MuhAMMAD ALI “Blue pill or the red pill?” – “You take the blue pill, the story ends… You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe… You take the red pill; you stay in the Wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes,” Morpheus asks Neo in Wachowski’s blockbuster movie ‘The Matrix’ released in 1999. Do these famous lines from Wachowski’s blockbuster movie ‘The Matrix’ released in 1999 ring a bell in our minds? Was Matrix just a sci-fi movie or much more than that? What was the actual plot of the movie? (I bet majority of us are still struggling to find out the real answer).
Was there any connection between the basic story line of the movie and Jean Baudrillard theory of ‘Simulacra and Simulation.’ What thousands of years old Plato’s ‘Allegory of Cave’ has to do with the movie and the concept of Simulacra? The answers to these intriguing and mind-blowing questions are probably as complex as the movie itself.
However, let’s try and make an endeavour to answer some of these questions. Let’s start with the more complex concepts, Baudrillard’s ‘Simulacra and Simulation.’ Perhaps the famous French philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard got inspiration from Plato’s ‘Allegory of Cave’ which became the basis of his famous book ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ published in 1981. Whatever he prophesized, decades ago, is appearing to be true in present times. However, majority of us misunderstood him when he proposed such ideas. Alongside JeanFrançois Lyotard’s, Baudrillard too was convinced that we live in hyperreality.
But he went a step ahead in proposing his philosophy. What is Hyperreality after all? Baudrillard sees it in a different perspective. According to him we live in a Simulacrum; meaning a virtual arena where the reality has been replaced by simulations, representations, images and more precisely false images. The environment is so fluid that we cannot distinguish between the real and the unreal. He took the world by storm when he made the most controversial statement (for some), “The Gulf war did not take place,” meaning that the reality of the war was presented to the world as (mis) represented of re-represented by the media. The images and media environment looked more real and influencing than the real. Again, majority of us misunderstood what he actually meant.
Baudrillard was of the view that in contemporary times the hyperreality is so intoxicating, captivating and mesmerizing that we want to live inside it. Because the real appears to be boring, hard to digest, full of challenges that’s why knowingly (or unknowingly), we want to take refuge in hyperreality. Santa Claus is hyperreality, Disneyland is hyperreality, the tooth fairy is hyperreality. We have grown up all those years believing that Disney was real and it had princes and princesses, kings and queens, dwarfs, Cinderella and Snow White and what not.
Mickey and Minnie mouse had their real homes in Disneyland. Santa Claus lived in North Pole along with his associates and flies around the world on his sledge pulled by reindeers (with the speed of light) carrying gifts as per children’s wishes. But at the age of ten or so, this so-called reality (hyperreality) started to fall apart. Do you remember the expression of your child when you disclosed to him or her for the first time that Santa Claus was not real. And it was your mother who put money beneath your pillow last night instead of the tooth fairy. The expression would tell you all. Other examples can be the IR and VR games where the matrix looks better than real and we desire to live in it most of the times.
This is nothing but the concept of ‘Suspended Disbelief’ as coined by the majority of hyperreality philosophers. But how this Simulacra works. Baudrillard explained that the Simulacra and Simulation happens in four stages, each representative of a historic era. The first stage, the ‘Sacramental Order’ refers to the era of pre-modern times when we had the faithful, first copy of the real time event or object and the image was unanimously recognized as just a place maker for the original.
Then came the second stage of simulacra which remained dominant during the industrial revolution branded as the ‘Order of Maleficence.’ In this stage, the reality exists but is highly distorted in representation. The distinction between the real and image began to breakdown as there was mass production of the copy of the original using the mass media means. In the third stage, called the ‘Order of Sorcery’ which dominated the modern and beginning of postmodern era, the simulacra presented the faithful copy without the presence of the original.
Here the signs and images claimed to have originated from the original but that’s not true. In the fourth stage, the product of postmodern times, we are only left with the ‘precession of the simulacra’ meaning there was absolutely no relationship between simulation and the reality. It was the most intriguing concept where signs and images refer to other copies and images only. A perspective of ‘total equivalency’ where nobody cared that there was an original or not. The fictitious cartoon, movie characters and abstract art are some of the examples.
