Discourse: On May 22nd: A Case of Baudrillardian Simulation
For a moment, we anticipated for an event; for a grand finale that might have given the drama its fiery ending, one final battle before the credit scene rolled, the part where heroes could rise and claim victory over the evil . One could also be said to expect a break – be it through violence or other extraordinary means – from the lethargy that has invested the minds and the souls of the present that allowed for the slow and sedated detereoration of the body. What used to be distinctly painful has now merged into every part of our bodies. It used to be concievable to pinpoint where the pain emerged from and in what form, and thus the possible medication or at the very least the symptoms. Now, the pain emerged from all sides with no trajectory nor pause. This allowed for the pain to lose its intensity, which in turn created the paradoxical situation that we have found ourselves in: that of lethargy and hysteria.
Indeed, Baudrillard[i] has predicted and described a point in which the obscenity of everything has reached a critical point: a point in which the line between the fiction and the real fades;where all trajectories are lost; where the real has become more real than the real; a point of hyper-reality. And so it matters little who had the gun; who fired the shot and whose interest were lost or furthered. In a sense, everyone was the culprit in a scene where even the most passive has become equally active in anticipation. A self-made disaster movie, the riot happened before it took place, methodically playing itself out scene through scene as it was written long before any supporter of Prabowo marched onto the street. This is an effort to recover what has been lost through ready-made devices manufactured in the image of the time when merits were still to be found within the political. Indeed, today we have witnessed the pitiful display of what could be described in this line of reasoning as nostalgia; one that is incited not only by those that set foot on the streets of Jakarta, but by every single one of us. The display showed us that there is indeed nothing underneath the superficiality of the simulation of “movement” its reasons and rationales; and its subsequent ready-made fear and responses.
Entangled kinds of simulations could be found within this pandemonium. At one level, we could see the culmination of the use of the ideology for –and paradoxically against – “Indonesia”. The evocation of the old anti-communist, anti-foreign, anti-west has mutated the ideology [which in itself was impossible to be completely coherent] into that of an anti-ideology: one that rejected its own history. Maybe it has killed its history and resurrected it within its own catalogue, scrubbed clean of any ambivalence and dialectics. Paradoxically, Prabowo’s mercantilist and xenophobic sentiment was no more anti-west than it was anti-east or south [or north if you will], for such sentiment – which has its foundation on political economy – was the result of the process that brought upon the plague of de-differentiation. Is it not the result of the symbolic murder during the course of the colonial period of Indonesian history that the introduction of such concepts first took place?[ii] As such, at this level one could see not only the perversion of reality through ideology, but a process of further curving; a curve that allowed for meaning to be circulated within a closed system, a phenomenon of simulation. Thus, the issue within the character of Prabowo Subianto is not that of being “radical” [matter of fact, it might be argued that he was far from being one] but that of hallucination.
Obviously, something must also be said about the aftermath of the riot. The riot, portrayed as a case of misinformation; of provocation; and of a tragedy that resulted from the mechanism of power. Indeed, it was a tragedy, but not of misinformation nor provocation, and definitely not of the working of “power” [at least not in a conventional sense]. One could say along the lines of Baudrillard that within a system of simulation “facts no longer have a specific trajectory, they are born at the intersection of models, a single fact can been gendered by all the models at once.”[iii] In this sense, it was less of a case of misinformation – or in the dearly used word as of late: “hoax” – than it is the indeterminacy of facts within a system which polarities have imploded and signs have acquired a life of its own. One could argue that the response of the state was one that is of the same plane: one that risks reality in a face of simulation. When the state turned towards the manipulation of the proliferation of information, they still held on to a vanishing reality principle, which in turn gave birth to a new set of position [or non-position] against it [which definitely could be seen in the numerous and often intriguing posts on numerous social media platforms].Thus in this regard, both sides – the states and the “hoax” – played each other’s role in perfect harmony. It was then an event of manipulation rather than provocation, where both sides are actively engaging each other into a curvature of nonsense.
The apprehension of the culprits of the riot was also within the same plane. The media carefully disposed the perpetrators away from the uncertain and tumultuous realm of politics [which definition was mostly restricted to that of statesmanship] and into the seemingly concrete realm of deviance; of crime and punishment; of jurisprudence. The drug use, the illegal weapons, as well asthe vandalism was infused into the discourse, functioning as a shot of steroid to the system of anxiety; one that allowed for the event to have a flavor of reality. Indeed, it may have been the case that the attempt to build the event on a seemingly solid ground was to create an alibi in reality, one that allowed for such event to have an anchor beyond its appearances, beyond its ludicrousness; an attempt to find a narrow determinate position in a system of indeterminacy. As such, it created a crisis and scandal [albeit a simulated one in the same space as that of Watergate as Baudrillard has depicted[iv]] that allowed for a momentary resuscitation of the system of politics. Thrown are those people into the caldera of flaming volcano as a sacrifice for a momentary rekindling of the dim fire of reality. But what is there to save? As soon as Prabowo Subianto announced his self-proclaimed victory, we saw a clear glimpse of the emptiness of the ritual of election; of the political system and in the end that of power. This has shown how power has turned into a sign that circulates within our system of consumption. It has turned into nothing more than a meme, a mirage within the vast desert of reality. As such, the May 22nd has become a theater of simulation; one that has shown us the extent in which the symptoms have pervaded; a movie, one which all of us has become the actors and audiences.
For a moment, we anticipated for an event; for a grand finale that might have given the drama its fiery ending, one final battle before the credit scene rolled, the part where heroes could rise and claim victory over the evil . One could also be said to expect a break – be it through violence or other extraordinary means – from the lethargy that has invested the minds and the souls of the present that allowed for the slow and sedated detereoration of the body. What used to be distinctly painful has now merged into every part of our bodies. It used to be concievable to pinpoint where the pain emerged from and in what form, and thus the possible medication or at the very least the symptoms. Now, the pain emerged from all sides with no trajectory nor pause. This allowed for the pain to lose its teeth, which in turn created the paradoxical situation that we have found ourselves in: that of lethargy and hysteria.
However, one sees nothing beyond this. We have seen heroes and villain cross-dress with each other; or rather, both have come to understand each other perfectly that they have become one another. It used to be that symptoms were full of agony, and so it has to be gotten rid of. Now, it has pervaded to the point of disappearance, and so out of nostalgia, we attempted to recreate it, a simulated disease. And thus, it brought us to this point, a paradoxical situation of both hysteria and lethargy.
[i]Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, The Body, in Theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994); Richard G. Smith, ed., The Baudrillard Dictionary (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010).
[ii]Ariel Heryanto, “The Making of Language: Developmentalism in Indonesia,” September 1990, 41–53.
[iii]Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.