Where everything is meant to be seen

Baudrillard, the Pussy Cat Dolls, and Anna Nicole
By JAMES PARKER  |  March 14, 2007


VIDEO: Watch a clip from Pussycat Dolls Present: The Serach for the Next Doll

So I’ve been reading IntroducingBaudrillard (Verso). The prophet of hyperreality and author of The Gulf War Did Not Take Place died March 6 in Paris, age 77, and I felt it was time to deepen our acquaintance. His huge, compelling image, after all, was of humanity succumbing in a kind of cosmic trance to the forces of simulation, to a fake-beyond-fakeness that is accelerating into total autonomy, and he had a thing or two to say about reality TV. Of the Big Brother–style French show Loft Story, for example, he observed that “it reveals the possibility that human beings are fundamentally not social.” He additionally called it “a mirror of dullness, of nothingness.” Assaults on reality were no joke with him — in fact, he saw them more in terms of a jihad. “These are the stakes nowadays,” he wrote in a late essay. “We are being faced with a new fundamentalism, a genuine fanaticism that, with the help of all the data provided by all the technologies, is taking us further and further from the literal and material world, further and further from a truly literal world, off toward a world technically ‘real.’ ”

Rather a religious view, that, with its own teleology and urgency: the demi-urge of the not-real is slurping us headfirst into our screens. Craggy, substantial, broad-faced and benevolent in aspect, M. Baudrillard was an unlikely vessel for such thoughts. He looked more like the village butcher than a renegade theorist. (Did the producers of VH1’s The Surreal Life ever consider recruiting him into the household? That would been quite a coup: Baudrillard, his glasses all steamed, sliding walrus-like into the hot tub next to Traci Bingham.) We can’t be sure how much reality TV he actually watched: “In this space,” he wrote of Loft Story, “where everything is meant to be seen . . . we realize that there is nothing left to see.” Jean Baudrillard, how wrong you are! The alert viewer of reality TV is always on the lookout for those moments at which Life, the genuine mess, avenges itself on simulation. There is always something to see.

In last week’s premiere episode of Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll (CW, Tuesdays, 10pm), for instance, the show was suddenly awash in vomit. On the night before the first audition, with dozens of girls mutteringly practicing their dance steps in the rooms of a sad hotel, a cunning stomach virus saw its chance. “I think I caught something from the other girl,” groaned Jaime, and we saw her jackknifed over the toilet bowl, holding her hair behind her head with one hand. Some of the not-yet-ill girls went out to see a Pussycat Dolls show and ended up genuflecting in the weeds round the back of the theater, hurling loudly. Down they went, one by one, all through the night. “It’s spreading really fast,” said Anastacia at 3.14 am. “I just don’t know what’s going on. Girls are dropping like flies.” Melissa R at 4:15 was more high-concept: “I feel like we’re in a movie: When a Virus Attacks . . .

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