The Three Stages of Simulation

Baudrillard identifies three stages of simulation, in the same way that he discusses the passage of history from fascism to nostalgia to irreferentiality. As simulation increasingly dominates our world, the gap between the real and the imaginary closes.

1. Utopian Removal from the Imaginary

The first stage is a utopian one. This is a progressive and optimistic order, where there is the biggest differential between reality and imagination. Romantic dreams of the utopia do not even attempt to bridge this gap.

2. Sci Fi's Approach to the Imaginary

The next period can best be understood by considering the science fiction of our era. Sci fi as we know it brings us closer to the utopia of the first order. This genre is characterized by modern themes of energy and productivity. Sci fi novels like William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy build an imaginary world out of the technology of today. So there is a jump from the "real world" to the simulated, imaginary world. Fiction of this type is ambitious and expansive. Baudrillard likens it to the brazenness of colonial expansion.

But, like the exploitation of virgin lands, the exploration of the scientific unknown is at its end. Once everything is mapped out and known, there is nothing new to discover. So the new genre of science fiction must adapt to this saturation of reality.

3. Reality = Imaginary

What we are moving toward is the third order of simulation, in which there is no gap between the real and the imaginary. Instead, both have imploded into hyperreality. This is the period of the simulation of simulation. Baudrillard predicts that the science fiction scenarios of this era will not project a super-modern, far out technical world. Instead, they will have to work backward, as they seek to bring us closer to reality. An example of this new brand of sci fi is the "Crash" story, which describes a highway and an automobile accident in all its banality. The movement toward sci fi of this nature is related to the postmodern yearning for familiar referentials. As Baudrillard says, "it is the real that has become our true utopia" (Baudrillard 123).

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Erica J. Seidel