The term “simulacrum” may be defined as “something that looks like or represents something else” (Cambridge, 2019). It is important to note, that the term simulacrum never pertains to an original, and that a simulacrum may not be connected to the original past the superficial. A simulacrum is its own individual concept or thing.
In this video by Idea Channel (PBS Studios, 2019), host Mike Rugnetta posits that the popular television show “Orphan Black” is a perfect representation of what a simulacrum is. The show exhibits six women who are cloned from the same DNA. Each has an entirely separate personality, and context, and are thus simulacra of the original. This idea is reinforced by the distance between the personalities shown from the simulacra. Each display vastly different levels of intelligence, practicality, ambition and empathy. They each represent the original, and yet provide their own individuality (a concept which is challenged as the show progresses).
However, this is not the only level of simulation present. It could be said, that as it derives from a number of creative practises and inspirations, the show itself is a simulacra of media tropes. The familial connection between clones, and the struggle against a faceless ‘corporation’ entity, as well as the central theme of freedom; to choose, and from sickness. Thus does this work emulate the original concept of these themes, and yet become its own self in the doing so.
In a necessary divergence, I also want to explore the simulation of an essence. For in the creative industries, we do not only look to a single work for our inspiration, but rather a succession of pieces, all with their own inspirations. As a game developer, I may create a work based upon the taming system present in Dark and Light (Snail, 2019). However, Dark and Light was inspired by the game ARK : Survival Evolved (Instinct Games, 2019). The taming of ARK was in turn inspired by Tamagotchi (Tamagotchi, 2019), and Pokemon (The Pokemon Company, 1996), as well as a myriad of other sources. Each of these games is its own item, with its own essence, however it simulates the essence and mechanics of its predecessors.
So too does Orphan Black, building upon works such as The Four Sided Triangle (Fisher, 1953), Doctor Who (Newman, 1963) and The Boys from Brazil (Schaffner, 1978), all notable works centred around the concept of cloning. Orphan Black establishes its own identity when its other contextual influences are considered, such as its Canadian setting, dark tone and mystery-thriller genre. Each works to shape this show using conventions drawn from mass media.
A question to ask is: are the themes and concepts that are passed from piece to piece evolving or diminishing with their travel? Does a simulacrum change in value compared to its original, and if so is this change in value consistent? Will a simulacrum always be better/worse than its predecessor.
To answer these, I look to focus upon Orphan Black, as to make sweeping generalisations will not further this discussion at all. Here we see an original being, with at least 11 clones. Each clone sharing an appearance, but not a personality. To answer the above questions in this regard, we have to look at how we value a human being. Do we place higher value upon Sarah, the con-artist? If so, we are valuing cunning, and practicality, and no small element of empathy. Or we may look at Helena, a clone driven to the edge of psychosis who only wishes to kill Sarah. We may value her strength and will to live, yet deride her bloodlust and lack of empathy.
To look at these simulacra in comparison to the “original being” of the show, we can make no sure measurement of change in value, therefore I posit that in determining its own individuality, a simulacrum becomes incomparable to its original, yet perhaps comparable to its fellow simulacra. This is comparable to a “favourite child” scenario. You do not compare the child to its parent, but to its fellow children.
If you’re feeling mean that is.
Lastly, we may look at the clear definition Orphan Black makes between its clones, and their foci. As we look at the clones, we can see that they are clearly delineated into discrete social constructs. We have The Con (Sarah), The Cop (Beth), The Scientist (Rachel), The Mother (Alison), The Fighter (Helena) and The Techie (Mika). Each of these clones has been given the stereotypical context to allow them to flourish within these roles, something which is too defined to be coincidence. Thus proceeding with the assumption of authors intent, we can see how the creators of Orphan Black have explored the deviation of the original. In the words of Mike Rugnetta, “a simulacrum is still a representation or depiction of something, its relationship to its source is … weirded up” (PBS, 2019). In Orphan Black, I believe we see a group of creators seeing precisely how far, and weird, they can separate the child from the parent. References Dark and Light - Official Website. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.playdnl.com/
Dictionary, S. (2019). SIMULACRUM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/simulacrum
Evolved, A. (2019). ARK: Survival Evolved on Steam. Retrieved from https://store.steampowered.com/app/346110/ARK_Survival_Evolved/
Franklin J. Schaffner. (1978). The Boys from Brazil [DVD].
Tamagotchi. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.bandai.com/tamagotchi/
PBS Studios. (2019). How is Orphan Black an illustration of a simulacrum? [Image]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=86&v=Eg7Z_28Uk6g
Sydney Newman. (1963). Doctor Who [DVD].
Terence Fisher. (1953). The Four Sided Triangle [DVD].
WELCOME TO POKEMON.COM. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.pokemon.com/country_no_trans/au/
The origins of the Postmodernist theory are hard to pin down, but its formative stages are largely influenced by Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his report “The Postmodern Condition”. (Lyotard & Bennington, 2010) Lyotard states in his report that postmodernism was “incredulity toward metanarratives”.
Metanarratives may be defined as “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for peoples beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences” ("metanarrative | Definition of metanarrative in English", 2019). Examples of metanarratives are ideas such that “by living sin-free lives we will ascend to heaven on our deaths”, or that “humanity is progressing evermore toward a utopian society, riding on the back of scientific progress”. Both of these examples provide frameworks to couch a person’s actions, and intent.
