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Simulacra in Fiction

by on October 21, 2012

In this blog post I’d like to discuss some examples of simulacra in two works of fiction that I have read. The first example comes from the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (one of the inspirations for the latest Batman films). In the climax of the second act, Batman and the Joker have their final duel. Years of counting the Joker’s victims have led to this one conclusion. Batman must stop him at any price. Whilst brawling in a tunnel of love at a carnival (fitting huh?) Batman grabs the Joker’s head, twists and breaks his neck. The still living Joker smiles in triumph at the Caped Crusader, mocks him and uses what little motor function he has  left to sever the remaining nerves in his neck. While Batman may have finally stopped the Joker without killing him, this will not be considered the reality of the situation. That is the hyper reality, what will be seen as true and real is that the Joker was murdered by Batman. Years of fighting crime made irrelevant in a second as Batman is made a killer.

The other work I’d like to discuss is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as I recently finished it. I promise not to spoil the ending but I would like discuss some of the things I encountered towards the end of the novel.  Deckard at one point echoes Baudrillard when he says “Everything is true, everything anyone ever thought”. More interestingly though, he refers to Androids and their makers as “life thieves”. Outside of conjuring up images of Vampires and necromancers (who I understand were a movement related to the development of automata and their ability to defy death) it gives us a poignant message about the sanctity of life and what defines it. We still don’t understand consciousness and so whatever artificial intelligences we make will only ever work on a simple input-output system of operation. If these A.I.’s get advanced enough so as to seem as though they have full consciousness and an organic body could they be considered human? Or would the fact that the mental goings on (emotional responses, problem solving, etc.)  they’d have would have been programmed in advance invalidate them? If yes then by that same token brainwashed human beings and the novel’s users of the empathy box (a machine that links people from around the world and in an artificial empathetic link) and the mood organ (a machine that allows you to change how you’re feeling at the push of a button) would not pass this criteria. In a world where humanity is in varying states of fall out induced mental decay and experimenting with emotion programming, could androids be considered just as human? Is human more than just the outward appearance and inward mechanisms of our being? With these questions facing Deckard at every step, its no wonder that as part of the bleak ending to this novel, he can no longer tell the difference between artificial and man -made life.

Jean Baudrillard called simulacra the murder of the real and this novel really clarifies that for me. In creating androids, the semblance of humanity was stolen and as a result the definition of human is withered beyond saving. That’s the horrid truth at the end of the book: the birth of the android is the death of mankind.

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