On 26 January 2005, Jeﬀ Gannon, a member of the White House press corps, asked President George W. Bush a question which addressed the ambient anxieties and excessive preoccupations concerning the real’s indistinction from the virtual: ‘President Bush, how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?’2 This utterance did not refer to the President’s fellow cabinet members such as Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Cheney who had glaringly inaccurate predictions on the war’s trajectory, but targeted the Democratic ‘opposition’ (Senators Hillary Clinton and Majority Leader Harry Reid). Gannon’s pandering utterance conformed to the well-established pattern of the highly edited press conference where even the President on the eve of announcing the invasion (6 March 2003) referred to his own discourse as ‘scripted’ while it was still in process, thus depriving the public of one of its last remaining rights as citizens, ‘the right not to believe a single word they are told’ (Baudrillard, 2005a : 171).3 They are deprived, in Baudrillard’s words, of a counter-gift of vengeance. Indeed, the televisual event of a Bush press conference is one of the better examples of what Baudrillard calls ‘information at the meteorological stage’ (Baudrillard, 2002a [1997a]: 85-90).4 Jeﬀ Gannon’s ‘soft-ball’ questions facilitate ‘the secondary undecidability, arising from the very perfection of calculation and information’. This is further underscored by the superlative casting of an attractive weather-surnamed spokesman (Tony) ‘Snow’. The reporter’s question serves as an alibi, allowing Bush, like the clever
meteorologist, to ﬁnd the right formula: ‘words that will satisfy the public without being too wide of the actual events’. Today the political easily resonates with the meteorological: ‘caught between the instability of atmospheric ﬂows and the instability of collective expectations’ (SC, 86). Both partake of the logic exposed by Mandelbrot: whether news, information or history,
assertions of truth or claims of objectivity accede to scales of probability. Plausible information is simply that which is not denied in real time. ‘Truth’ gives way to ‘Truthiness’ – that neologism coined by (television fake rightwing pundit) Stephen Colbert is deﬁned as a ‘slick patina of plausibility’ (GSES, 2, 218). Or, ‘truth’ now designates a fractal truth that resists a binary (relational) demarcation into true or false but hovers in a ‘space of random distribution’ (SC, 86). Many of the Bush administration camera-ready narratives (supplementing
the rare press conference) such as ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’, ‘Mission Accomplished’, ‘Shock and Awe’, ‘The Pat Tillman Story’,5 or what was long seen as the administration image high point – the pseudo beer-ad bon homie of bullhorns at Ground Zero – evince the Baudrillardian logic of the non-event: the manufacturing of the event as sign, ‘as value exchangeable on the universal market of ideology, of the star system, of catastrophe, and so on’ (IEx, 132). But now they are inscribed within a system of réalité intégrale, where virtual (and irrefutable) criteria such as credibility rule and the facts just have to conform to the models ‘predicting’ them. Meteorology becomes the ‘reference scenario’: ‘For if meteorology is becoming in a way, political, politics is becoming meteorological’ (SC, 88). Meteorology becomes an emblem of the hegemony of the uncertainty principle in all areas that were formerly colonized by rational thought and calculation. No longer an incoherent ‘outlier’ like the stock-market report (which, in the French newscast, follows upon the weather forecast), now other simulative forms such as opinion polls too have ‘wearily come around to complying with the models … and become as incoherent as the weather itself ’. Baudrillard sings a familiar refrain of the trouble that happens when reality is brought into contact with models, echoing that of his earlier ironic depictions of the results of anthropologists studying ‘primitive peoples’ or when the statistically perfect American family (the Louds) imploded in its brush with PBS documentary television: ‘It is as though the forecasts had ﬁnally unsettled the weather’ (SC, 88). When Baudrillard ﬁrst wrote this op-ed piece for Libération (18 September
1995), he saw an up-side to the generalization of speculative models and the incursion of weather-tempered uncertainty into all areas of social and political life. This permitted possible surprises into the tiresome petit bourgeois debilities of Chiraquian France: the chance for counter-statistical, counterpolitical (or historical) events, such as the reversal on the 1992 referendum on Europe or the 1995 Metro strike. ‘And the only pleasure, the only hope – sometimes fulﬁlled – is to prove pollsters wrong, to have one’s choices and acts produce some other outcome than the one anticipated. A collective evil genius is at work here’ (SC, 89). The evil genie or the principle of evil (le mal, as opposed to le malheur, unhappiness) as well as the possibility of singularity (or an event) is presented in a more extreme version in W-Bush’s America and in the Baudrillardian works that ‘shadow’ it: The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact (Baudrillard, 2005a ), Cool Memories V
(2000-2005) (Baudrillard, 2006a ) and Exiles from Dialogue (Baudrillard with Noailles, 2007 ).6 These works foreground a concept of réalité intégrale (or integral reality) which is, according to some of Baudrillard’s most astute readers such as Butler (1999), Gane (2000) and Merrin (2005), part of his larger project of a semiotic critique of the real. Baudrillard deﬁnes réalité intégrale as ‘perpetuating on the world an unlimited operational project whereby everything becomes real, everything becomes visible and transparent, everything is liberated; everything comes to fruition and has a meaning’ (LP, 17). For Merrin, integral reality derives from a second (Christian iconoclastic) genealogy of the simulacrum that is also Nietzschean in its inspiration. The focus, as recounted in ‘The precession of simulacra’, is on the sign’s dissimulation, or, as developed in Séduction , upon the ‘enchantment’ which comes from turning the ‘evil forces’ (le malin génie) of appearance against truth itself. In a later text such as The Perfect Crime (1996), a ‘disenchanted’ simula-
crum is set against the ‘enchanted’ one. Reality is excessively realized in a virtual order that has become so technically perfect and absolute in its semio-realization of ‘reality’. This is not about a ﬂight from or overcoming of reality/realism as it concerns a veritable orgy of realism. To distinguish this moment from an earlier stage of simulation, denoted as hyperrealism, I refer to this acceleration/radicalization of Baudrillard’s model as ‘ultra-reality’ or virtual or digital reality. ‘High ﬁdelity’ is here the trope of the real’s relation to itself in time and dimension. The Perfect Crime alludes to the murder of (objective) ‘reality’ by virtual reality or describes how the real becomes an extreme phenomenon when it is expelled from its own principle. The political spectacle now gives way to the reality show. The screen displaces the mirror. In ultra-reality, we no longer ﬁght shadows, but transparency itself.