In the 7th book of The Republic, Plato, the Greek philosopher, tells a story about the allegory of the cave. He describes a dark underground cave where prisoners are sitting in a row with their backs to the cave's entrance. Besides the chained prisoners, there are also other people in the cave, the puppet-handlers. However, the prisoners cannot see them because of the shackles that do not allow them to turn their heads. Therefore, the prisoners only see and hear shadows and echoes cast by the real objects that they do not see first hand. Their view of reality is solely based upon this limited view of the cave, which is a perfect copy of the real world. Unfortunately, they never realize that they are being held captive and their views are basically false images. Plato explains this situation with the words, "The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images." The main theme of Plato's cave analogy is to manifest his idea that what we see is not always real.
Definition of simulacra and simulation
These days, people are unable to distinguish the difference between the imaginary world and the real world because, basically, the boundary is getting less and less clear. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard coined the term "simulation full of simulacra" to explain this phenomenon. Simulacra are things that seem to be real to people even though they do not actually exist. Sometimes, they are even recognized more vividly than the actualities. Simulation is the verbal form of simulacra. Although the word simulacra will be unfamiliar to many, we can easily find simulacra in our everyday life, and these simulacra inflict great mischief in society.
Being captivated by simulacra, modern people are losing the ability to tell the real from the fake. Some people even say that simulacra are staining the essentials with their fake nature. However, Prof. Seo Dong-wook (Dept. of Philosophy) emphasizes that simulacra themselves are not the problems but that they are abused behind the scenes. "Today, it is obvious that the boundary of the virtual community and the real one is ambiquous. But this is not the basic problem. We have to be aware of the fact that many in the background are pulling wires from behind." He added, "They distort the truth, create fake images, and even manipulate the original nature of mankind for their own profit like commercial values and political authority." Basically, many social problems that we face today are caused by the misuses of simulacra.
The pursuit of an illusion
Most celebrities in magazines or catalogs are leggy, bosomy, and curvacious. We always wonder how they have such perfect body shapes. Unfortunately, they are definite images that are retouched by excellent computer graphic techniques. Yet, many people regard these perfectly retouched bodies as original and real. Even though it is obvious that such body shapes cannot exist in the real world, many people expend a huge effort and a lot of money trying to be one of them. What is worse is that most of them are teenagers. Some of them even think that the body shapes they see on commercials are standard figures. Therefore, people always try to be skinny. Although people need to get proper nutrition, they barely eat, saying, "I am on a diet!" This often results in anorexia. Anorexia is an illness in which a person has an overwhelming fear of becoming fat; therefore, he or she refuses to eat enough and becomes thinner and thinner. "Anorexia is a very dangerous mental disease. If there is no proper medical treatment, the possibility of moratality is almost 15 percent," said Dr. Park Jin-seng (Child Adolescent Psychiatry). "In modern societies, mass media put too much emphasis on external beauty rather than inner beauty. This could be one of triggers that causes a relapse of an anorexia. With this influence, the number of patients is also increasing," Park remarked. In addition, an anonymous student who went through anorexia stated that she did not know that she was so much influenced by the manipulated images. Then, one day she found herself only cutting out the hot bodies in magazines and attaching them to a picture of her face. "I have never been fat, even chubby. However, I somehow got a certain obsession to lose more weight. At first, I intentionally vomited by putting my fingers in my throat. Then, finally, I started to take pills that were advertised. It said if I took those, I could have a body like a celebrity," she said. She added that she almost died as a consequence of taking those pills.
Beautification of immoralities
These days, there are many movies and dramas about gangsters or violent high school students like My Wife Is a Ganster, My Boss My Hero, Romance of Their Own, and so on. They make a great fortune for the entertainment industry through their power at the box office. The strange thing is that people who are watching them are not shocked or surprised and rarely criticize them. Rather, people take them naturally and even enjoy thinking gangsters and fighters are actually cool. "I am such a huge fan of gangster movies. All characters are really good at fighting. They can kick like Bruce Lee, they flourish a sword very quickly, and they even sometimes fly in the air. That is very cool," said Song Sang-min (08, Division of International Culture I). Moreover, some of them sometimes mimic the scenes and characters from those movies or dramas. In addition, a mother of two children said she was very surprised when she saw her son drawing his future dream: a six-year-old boy was describing himself as the boss of gangsters. Basically, they really do not know about the reality of gangsters because they are depicted as having a strong sense of justice, always getting the beauty, and wearing nice clothes with expensive shoes. Then, how about their real feature? Gangsters are doing all the immoral things in the reality: robbing, raping, fighting with weapons, drugging and even killing people. Still, why are these immoral things are beautified? As mentioned above, they can be commercialized for good profit. They make good money. Therefore, the filmmakers are constantly making new images of scenes that stimulate the audience. In this manner, they conceal the truth about social vice with the attractive actors or actresses, stories that plant a fantasy in people, and showy special effects. As a result, the rate of copycat crimes is increasing.
Obsession with cyber space
According to Yonhap News, on May 22nd, 2008, a 43-year old Japanese woman who is a piano teacher got arrested for murdering the avatar of her on-line husband, after being abruptly divorced in cyber space. Another crime which originated in virtual space and eventually became a reality also occurred in the United Kingdom. Last August, an English woman named Amy filed a suit for divorce at the Cornwall Domestic Relations Court. She said, "I saw my husband cheating on me with a prostitute. I hired a private investigator and I was finally able to capture the clandestine meeting." However, it turned out that this had not happened in a real life but in the on-line game "Second Life." "I cannot understand why she is so furious. It was not even real. It was nothing but a game," said her husband David. In Korea, there was a case of an elementary school student who used 300,000 won to decorate her cyber mini homepage. The problem was that she took out her mother's credit card and bought all the materials that she needed in cyber space. She said when she decorated her "mini-me," the online avatar, in her cyber homepage, she felt like she became pretty. These three cases show people conflicitng virtual places with reality. They have got the real world mixed up with illusions that do not even exist. This brought out some serious antisocial problems.
Face up to the reality
With the broken boundary between images and essentials, the community is now facing many serious problems. Among them, increasing rates of anorexia, beautifications of immoralities, and obsession with cyber space are a few results of the maximized commercial business, blindly trying to make money. What people should keep in mind to prevent the prevailing subversion of actuality is to grasp the hidden wirepullers who only try to benefit themselves. Otherwise, someone who has the marketable images could control things such as capital, political power, and cultural relativity, and the struggling for mastery would be deepened. Therefore, we need to have a critical eye when receiving the images. We should not just accept them as they are but examine carefully whether these are the results of the commercial profit or desires for power. It is undeniable that the world is full of images. People feel more comfortable to this manipulated world than the real world, because they are already dazzled by the lure of images. People fear recognizing the essence in the reality and some of them do not even aware of the fact that they keep losing themselves. However, people should try to put their priority on the essence even though the process may be hard. This is the last and the most important step. In this way, perhaps someday, the genuine purity of intrinsic attribute that once existed before would be found again. We should not be the victims of the wirepuller who produces images that take away our true soul.
By Cho Hyun-a firstname.lastname@example.org (Reporter of The S.H.)