as demonstrated by the following essay I wrote as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The following essay describes postmodern social theorist Jean Baudrillard's Simulation Theory and its relation to the film "The Matrix." Michael Taflove Com Arts 250: Survey of Radio/Television/Film University of Wisconsin-Madison TA Kim Bjarkman awarded this essay an ³A´ 10/31/01

Meanwhile, in the real world, humans are grown in artificial wombs and harvested like crops, living out their lives in amniotic pods. Society has been destroyed in a cataclysmic war between humans and sentient machines. The victorious machines have subsequently enslaved mankind, using human electrical brain activity as an energy source. The VR simulation induces this brain activity, rendering humans alive, productive, and docile. This is the premise of The Matrix (1999), a visually stunning cyberpunk film written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. The Matrix draws explicitly on Postmodernism, an historical epoch, artistic movement, and philosophical school originating in the early 1970s. According to Madhavi Mallapragada, a Communication Arts lecturer at

³Desert of the Real:´
The Matrix Invokes Baudrillard in Subversive Pastiche
In the 22nd century, reality is an illusion. Mankind lives and works in a virtual reality (VR) simulation known as the matrix, a convincing replica of 20th century society.

the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Postmodernism is characterized by the following developments: The rise of computers and communication technology; bricolage and pastiche, the combination of extant objects into a new and unique whole; the emergence of a global economy based on symbols, (i.e. using credit cards to simulate currency); and intense incorporation of mass media into our daily lives

In Baudrillard¶s text. This analysis will reveal that The Matrix is a pastiche. and social fulfillment. using a hybrid of Baudrillard and Marx to criticize postmodern culture.´ Simulation Theory describes the process by which a contrived reality comes to replace a basic reality.´ These favorable initial conditions include virtues such as a sense of community. Thirdly. I will extract Simulation Theory from its contextual tangle. boiling it down to a set of discrete properties and definitions. The Matrix invokes the postmodern ideals of French social theorist Jean Baudrillard. Jean Baudrillard is notoriously cryptic. His intentional use of vagary and paradox lend a transcendent aura to his insight. With such essays to his credit as The Gulf War Never Took Place and The Year 2000 is a Lie. it also makes it difficult to understand. paying direct homage to Baudrillard. there is a constant desire to protect basic reality from corruption. I will first open with a description of Baudrillard¶s Simulation Theory. Secondly. Baudrillard endeavors to show that what appears ³real´ to us is actually simulation. This paper will argue that The Matrix consciously uses Baudrillard¶s Simulation Theory to build an Internet dystopia. individual importance. primarily attacking the media as irresponsible ³simulators. however. In particular. . 12/06/01). Simulation Theory is designed to critique postmodern culture.(Lecture. To establish this argument. Basic reality is a favorable set of initial conditions that constitute human culture. I will prove that the Wachowski brothers consciously drew on Simulation Theory when writing The Matrix. showing how The Matrix uses this trend to build an Internet dystopia. Description of Simulation Theory In the text Simulacra and Simulation. often referred to as ³the real. In this section. using a convoluted Zen-like writing style to encode Simulation Theory. Finally. I will analyze a recent trend that applies Simulation Theory to the Internet. In my reading of Baudrillard. I will compare and contrast the subversive messages encoded in The Matrix and Simulation Theory. delivering a subversive critique of postmodern culture.

