The third level to the highest in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes the feeling of belonging, and an essential part of it includes belonging to a group of people, and it requires effort and certain qualifications to be in the desired group. Being born and raised in the banal static environment of socio-economic status, it was only natural for me to adhere to this one favored lifestyle.
It slowly became a silent norm to vector my lifestyle as an unconscious young adult to cater to what my surroundings expected of me. In my odd case, a full Batak descent Indonesian trying her best in mimicking a Chinese Indonesian lifestyle. My experience was nothing extraordinary: to put simply, a lot of my actions were performatively awkward and ingenuine, with the ulterior motive of merely fitting in.
Three years down the line, having lived abroad, (definitely) far away from all the social constructs of what it means to be a woman in Jakarta, I naively took a philosophy class and was introduced to Baudlliard’s Simulacra theory. When first introduced to it, I cannot lie, there were moments where I disassociate despite my total interest in the theory, solely because I just could not grasp the true meaning of the philosopher’s complex and peculiar post-modern thinking. However, I insisted that I need to fully grasp this concept and paid full attention to the intricate meanings of each point in the theory.
Only when I came back home to Jakarta a year after where I reexperienced all the cultural norms, the subtle barometer that a collective holds, and genuinely felt the pressure to be performing do I fully grasp the totality of it. So, this is my best attempt of understanding Baudrillard’s theory through the ‘object’ and lifestyle that I am most exposed to Upperclass Chindo Lifestyle.
To put it simply, Simulacra, as defined by Baudrillard himself touches upon today’s society’s constant effort in imitating an illusion of reality. In short and simplified, we are copying a copy of a copy of a copy.
The realm of realness has been long discarded and we have relied on an image of realness as our way of seeing life. This is not to say that we as postmodern beings are artificially living but as we have passed the modern life, we have lost the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is not.
According to Baudlliard, these aspects are the key factors of our loss of ability to see the real and illusion. To alleviate the understanding of it, I am going to take the ordinary days example of what Chindo culture ties to.
Being the predominant social media application that millennials and Generation Z of Indonesians use, Instagram changes the way we view society. It opens up a visual way of cultivating the illusion of cultures, as well as imitations of reality to the world. Through the postings on Instagram, we step further away from reality as we see the world through a small screen of curated and intentional postings. When spending more time with it, we taper our possibilities of lifestyle.
With the people that we follow dressing a certain way where they buy things in certain shops, eating in the same place, posing the same way, we create limitations on the activities and conspicuous consumption that we do; where we eat, what we eat, where we shop and what we shop. This subconscious action is done to feel belonging to the desired collective.
What also happens in this situation is that we are putting more effort into how to define ourselves through the things we consume. We start thinking on an exchange-value perspective: we see ourselves more as a commodity than a human being. A commodity to achieve a certain level of the universal equivalent, money. In this case, when we want to feel belonging to the desired group, we ask ourselves, how do I buy myself to become the perfect candidate?
We basically ask ourselves how much of ourselves is a product of late capitalism. Where I get my coffee from, where I shop the culotte that every girl is wearing, and which restaurant I am going to take pictures at slowly creates a stronger and fixed identity of you, with the hope that it gives you comfort now that you feel more belonging.
Filling your mind with all the things that we consume to help us create a persona that we desire, and an economic world that thrives from that feeling, it feels effortless to turn a blind eye on how your pitaya bowls and seasonal clothes are created. The complex industrial process creates an immense gap between us as consumers and the processing of products. With Indonesia’s wide economic classist gap and being a part of the only 7% middle-upper class, it is even easier hyperfocus on overindulging in consumptive habits.
A juxtaposed picture is seen as a Chinese Indonesian descent poses with her meal of rice and soy sauce, a typical meal of the lower class. The rice was made and harvested by underpaid farmers and agriculturalists of the country. With numerous advertisements, propaganda, storytelling, and overall lack of transparency, the intricate layers of production seem far out of reach for many, or even accepted as a harsh reality for some.
Lastly, Indonesia is known for its breathtaking nature views, be it the mountains or the oceans. However, living in Jakarta with urbanization being seen as the core front of economical growth, nature is now seen as something to be the unique and preserved selling point. As the philosopher pointed out, nature is now even seen as a mere commodity to beautify small parts in the urbanization, making it solely a decoration than what it truly is: the source of life.
Here it is, my best attempt at digesting Baudlliard’s postmodern theory on simulacra.
Do you think we are really living in a copy of a copy of a copy of a reality?
How many realities do we have then?
The goal of this post is to not shame anyone or any culture but to educate me (mostly) and readers on actualizing Baudlliard’s theory through a study case. I chose the study case of something I personally experienced and went through from my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood, and the only particular subculture I succumbed into.