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Monday, August 15, 2011

Understanding Simulacra and Simulation in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ By Heidi Nelson Hochenedel

This is an awesome review of Cronenberg's eXistenZ. I am so jealous.

eXistenZ, written and directed by David Cronenberg, is cyberpunk on the big screen. It addresses the problems of a culture so plugged into technology that it can no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality or between the organic and the mechanical. In Cronenberg's world, the most ubiquitous form of entertainment is computerized vr games which physically plug into the human body and replace other forms of recreation, such as sex, drugs, and sports. They are entertaining and mind-expanding, but so realistic that it is impossible to distinguish between games and reality. After playing, the "real" world feels like a game and, as a result, human behavior is apt to express violent "game-urges" even when the game is over. Sound familiar? Like all cyberpunk, eXistenZwarns against a techno-future that is already here. We shall see that many of the ideas addressed by Cronenberg in this film are also examined by theorists Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard, who study the effect of technology on modern culture. Cronenberg, like McLuhan, argues that technology is an extension of the human body and psyche(1). In eXistenZ, technology has evolved from machinery to biological organisms that plug directly into the human nervous system; an idea that echoes McLuhan's belief that computers are extensions of human consciousness. In eXistenZ, technology is biological and is thus more "human" than it is in our world. But as technology becomes organic, humans become more mechanical and therefore less free, unable to resist their "game-urges." As human consciousness is extended, human freedom of will (or its illusion) is amputated.
One of Baudrillard's most important ideas is that simulation and representation have changed over time. For Baudrillard, simulations or "simulacra," have become "hyperreal," more than real. Our hyperreality, like Cronenberg's world of computer simulation, now feels, and, for all intents and purposes is, more real than what we call the "real world." Baudrillard discusses four stages of simulacra in his essay "The Precession of Simulacra:" (continue to original here).........

Cronenberg's eXistenZ is serious filmic social theory of the nature of our postmodern landscape. Cronenberg, like Baudrillard, would like to oppose the reality he describes, but points out that terrorist resistance to it is merely absorbed into the system and cannot defeat it. Ironically, terrorism and resistance are "game-themes" in eXistenZ, suggesting that they broach no threat, but are actually required by the system in order to provide a pretext to continue information emission. Baudrillard, too, would like to be a terrorist- to lash out violently against those who are in control, but such a role is no longer possible in a world where death and violence have no impact and are met by glassy eyed apathy as the result of data-glut. It seems that the only hope is awareness of the effect that media have on communication and human relationships. Cronenberg, like Baudrillard , McLuhan, and Shenk, urge us to be aware of what constant exposure to information and simulacra do to the human psyche and to culture. The content of the media is irrelevant. It is the quantity of data and simulacra to which we are exposed and the methods by which we are subjected to that information that result in data smog, mental disorders, and violence. The most effective strategy to resist the system is to behave like an irreverent child, declining to constitute ourselves as subjects, refusing to process the data and abstaining from responding to it. By passively ignoring the data input thrown at us by the parental system, it will cease to exist as it does now. We can turn off the tv, shut down the computer, and stop playing the game.

What counts are the rhymes- designed to fill your mind...
It's a start a work of art...
What we need is awareness, we can't get careless...
Right on, come on
What we got to say
Power to the people without delay
To make everybody see
In order to fight 
Fight the powers that be.
Chuck D., lyrical terrorist Public Enemy
"Fight the Power" on Fear of a Black Planet


It is excellent. It is funny. It is thorough and Cronenberg emerges as one of the great post modern thinkers of our time who also happens to express himself in film.

But since 9-11 Baudrillard has changed his theory on opposing the system. True it cannot be opposed within the dialetic as Vija Kinski so carefully tells Eric Packer. Demonstrations, civil disobedience, terrorism and riots are welcomed and absorbed by the system. Notice the arrests going on from the UK riots and all the lame explanations, just more info circulating globally. However, Baudrillard after 9-11 opposes our rush into Virtual Reality by an act of implosion. He saw clearly that the bombers of 9-11 created an excess of reality so hyperreal that people watching thought it was TV until they turned channels and saw it everywhere. Orson Welles did the same with his radio broadcast of the alien invasion that had people running in the streets in the late 30's (my details are fuzzy). The 9-11 excess of reality was coupled with suicide and so Symbolic Exchange and Death was merged as the GIFT to the USA global capitalistic system, a gift to which it must respond with the counter-gift - OR commit suicide. We have not responded with the counter-gift. And we are committing suicide. It is playing out.

Watch and learn.

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