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Blog // Thoughts
January 11, 2006

Baudrillard Was Right

Whilst I was in the UK, I was amazed by the TV advert from the See America Campaign, which tries to attract UK tourists to the US. As the NYT put it “The $4 million campaign, by the Los Angeles office of the British agency M&C Saatchi, plays heavily on the British love of American […]

Whilst I was in the UK, I was amazed by the TV advert from the See America Campaign, which tries to attract UK tourists to the US. As the NYT put it

“The $4 million campaign, by the Los Angeles office of the British agency M&C Saatchi, plays heavily on the British love of American movies, as illustrated by the theme ”You’ve seen the films, now visit the set.” Print, television and billboard ads will feature clips from films like ”Thelma and Louise,” ”Sweet Home Alabama” and ”L.A. Story” (but presumably not ”Deliverance” or ”The Ice Storm”).”

What fascinated me is how this campaign confirms Jean Baudrillard’s claim that the US inverts the relationship between relaity and the cinematic that exists. Generally, we tend to judge films based on how well they convey the truth of the real world. However, through film most tourists and travellers to the US have a heavily formed impression and tend instead to judge the US in terms of how well it conveys the truth of film. As Baudrilliard puts it

“Is it not the least of America‚Äôs charms that even outside the movie theatres the whole country is cinematic? The desert you pass through is like the set of a Western, the city a screen of signs and formulas. It is the same feeling you get when you step out of an Italian or a Dutch gallery into a city that seems the very reflection of the paintings you have just seen, as if the city had come out of the paintings and not the other way about. The American city seems to have stepped right out of the movies. To grasp its secret, you should not, then, begin with the city and move inwards towards to the screen; you should begin with the screen and move outwards to the city. “

Towards the end of 2001, in a paper entitled “Pulling the World from our Eyes:
Hartt, Baudrillard and The Matrix”
, I reflected up on this quote from Baudrillard in terms of the “Filmic Imagination,” something which I see as central to the theology of Culture.

“Where is the cinema? It is all around you outside, all over the city, that marvellous, continuous performance of films and scenarios. Rather than film being a reflection of our world, we now have a situation where our world is a reflection of film. Moreover, since so much of the world is, for many people, so much of the world is experienced cinematically and televisually before it is experienced in ‚Äúreality,‚Äù the cinematic shapes the expectation of reality. The radical immance of our experience stems in part from this performation in the filmic imagination.”

For Baudrillard, film so shapes our imagination that it now fills categories for how we describe our lives. It was like something out of a movie, was such a constant refrain in the days following September 11. However, the same holds true in the more everyday. It never ceases to amaze me the way visitors to London anticipate what they will see on the basis of films and TV they consume. The frayed Borgian map in their mind is one created by the cinematic experience, be it Notting Hill, Sliding Doors, Bridget Jones‚Äôs Diary, or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrells. What this says, in very subtle way, is that rather than expecting our experience of film and cinema to match reality as we experience it, we anticipate that reality, when we experience it, will match the non-reality we have already experienced. Therefore our Borgean map is actually a map drawn from our experience of non-reality.”

[tags] America, Film, Tourism, Jean Baudrillard [/tags]

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