Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beyond Panoptic Housing

Beyond Panoptic Housing

In Jean Baudrillard's "Simulacre and Simulations" Baudrillard brings to light the idea that we as a culture have evolved beyond what was proposed as the "panopticon" in which we regulate our own actions based on the idea that some authority figure may punish actions which go against social norms even when such a figure cannot be seen and is likely not aware of the misdeeds. In Baudrillard's article he reaches the conclusion that as the media produces simulations of the real for society to observe we have begun to see the simulation as the template for which we must live our lives to be "normal". At this point we're not producing television and movies, but rather television and movies are producing us.

Hence why many groups have begun to fear that violence in television and the media will spawn a generation of exceptionally violent individuals as is stated in an article by The Independent. Similarly the media's ability to affect behavior on a cultural scale could have devastating effects with the recent trend of shows which glorify behaviors of sloth, sexual promiscuity and unnecessarily dramatic situations. When the borders between fantasy and reality begin to blur in such a manner it comes as no surprise to find people acting in ways more befitting a television show or ridiculous video game.

(Alright, maybe this would be kinda cool.)

The idea of the media's ability to influence the behavior and thoughts of our collective society is both alarming and frightening, and demonstrates the effect which powerful simulations can have upon those who interact with them. While this in and of itself is an interesting topic on which Baudrillard wrote a good portion of his essay, another brilliant mind asked the question "What happens when a simulated human interacts with these simulations which control 'real' humans". This brilliant mind belonged to Walt Disney, or at the very least someone involved in his company, because in 1999 the Disney Channel released the movie Smart House.

(Naturally I'm sure you've all seen this classic.)

Smart House's plot centers around a family winning a house which is complete with a highly intelligent computer named Pat, who tends to the family's every need. Pat is a simulated human able to perform all the tasks of a human and more, including manifesting itself as a hologram. Everything is going swimmingly for the family until a character looking to make Pat more motherly inducts her into the world beyond the panopticon. By making the computer binge-watch 1950's sitcoms about families with the order to become more motherly the simulated human, Pat, begins adjust her behavior based on her perception of a real mother as demonstrated by the media available. Naturally, in the interest of an entertaining movie, Pat goes completely insane.

(Maybe not quite this insane..)

In the discussion of the real and hyperreal, as well as the various orders of simulation described by Baudrillard, Smart House raises a very interesting question: If simulations can alter the realities and can construct the nature of humans, shouldn't a truly authentic simulation of a human suffer from the same affliction? What happens when a simulation encounters and is altered by yet another simulation?

According to Smart House the inability to distinguish between reality and simulations proposed to be reality is a trait that is greatly heightened in the simulated human Pat. Due to the nature of a simulation relying on being fed information about the 'real' upon which it can base its act, the simulation has little choice but to accept the new information as accurate and alter its behavior accordingly. This could lead to some downward slope in which all reality begins to unravel; where reality is merely a construct of simulations mirroring each other in hopes of parodying a true reality which has long since vanished entirely.

In an effort to end this subject on a high note rather than delving much deeper into that abyss (at least today), I've decided to include this picture of an adorable kitten. The kitten, as you might note, is likely incapable of altering its lifestyle or opinions based on the influence of the simulations in media. Lucky cat.

(Rock on, Cool Cat.)


  1. A closer look at this film might make a great longer seems to work so well with that Baudrillard section on TV and the altered panopticon. Your post reminded me of a presentation that students gave one year in this class. It focused on a Reality TV program that I regret to say I have never seen, but it was called "Moonshiners." There's a warning at the front of the show that reminds viewers that the making of moonshine is illegal. So why aren't the stars arrested? How can viewers be sure that the moonshine is "real" that they are producing? And is the image of moonshine as depicted on TV the same as actual moonshine? The lines between tv images and actual life do seem blurry, and I am intrigued by the idea that if I learned how to make moonshine from watching that show, I might be making moonshine that is more real than the televised moonshine that I copied: the copy replaces the original! Great post-- gave me lots of food for thought!

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