Thus, when we look at postmodernism, we see an increase is scepticism towards these ideas, and their representations, especially within the media. Over the last 20 years “postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself” (Burn & Wallace, n.d.). We can look at advertisements that mock the core nature of advertisement, such as the “#WannaSprite?” advertisement run by Sprite in 2012, featuring LeBron James. (Sprite, 2017) In this advertisement, LeBron continually refuses to recommend Sprite to the viewer, despite prompt cards and various other overtly suggestive situations. Instead, he states “I could … but I wont”. In this, Sprite uses irony to underline the metanarrative of “the famous figurehead recommends the product, so you should like it too”. Through this, the viewer is invited to deride the practise, and laugh at the idea, with the company. By removing themselves as the target of derision, Sprite instead creates a false alliance with the viewer, giving their words more weight. Within the sphere of the game development industry, we see postmodernism represented in games such as The Stanley Parable (The Stanley Parable, 2013), Spec Ops : The Line (Spec Ops : The Line, 2012), and SUPERHOT (SUPERHOT, 2016).
The Stanley Parable is an excellent display of this, as it deeply explores and exposes the concept of choice within video games. By providing non-arbitrary choice, we afford the player freedom to express themselves within the virtual space. The Stanley Parable recognises this as a meta-narrative, and is a game composed of nothing but choice. The game hosts very simple rooms and level design, with the player being the author on where to go, led by a narrated voice. The player may choose to obey or disobey this voice. However, as the player progresses, they see that no matter how free their choice, they are always bound by the narrators will. A disobedience feels exhilarating, until the players choice is taken and used against them. The Stanley Parable uses irony and humour within its telling, yet its outcome is a form of nihilism, a juxtaposition toward our own lives; that no matter our choices, we all end up at the same point.
Spec Ops : The Line, and SUPERHOT approach the metanarrative of unquestioned violence within videogames. An example of this is the common “Hunt Rats” quest. In many fantasy RPG games, such as Tera (SUPERHOT, 2016), World of Warcraft (World of Warcraft, 2004) or Oblivion (Oblivion, 2006), the player is told “my house is infested with rats. Kill them all so my crops survive!” ("Rats!", 2019) ("Oblivion:A Rat Problem", 2018). At first glance, this is a reasonable solution, one employed in real life. So the player goes, kills the rats and returns. They are met with “wolves are attacking! Kill them!” ("Big Bad Wolves", 2019). And of course the player should kill the wolves, they are a threat. This approach scales, until “kill the goblins!” and “Steal from the rebels!” are met as purely reasonable quests with a high moral standing. The player is never asked “Lure the rats to a nearby thicket so they may build their own home”, or “Divert the wolves using slabs of meat!”, they accept violence as the first solution to the given problem. SUPERHOT approaches this using the influence of a faceless authority figure. As we are put into the game, and told to kill we do, with the knowledge that it is just a game. However, as the story progresses we are exposed to themes of addiction and manipulation as the authority figure uses the player as a tool for his own ends. The player never finds out what these are, and the goal of the ‘game’ is to simply complete all the levels. A notable point in this is when the player is accused of being addicted to the killing, that they could not resist it. Then, the game closes. The player is now on the desktop of their computer faced with a choice. They could accept that the figure is correct, and reopen the game to progress, or they could simply stop, and do something else. SUPERHOT examines the metanarrative of meaningless violence in videogames, and condemns the lack of independent thought that has brought us to this state.
Supposedly around since the 1980’s, in 2002, David Foster Wallace resurfaced the idea of “post-postmodernism”, also known as “New Sincerity”. Based on Wallace’s theory that postmodernism is leading us into a negative spiral of irony, narcissism and solipsism, the New Sincerity ideal re-evaluates sincerities role in media production. It looks less negatively upon the metanarratives of mass media, instead using these as tools in bridging the gaps between humanity. Wallace states: “Postmodern irony and cynicism's become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what's wrong, because they'll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists.”
New Sincerity also denies the separation implied by postmodernism’s approach to media plurality. The term “plurality”, or “plurism”, “refers to diversity in the most general sense. In analyzing the concept of pluralism, two perspectives have to be mentioned in these things like internal and external pluralism.” ("media PLURALISM: definition", 2014). Each viewer is affected by their past, their experiences and their other contextual factors. This exists in both creators and consumers. Two creators cannot create exactly the same piece. They will both be informed by their context, leading to different creative styles.
Postmodern theory suggests that once an author publishes their work, it is no longer their own. Due to the difference in context between the creator and the consumer, the work will be interpreted apart from the authors ‘true vision’. This is often termed, “Death of the Author”, after Roland Barthes influential essay (Barthes, 1967). This suggests that a creators work can be interpreted vastly different to the original intent. A movie about romance can be read as betrayal, a book about friendship can be read as loss. In an interview about his highly reputed game “Braid”, Jonothan Blow comments on his players opinions of the game by saying “some people get that, and some people don't. But that's completely decorrelated from people's claimed positions in the sphere of commentary”. (Dahlen, 2008)
New Sincerity instead focuses on the shared facets of experience. Familial connection, responsibility and connection are notable examples of this. Thus, the creator is able to bridge the gap of different perspectives, and use these facets to convey the core aspects of their work.
References Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author.