The idea of a simulacrum is that of something that has been reproduced so many times that there is no longer any way to separate the reproductions from the original. This creates a kind of “hyperreal.” This is a state where there is a reproduction or simulation of something that was real that has no real origin itself (Baudrillard).
What is most interesting about simulacra is not what they are, but what they have the power to do. They have to power to take the place of the real. Baudrillard calls this phenomenon “the precession of simulacra” and it is useful to us in that rather than just talk about what simulacra are, we can speak about what they have the potential to do. Baudrillard expresses this in the opening paragraph of his work, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory-the precession of simulacra-that engenders the territory…” (Baudrillard). This clearly shows that simulacra, which are based on something real, actually have the potential to take the place of the real and even affect what we consider to be the real.
Baudrillard also makes the case that simulacra have destroyed the world of the real by eliminating the imaginary. In this way, simulacra have replaced referentials, those things that let us identify what is real. In doing so, simulacra have made their way into the system of symbols and have begun “substituting the signs of the real for the real” (Baudrillard). The final result of all this is that the real no longer has the ability to produce itself. Instead now simulacra are being put in its place. They are not being distinguished as being simulacra either because there is no longer any way to distinguish them. They are replacing the real. Simulacra have broken down the machinery of real production, further adding to the blurred line between real and imaginary (Baudrillard). It is important to note though that this is all referring to the realm of simulation, not to the world or pretending.
The difference between simulating and pretending is an important characteristic to consider when dealing with simulacra. When one pretends, one is faking that one does not have something when one actually does. Simulating is acting like one has something that actually lacks (Baudrillard). This means that those who simulate actually have the potential to create something real within themselves. In this way, simulacra maintain reality which works to blur the line between what is actually real and what is simulation.
Baudrillard offers several different examples of simulacra that are taking the place of reality, but one of the simplest ones he gives is that of a fake holdup. He says that even if one were to have harmless weapons, inform the police of what you were doing, and made sure that absolutely no one would be in danger, the simulation would become real. Someone in the bank, one of the police officers, or someone else would not understand that what was happening was a simulation. For them, the simulacrum has become real (Baudrillard). That is the danger of simulacra. They preserve a certain amount of truth that is enough for them to overtake reality and become real themselves. Also, people know how to deal with a real holdup, they do not know how to deal with a simulated one. This makes for a confusing phenomenon in that the people think they recognize what is happening and they think they know how to react, when in truth they have no idea what to do with the simulacrum.
Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Simulations - I. The Precession of Simulacra.” The European Graduate School: Graduate and Postgraduate Studies. Web. Accessed 8 December 2010.