4. It masks the absence of a basic reality. 2. the hyperreal grows in magnitude. Baudrillard outlines four discrete stages by which images in postmodern culture evolve to simulacrum. I have developed a condensed working definition of simulacrum: A constructed reality originally modeled after a basic reality that has since disintegrated (Woolley. scholar Anthony King indicts television for distorting basic reality. shrouding the population in collective delusion. The media initially produces images and models that are copies of basic reality. These copies evolve into exaggerations that distort basic reality. It masks and perverts a basic reality. ³This would be the successive phases of the image: 1. It bears no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum´ (Baudrillard. As postmodern culture progresses. a media image is ³hyper. It is not hyperreal. Simulacrum exists in the absence of basic reality. It is the reflection of a basic reality.In my understanding of Simulation Theory. In Simulations. and ultimately replace it. Baudrillard defines hyperreal as a ³generation by models of a real without origin or reality´ (Baudrillard. Eventually the population loses sight of basic reality. 3. In its final stage. Television serves as the primary conduit of image distribution.´ and ³in excess of itself´ (Chen. even though it is apparently so compelling and µrealistic¶´ (King. postmodern culture is driven to simulacrum. disseminating a blanket of images that copy. asserting: ³[television] footage is invariably misleading. 2). Based on my reading of the essay Beyond Simulation by Professor Mark Woolley. 11). a ³hyperreal. the media threatens to corrupt basic reality. Baudrillard uses Main Street USA in Disneyland as an example of how an . The summation of all media images creates an ideological blanket that envelops the public in a parallel world. In the essay Baudrillard¶s Nihilism and the End of Theory. which begins to disintegrate. but rather a reality unto itself.´ In his text Simulations. author Brian Chen observes that by exaggerating basic reality. In his text Simulacra and Simulation. 8). 1998). Furthermore. 1999). pervert.

forces such as urbanization eroded small-town America. 1994). Mickey Mouse and McDonalds will supplant family and friends. Gisèle confirms this result. According to Baudrillard. individual importance. Baudrillard views postmodern culture as a system inexorably approaching simulacrum. this reflection was also hyperreal. including sense of community. However. if this hyperreal continues to evolve. all that will remain is a corporate-driven fantasy world. the media hyperreal co-exists with basic reality. Ironically. a contextually bankrupt facsimile. Ultimately. or lost bodies. Main Street USA began as a tourist attraction.´ a copy of truly natural food that is now non-extant. author Yasmeen. ³all-natural´ food is a simulacrum. Currently. a distorted copy without an original. Disney¶s own version of a prototypical small town. health food. people would rather visit a tourist attraction mimicking a small town. 1994). asserting that Main Street USA is a ³fanciful recreation of a past that never really existed´ (Gisèle. will cease to exist. everyone will live inside a vast postmodern shopping mall that attempts to satisfy human needs. This exemplifies nostalgia. yoga´ (Baudrillard. It was initially a reflection of a specific basic reality: small-town America. LA citizens seek the services of psychiatrists. In addition. and social fulfillment. personal trainers. perverting small-town America with gift shops. One reinvents penury. Over time. a longing to re-create a sensation that no longer exists. and costumed staff. ³Everywhere one recycles lost faculties. but leaves us starving. people purchase food labeled ³all-natural. In short. After all the original small towns disintegrated. asceticism. or lost sociality. It is its own reality unto itself.image evolves to simulacrum. Baudrillard views Los Angeles as a city on the cusp of such a transition. In my understanding. In this way. 1996). In LA. only Disney¶s plastic copy remained. vanished savage naturalness: natural food. However. basic reality will disintegrate. Main Street USA now bears no resemblance to any basic reality. The virtues that comprise basic reality. or the lost taste for food. and plastic . consumer paraphernalia. In her article Plastic Bag Housewives' and Postmodern Restaurants. a simulacrum (Baudrillard. than actually live in one.

