Second-order simulacra

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Part of the three order simulacra, the second-order simulacra, a term coined by Jean Baudrillard, are symbols of a non faithful representation to the original. Here, signs and images do not faithfully show us reality, but might hint at the existence of something real which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.[1]

While the first-order simulacra is a faithful copy to the original and the third order are symbols that have become without referents, that is, symbols with no real object to represent but pretends to be a faithful copy of an original. Simply put, a third-order simulacra are symbols in themselves taken for reality and further layer of symbolism is added. This occurs when the symbol is taken to be more important or authoritative of the original entity, authenticity has been replaced by copy (thus reality is replaced by a substitute).

The consequence of the propagation of second-order simulacra is that, within the affected context, nothing is "real," though those engaged in the illusion are incapable of seeing it. Instead of having experiences, people observe spectacles, via real or metaphorical control screens. Instead of the real, we have simulation and simulacra, the hyperreal.

In his essay "The Precession of the Simulacra," Baudrillard recalls a tale from a short story by Borges in which a king requests a map (i.e. a symbol) to be produced so detailed that it ends up coming into one-to-one correspondence with the territory (i.e. the real area the map is to represent); this references the philosophical concept of map–territory relation. Baudrillard argues that in the postmodern epoch, the territory ceases to exist, and there is nothing left but the map; or indeed, the very concepts of the map and the territory have become indistinguishable, the distinction which once existed between them having been erased.

Among the many issues associated with the propagation of second-order simulacra to the third-order is what Baudrillard considers the termination of history. The method of this termination comes through the lack of oppositional elements in society, with the mass having become "the silent majority," an imploded concept which absorbs images passively, becoming itself a media overwritten by those who speak for it (i.e. the people are symbolically represented by governing agents and market statistic, marginalizing the people themselves). For Baudrillard this is the natural result of an ethic of unity in which actually agonistic opposites are taken to be essentially the same. For example, Baudrillard contends that moral universalism (human rights, equality) is equated with globalization, which is not concerned with immutable values but with mediums of exchange and equalisation such as the global market and mass media.

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  1. ^ Baudrillard 1994 [1981], Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press, p.6

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