Simulation of Time: the Hyper-real Apocalypse

Curator's Note

A mutually agreed upon, objective reality has been the cornerstone of civilization until, I would argue, the 21st Century. Certainly scholars of postmodernism since mid 20th century theorize that time is no longer linear and even perhaps that this postmodern phase is the "end of history" to use Francis Fukuyama's term.  However, the inundation of digital cyber realities and globalism combined with a post 9/11 "post truth" culture, has exacerbated disorientation and given more nefarious entities the power to manipulate spatial and temporal realities to their benefit.

    Some academics see the "hyper-real" as a potential liberation, others see it as potential collective delusion.  It would most definitely be a starting point for conversations about how does culture now evolve collectively if people can no longer fundamentally agree upon the intrinsic definition of fact?

     Dominic Pettman in "After the Orgy: Toward a Politics of Exhaustion" refers to Nordau and Baudrillard in their observations of the "random nature of temporality," and that "the arbitrary division of time, rolling ever continuously along is not identical amongst all civilized beings."  Apocalypse means "revelation" but has taken on a colloquial nuance defining this revelation as entailing the end of the world as we know it. Are parallel timelines and existences converging upon themselves?  In "Looking Back on the End of the World" Baudrillard does not see the End Days coming with a nuclear catastrophe or other natural disasters conversely, in fact, "we have already passed it unawares and now find ourselves in the situation of having over extended our own finalities."

     Any casual observer of social media can see the disintegration of objective reality with former Mayor Giuliani's comment of "truth isn't truth" or advisor KellyAnne Conway's "alternative facts" comments. The Truman syndrome, derived from the film The Truman Show, has now infiltrated American government, "a type of delusion in which the person believes that their lives are staged reality shows, or that they are being watched on cameras." However who exactly is inducing the simulation? A nefarious dystopian political party, or ourselves....collectively?

     Since Fassbinder's enigmatic World on a Wire ...and then later, the Wachowski's The Matrix...cinema has speculated about societies that are fabricated illusions. A very select few with heightened awareness are able to see through the post-truth indoctrinations.

     In Neil Burger's 2014 dystopian film, Divergent, the heroine, Tris, is subjected to a series of initiation tests to determine which community she belongs in according to the stringent rules the ultra stratified "Utopia" that their rebuilt civilization adheres to. Her realization during the simulated virtual test that "none of this is real" reveals her gift to recognize that the entire society, not just the simulation, is a construct; much like Neo's revelation in The Matrix.

     Several post 9/11 films such as Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code and V for Vendetta are films indicative of cultural fatigue through global culture mediated by vague yet totalitarian sources. Eastern philosophy has for centuries contended that all of reality as we experience it is nothing but that of illusion, however, have we entered a new stage of alternative consciousness with more and more people becoming aware of this phenomenon and as a result suffer from millenarian anxiety.  Science fiction has always been a fantastic indicator of societal speculation and now it seems the films can't keep up with reality, or are actually now "more real than the real." Reason and logic have been the crux of civilization, and without them, we very well may be living through the nascent stages of Apocalypse.   Can the divergence of the population propagated by "alternative facts" co-exist with the rest of the populace that still operates within what has for centuries been accepted as objective truth? Has post modernism led to an unraveling of a cohesive civilization through the rupture of reason? Is post truth the end of history?  Or as Fassbinder suggests in World on a Wire is this just a reality within another level of reality within another...?  It would greatly serve the populace to be educated on how time can be manipulated though media. How clips and snippets are not the entire story. Through editing, ellipses of time can fabricate one story, while experiencing it live would be a completely different truth. Now more than ever, during this COVID lockdown, reports of people experiencing time differently are numerous.  This would be an ideal period in modern history to reevaluate the end game of where "progress" is leading us and if our society benefits man's evolution. If not... did it ever?


Science fiction has always been a fantastic indicator of societal speculation and now it seems the films can't keep up with reality, or are actually now "more real than the real."

I've heard several SFF content creators talking about this recently, and the idea that the "real world" right now feels more strange and dystopic than the worlds they create. Your essay makes me reflect even more deeply on the roles media content creation and media education play (or maybe don't play) in a hyper-real apocalypse.

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