As such. According to Belk. that basic reality has become secondary. these hotels are unique realities unto themselves. while actual cities are simulations. The Internet neatly satisfies Baudrillard¶s definition of hyperreal. hypertext links. However. Russell Belk describes how themed hotels behave as simulacra. they only simulate social fulfillment that has disintegrated in the larger culture. ancient Rome. leaving a cesspool of sex. Baudrillard believes that the order of the hyperreal has become so prominent. Simulation Theory and the Internet Perhaps the most striking postmodern example of hyperreality is the Internet. The Matrix was heavily influenced by this trend. but belongs to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation´ (Baudrillard. However. respectively). In an Internet Power-Point presentation. In such a scenario. The Internet uses models such as websites. As a result. corruption. In America. Caesar¶s Palace.surgeons. In Simulacra and Simulation. and online services. Internet). the virtues in this basic reality (if there were any to begin with) are in an advanced state of disintegration. in actuality. space. in my research. ³Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.´ adults behaving like children (Belk. and active population. The Internet is loosely modeled on 20th century civilization. whereas Los Angeles [is] no longer real. If civilization were to . Las Vegas is another example of a city rapidly approaching simulacrum. Baudrillard asserts. Hotels such as Luxor. Baudrillard never tackles this issue. masking what remains of Vegas¶ basic reality. and ³adult infantilism. and medieval fantasy. to generate a unique reality with its own time. a ³generation by models of a real without origin or reality´ (Baudrillard. 12). an intended farce like Disneyland is real. and Excalibur are distorted copies of basic realities that no longer exist (ancient Egypt. These services attempt to provide a sense of social fulfillment. These self-contained simulacra contribute to a collective hyperreal. 1983). other theorists have started a recent trend that applies Simulation Theory to the Internet. a massive pastiche of postmodern culture.

to simulacrum: a replacement for human civilization. to perversion. an Internet hyperreal. People would live their entire lives wired to the system. while the physical world disintegrates. using the Internet to model a large-scale societal simulacrum. and amusement Baudrillard¶s four phases of image evolution. Within these boundaries. networked servers and hard drives). the Internet exists as a discrete reality apart from the physical world. In contrast. the Internet possesses a unique property that differentiates it from other examples of hyperreality. author Mark Nunes describes this property. The Matrix exploits this idea. Drawing from my own insight. the Internet hyperreal will ultimately swallow society. parks. which is paraphrased as follows: The Internet is a closed system. movies. a blanket of images disseminated over a closed system with rigid boundaries.disintegrate (as it does in The Matrix). More importantly.e. does not have the capacity to completely shut out the physical world. a blanket of images disseminated through television. 1995). oblivious to the disintegration of the physical world. In the article Jean Baudrillard In Cyberspace: Internet. developing from copy. and Postmodernity. a self-contained reality defined by rigid boundaries (i. the Internet has the capacity to completely shut out the physical world (Nunes. Baudrillard¶s media hyperreal. Baudrillard¶s Simulation Theory is unable to describe a large-scale simulacrum encompassing all mankind. Such a scenario would result in technological dystopia. If allowed to progress along the four phases of image evolution. . If allowed to progress along the four phases of image evolution. the Internet would satisfy the working definition of simulacrum: A constructed reality originally modeled after a basic reality that has since disintegrated. the media hyperreal will ultimately hit a glass ceiling before achieving societal simulacrum. As a result. Virtuality. does indeed have the capacity to completely shut out the physical world. The Internet has the potential to progress through Lacking the Internet¶s unique property. A self-contained hyperreal with rigid boundaries is more dangerous than a hyperreal that intermingles with the physical world.

