Baudrillard in an age of Gammon

While far from being my favourite theorist, Baudrillard’s time may have come. While he was alive the popular uptake of his work lumped it in with the work of Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault and Lyotard — all misunderstood, all held up as examples of a bad philosophical object called ‘postmodernism’ which no-one in Britain save for a few literature and media students knew what to do with. It was French, talkative, current, but supposedly impenetrably gnomic, dense, full of obscure wordplay and oblique, cryptic references. Maybe it has taken twenty years to process what it was saying, or maybe it was just ahead of its time, but when today we have to grapple with political commentators speaking of ‘alternative facts’ and a ‘post-truth’ society, it is difficult not to imagine what Baudrillard would have made of this. Indeed, it is something of an irony that those today who seem best acclimatised to a ‘postmodernism gone mad’, while perhaps unconscious of the fact, and no doubt still occasionally using the term to disparage study of the humanities or history, and the left in general, are actually those on the far right. Perhaps there is nothing quite as simulative, as citational, as temporally off-kilter and irreal as the spectacle of white nationalists marching in 2018, the pseudo-ironic racist banter of the alt-right, the misogyny of gamergaters, or the endless youtube videos of a US president gesturally mocking disability and boasting of sexual assault. While postmodern architecture of recent decades ‘quoted’ and ‘pastiched’ elements of former styles in order to borrow and recode their aesthetic values for emerging international markets (being the origin of the term, and thus entirely implicating it in the crisis of financialised housing and all the economic problems of globalised real estate and property development), so today the behaviour — the so-called ‘neoreactionary backlash’, the acting-out — of the digitally native alt-right draws deep from a stock of primitivist, folkish, right-wing localisms and historical junctures in order to cite them in a wholly new context. However, the simulative phenomenon in architecture nonetheless established its own reality — its own ‘style’ as it were — by which those ‘eclectic’ and ‘citational’ built cultures of the 1990s can now be pointed to and seen as hopelessly dated. There is in this a significant analogy, by means of which I hope we can soon begin to point to the ‘neoreactionary backlash’ as something whose time has passed. The Trump blimp, organised to coincide with the US president’s visit to the UK (widely protested), as well as the currency of the term ‘gammon’, looks to me a favourable sign in this direction.

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