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simulacra: robot and frank

robot and frank is a movie about an aging father -frank- whose memory is beginning to seriously fail him, but who refuses to accept that reality. the son [whom he sometimes forgets] decides to get him a robot to help stimulate his mind and keep him company in the process. frank resists the robot heavily at first, but then begins to look forward very much to the robot’s company.

the robot replaces that need for a real person in frank’s life, and fulfils the need for company, intelligence, loyalty and camaraderie.

frank bruni recently wrote an article about knockoffs in china [see nytimes sept i, 2013 sunday review] upon his recent visit to china. he writes about the chinese gov’t’s bold new experiment in transparency regarding bo xilai’s trial of the century. xilai was a champion of little people and was recently accused of avarice and corruption. this transparency was partly counterfeit says bruni, and staged: the chinese audiences [and perhaps, the world, too] feasted on fakery and a fraudulent trial.

this well-written bruni article allows us a peek into how much exaggeration, gilding, deception and misdirection occur in china whose list of artifice/deception/illusion etc is long:
– the ‘greening’ of beijing with its many planted trees were planted for the olympics, a potemkin eco-friendliness for the world to see
– the little girl who sang at the olympics was a stand in for the real girl who was not as ‘adorable’
– the food scams where rats masquerade as lamb
– the bargain-basement liquor in premium brand bottles
– soy sauce made from human hair swept off barbershop floors and processed for optimal deliciousness
– the widely disseminated cardboard dumplings which were possibly fake
– phony pharmaceuticals and make-believe monks, attired to collect donations and peddle trinkets caused china’s two sacred buddhist temples to be closed earlier this year because of their imposter status
– a museum’s artifacts weren’t as ancient as claimed
– an apple store so real that its fake employees and customers were duped
– fake divorces in order to evade taxes on the sale of second houses.

and i thought that america took the cake on fake marriages after seeing the movie greencard.

china’s artifice supports the notion that when too much simulacra and artifice are used, the real is impossible to decipher. and like china, other worlds have their artifice, too:
Venezuela has plastic beauty contestants.
Italy has lowballed tax returns.
Britain has its hollow courtesies.
In USA, we have genuine made-in-china knockoffs splaying the streets of chinatown right down from prada bags [or tory burch or louis vuitton] bags to cartier watches to ‘real’ jade sold on the streets. we also have beyonce who used prerecorded vocals for obama’s 2nd inauguration and ponzi schemes.

the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none; the simulacrum is true [jean baudrillard].

the real gets sidelined by the unreal, like the robot as a real substitute for frank, whom he prefers over his son or daughter even though at the start of the film, he is in dire need of company, and surely wouldn’t mind having his daughter physically there instead of being skyped or his son who visits him once a week. we see frank wandering aimlessly around blind corners, not knowing or remembering that harry’s cafe has been closed for many years nor that his son has finished princeton 15 years ago. he lives in a kind of present that baudrillard talks about in America : “America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present.”

that may explain why USA reigns in technology, and why china has turned to artifice to keep up with competition and USA. in china, everything is so fast paced that real vigilance is impossible, and in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning [and human company], what is real? does technology create such a real substitute that humans no longer need the real thing or other real human beings? if we [whether china or USA] continue to substitute the fake for the real, are we too headed for self-destruction like the robot in robot and frank “Self-destructing in 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1″…


2 Comments

  1. SURIKHA RAO says:

    Americans are still the innovators snd Chinese the immitators.

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