the implosion of production. Nunes claims that ³as Internet moves closer to its dream of total connectivity. The film depicts an exotic Future Internet. However. Nunes¶ description of an Internet simulacrum is strikingly similar to the premise of The Matrix. creating pure simulacrum in its most literal. Drawing on my own insight. distribution. . thus employing the recent trend that applies Simulation Theory to the Internet.´ fascinated by what occurs when the Internet is driven beyond hyperreality. advanced. mankind exists in Baudrillard¶s simulacrum. more important than the real space it once simulated. operating along the same trend.. No longer does technology encompass the world.On a theoretical level. it also compares media simulators to malicious sentient machines. The Matrix premise compares the postmodern blanket of media images to a virtual reality simulation. Simulation Theory and The Matrix The Matrix invokes Baudrillard through its dystopian premise. and severe form. Both Nunes and the Wachowski brothers take Baudrillard to his ³fatal conclusions.. now it replaces it with a µmore real than real¶ simulation´ (Nunes. The Matrix premise depicts an Internet driven to simulacrum. In his previously mentioned article. Mark Nunes runs the Internet through Baudrillard¶s four phases of image evolution. one might imagine with Baudrillard that moment of closure when this metaphorical µcyberspace¶ becomes the hyperreal. defined in this paper as a constructed reality originally modeled after a basic reality that has since disintegrated. This indicates that the Wachowski brothers were thinking along the same lines. the real 20th century human civilization has since disintegrated in a cataclysmic war. and exhibition into a single lifeconsuming VR simulation. 4). The modern-day media can only dream of such perfection. The Matrix premise places mankind in a virtual reality simulation modeled after 20th century human civilization. Thus. to total simulacrum. exploring the morbidly fascinating potential for Internet simulacrum. using a neurobiological network to channel images directly into the human brain. In doing so.

author Ian Campbell describes the first homage. and acceptance of physical reality. The Matrix possesses two direct homages to Baudrillard. In an Internet article entitled The Matrix. the word ³nihilism´ itself means ³a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In this homage. existence is indeed ³senseless and useless. Internet). This hollow book is none other than Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard. only part of it makes it into the actual film. Neo opens a hollow book containing contraband software. At the same time. the visual effects display the ruins of an annihilated Chicago. 2001). Jim Rovira observes that Neo opens Simulacra and Simulation to the its final chapter. within the machine-controlled VR fantasy. entitled ³On Nihilism. paying taxes. Traditional beliefs such as going to one¶s job. illustrating the presence of a copied reality. in which the rebels use violence to achieve their political aims (Rovira.These comparisons attribute a new level of threat and menace to postmodern culture. dialogue works in synthesis with the mise-en-scene to describe Baudrillard¶s simulacrum. In the article Baudrillard and Hollywood: subverting the mechanism of control in the matrix. Prompted by suspicious acquaintances. I believe that nihilism permeates The Matrix. Baudrillard ³advocates terrorism as a means of µchecking in broad daylight¶ the mechanisms of control.´ In this regard. . According to Campbell.´ The second direct homage to Baudrillard occurs in the original Matrix screenplay.´ Furthermore. but observes that the system is itself nihilistic and can absorb violence into its indifference. Morpheus invokes Baudrillard¶s map metaphor. indicating that the Wachowski brothers drew explicitly on his social theory when constructing their screenplay.´ The idea of using ³terrorism´ to dismantle a corrupt system is conveyed in The Matrix. ³It is clear from this moment that The Matrix is a work of literature´ (Campbell. all turn out to be ³unfounded.´ In this turbulent chapter. which occurs in Neo¶s apartment toward the beginning of the film. In addition to its central premise. however.

today it is the territory whose shreds slowly rot across the extent of the map. It is the real.illustrating the disintegration of basic reality. we see the ruins of a future Chicago protruding from the wasteland like the blackened ribs of a long-dead corpse (The Matrix Screenplay. and not the map. scorched and split like burnt flesh. inside the map. not the territory. These two concepts combine to complete this paper¶s working definition of simulacrum. The desert of the real itself (Baudrillard. 1). Like Morpheus. Internet). spreads out beneath us as we ENTER the television. The earth. whose MORPHEUS The desert of the real. This is Chicago as it exists today. . but our own. vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire. in which Baudrillard re-interprets a fable by The sky is an endless sea of black and green bile. Morpheus¶ reference to the ³map´ and the ³desert of the real´ are drawn from the first page of Simulacra and Simulation. MORPHEUS You have been living inside Baudrillard¶s vision. In the distance. Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges. Baudrillard invokes this fable to define simulacrum: If one must return to the fable.