To summarize, the simulation determines the original or precedes the original. Let’s rewind and go back to year 1999 to analyse the block buster movie, ‘The Matrix’ and try to understand its hidden message and find out any relevance with the present-day world. The main character ‘Neo’ (played by Keanu Reeves), lived in an artificial world build by a computer program known as the matrix and so are the millions of other people inside it until one day when he comes across ‘Morpheus’ (played by Laurence Fishburne).
When offered to find out ‘the truth,’ Neo takes the red pill. One important point to note in the movie that the real world shown was dark, colourless, boring and life less whereas the so called simulated unreal world ‘The Matrix,’ created by computer program and machines was full of life and colour. Neo notices this difference when he goes back to the matrix for the first time after taken the pill. It’s very hard for him to believe that the matrix where he had passed his entire life pursuing his goals, accomplishments and good times, was not real. However, there was another character ‘Cypher’ (the villain) in the movie who lived outside the matrix onboard Morpheus ship ‘the Nebuchadnezzar’ for years. He had taken the red pill too but considered it to be a wrong decision. He wanted to go back to ‘The Matrix’ because he considered it to be more charming and inspiring. Just like those kids who when come to know at some point of time in their lives that Disneyland was not real (just like matrix), still wanted to believe in it, still wanted to live in that fantasy world throughout their lives. But the question is Why? The answer lies in the Baudrillard’s fourth stage of simulacra as explained earlier. In present times let’s first take example of the media and its ever growing invasion on our cognition, attitudes and behaviours.
The purpose of the media is not just to provide information and show us the reality but to re-represent the reality in its own perspective and persuade us to see the world and our society through the lens of their presented (or represented) images of the so-called reality. The media considers us a commodity and instead of providing information they produce cultural products in the garb of juicy news, soap operas and talk shows. Advertising campaigns, digital marketing and e-commerce platforms on social media persuade us to buy and make purchases of products and goods even when we are not in need of them.
However, they create that false need through simulated reality showing hyperreal objects, characters (in the form of celebrities) and filtered information that we fall pray to it. Another area which influenced our global village is the concept of ‘exchange-value’. It implies that the money has become the ‘universal equivalent’ against which everything in our society is measured, it determines the worth of everything in present times. Here again the paper currency represent the perceived reality which are far away from the real objects, real goods and their real meanings. These are the times when we have stopped thinking of purchased items or goods in terms of their ‘use-value’ but their ‘perceived value’. As per Jean Baudrillard, we live in hyperreal world, the world in which we have no distinction what is real and what is fiction. Both are blended interchangeably and seamlessly that it is hard to find out where the boundary of which one ends and where the other one’s starts.
It is as if we are ‘living in the blur’. However, the most interesting aspect is that for majority of us the reality appears to be challenging, hard to digest and most of the times brings sorrow and grief. That’s why the people, today, willingly opt to live in hyperreality where they have full control over their lives (just like the character of ‘Cypher’ in the movie), where their simulated ‘Avatars’ can perform the unimaginable, where the simulated fantasy can bring them bliss, where they can find refuge from the cruelty of the truth, where the ‘bots’ masquerading as real humans could do the super-hero stuff, where through the use of ‘Virtual Reality’ games you can create your own version of reality, where the mass media persuades the mass societies to believe that the representation is more crucial than what is being represented.
One final question remains. Have all of us wilfully and knowingly taken the ‘Blue Pill’ by choice? And want to remain trapped inside Baudrillard ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ for a more gratified virtual meaning of our lives. Or there are some bold and the courageous like ‘Neo’ who are willing to take the ‘Red Pill’ and make an earnest endeavour to find out the reality or the objective truth. But there is another question, ‘Is there any reality left anymore in present day hyperreal world?’ I leave it to you to analyze and make a final decision.
‘The Blue Pill or the Red Pill.’ –The writer is a PhD Scholar and can be reached at email@example.com