which ³slowly rot across the map. Like Karl Marx. indicates that the Wachowski brothers¶ consciously borrowed and re-packaged Baudrillard¶s concept of simulacrum. while mankind receives nothing. basic reality is reduced to a bleak void. The ³shreds´ of the territory. The Matrix presents a Marxist critique of corporate culture. both Baudrillard and Morpheus describe simulacrum: a constructed reality originally modeled after a basic reality that has since disintegrated. The bourgeois elite is further indicted through the sentient machines. Marx¶s ³opiate of the masses´ . coupled with the movie¶s premise. enslaving humanity and reaping all the profit (energy). This symbolizes the rigid conformity demanded by the corporate machine. while Baudrillard indicts media simulators. Agent Smith. Drawing from my own analysis.´ In The Matrix. Agent Jones.´ Bill Stamets examines the Marxist elements in The Matrix. Agent Smith and his cadre of sentient programs all wear stiff suits and possess generic names (i. this homage. however. In The Matrix. ³Marxist imagery of false consciousness and institutional opiates abounds. Ultimately. etc.´ More than anything else.By invoking this fable. these messages don¶t completely coincide. the bourgeois elite that oppress the proletariat. Powerful visual imagery depicts the ³shreds´ of a burnt-out and ³rotted´ Chicago amidst a bleak and scorched ³desert. Subversive Messages in The Matrix and Baudrillard Both The Matrix and Baudrillard convey a subversive message that criticizes postmodern culture.). the language of this passage is interpreted literally. In the article Nothing is Real from the ³Chicago Reader.´ describe how basic reality is in the process of disintegrating beneath the dominant copy.e. though the pedagogy of the oppressed has been updated for the computer-literate´ (Stamets. a model of a pre-existing territory. Furthermore. References to the ³map´ highlight that dominant reality is a copy. 1999). a cold and uncompromising authority figure that pressures Neo into a life of soul-sucking labor. The Matrix attacks rapacious capitalists. this is first conveyed by the negative portrayal of Neo¶s boss at the software corporation. and how corporate servitude removes individuality. ³the desert of the real.

³We¶re all sheep waiting to be slaughtered or enslaved´ (Rovira. Jim Rovira asserts that if electricity. it only tacitly conveys his subversive message.´ However. In accordance with Baudrillard. it also implicitly compares media simulators to evil sentient machines. As mentioned earlier. primarily attacking the corporate elite as opposed to the media. cars. In doing so. society would shut down. focusing the bulk of its critique on corporate conformity. The Matrix tacitly embraces Baudrillard¶s subversive vision. while The Matrix offers hope that humanity can be saved. The Matrix never explicitly attacks the media. not even preventable through terrorism. invoking Baudrillard¶s Simulation Theory. referring to them as ³coppertops. The Matrix largely presents a Marxist critique of postmodern corporate culture. Baudrillard primarily attacks media simulators and brainwashed masses. but rather ³the system´ upon which humans ³are hopelessly dependant´ (The Matrix screenplay. In the article Baudrillard and Hollywood. an . The Matrix draws explicitly on postmodern thought. According to Rovira. The result is an Internet no longer religion. In accordance with a recent trend. However. computers. Drawing from my own analysis of Simulation Theory. Internet). Internet). or a host of other modern conveniences were to disappear. On a theoretical level. The Matrix applies Simulation Theory to the Internet. Although The Matrix pays direct homage to Baudrillard and uses his concept of simulacrum as its central premise. The Matrix compares the postmodern blanket of media images to a virtual reality simulation. Dependence on the VR system parallels our own dependence on postmodern society. Thus. Despite its dominant Marxist critique. Baudrillard believes that cultural evolution toward simulacrum is inevitable. gasoline. with its negative portrayal of authority figures and references to cultural opiates. The Matrix condescends to the brainwashed masses. the Wachowski brothers allow the Internet to progress along Baudrillard¶s four phases of image evolution. attributing a new level of threat and menace to the postmodern media.

admonishing us to be critical of corporate and media forces. In contrast. Internet. "'Plastic Bag Housewives' and Postmodern Restaurants? Public and Private in Bangkok's Foodscape. Yasmeen. The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor MI. However. Because the Internet is a closed system. Semiotext Inc.uci. Russell W. while the original version of 20th century civilization disintegrates. which begins to disintegrate. n. Baudrillard¶s media simulacrum cannot completely shut out the physical world. Jean.lib. pag. Friedman. Consumption as Play. ³Jean Baudrillard: Procession of Simulacra. Simulations. while Baudrillard primarily advocates a postmodern critique of media simulators. because The Matrix relies so heavily on Simulation Theory. 17(6):536.´ University of Utah. Brian. Wayne. 1998.´ 2000. ³¶Matrix¶ Drives Comeback By Warner´ Advertising Age 20 March. presenting a philosophical pastiche of Baudrillard and Marx. each emphasizes a different brand of Gisèle.html>>. Jean. Ian.utah. 2000: Bibliography Baudrillard. This Internet simulacrum is used as the central premise of The Matrix. Vol. Online. x03. Online. Baudrillard.ppt>. Internet. and thus cannot achieve global proportion.html>.edu/~scctr/Wellek/baudrillard/Y. it implicitly invokes Baudrillard¶s critique of the /Baudrillard_outline. Internet. <http://www.´ October 22.eng. a global Internet simulacrum completely shuts out the physical world.24framespersecond. n. <http://www. both The Matrix and Baudrillard warn of a system¶s ability to wholly deceive the masses. <http://sun3. ³The Matrix. 541. however. 1983. Both The Matrix and Baudrillard are subversive texts. pag. Chen. n. 1994. . Online." Urban Geography (August 16-September 30. 71 Issue 12. 1996). Campbell. <http://www. ³Las Vegas as Farce. Simulacra and Simulation. pag.intriguing technological dystopia in which mankind is networked in a collective simulation modeled after 20th century civilization. New York NY. Belk. The Matrix primarily advocates a Marxist critique of corporate culture.

Internet. No author listed.geocities. Merriam-Webster Incorporated.>. Internet. ³The Matrix (screenplay). pag. <http://www. Realists and Gamers in The Matrix and eXistenZ.geocities. Virtuality. ³Baudrillard and Hollywood: subverting the mechanism of control in the matrix.´ Online. and Postmodernity. Springfield. Internet. Lecture. Collegiate Dictionary.King. n. Bill.´ Social Policy. Mallapragada. Internet. ³Baudrillard¶s Nihilism and The End of Theory. Stamets. Peterson..txt>.´ Style 29 (1995): 314-328. <http://www. ³Nothing is Real´ Chicago Reader 1999. 12/06/01. Michael Todd and Steve Burke. Rhonda V. ³The Matrix. Miller.: Merriam-Webster Inc. ³Simulacra and Simulations. Edward D. Madhavi. . 26 Oct.´ Online. pag. Vol 30 Issue 4 (2000): 56-60. Mark. <http://www. ³The Matrix and the Medium¶s Message. Mark. Anthony.´ Online. University of Sheffield. 3D Studio MAX 3 Fundamentals. <http://chireader. <http://www.html> . MA.´ The Journal of Popular Film and Television 28 (2001): 150-58. Internet. Wachowski. <http://www. and Larry Wachowski. 1 Nov. ³Jean Baudrillard in Cyberspace: Internet.html>. Rovira. 2001.epinions. Science-Fiction and Religion´ July 2000.htm>. Wilcox. No author listed. 2001. <http://www.htm>. Woolley. July 1999. Online. Internet. Andy. Online. ³Beyond Simulation: Production and the Nostalgia Industry. Com Arts 250. ³From Cinespace to Cyberspace: Zionists and New Riders Publishing: Indianapolis IN.´ June 1996.m-w.uta.htm>.´ Telos 112 (1998): 89-107. Online.