Updated: Dec 29, 2020
WAP; Simulation and Simulacra through Cardi B and Ben Shapiro
Words by Fin Quinlan @finquin
In 1981 sociologist Jean Baudrillard published the first edition of Simulacra and Simulation. Throughout the text Baudrillard holds a magnifying glass up to the relationships people have between reality, symbols, and society, focusing on the significations and symbolism of culture and media in constructing a shared existence.
Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacra is the concept of a copy that depicts something either without an original or that no longer has an original. To Baudrillard multiple stages must have taken place before we can come into pure simulacrum:
The first order simulacra is a faithful copy. Take, for example, the ‘Mona Lisa’. Obviously, this is an original 16th-century painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. Yet, it is still a copy as it is simply a representation of a real person. To put it simply, nature is the purest form of an original and any representation of such (in this instance a painting) is a copy.
The second order of simulacra is in which a sign becomes an unfaithful copy that ‘masks and denatures’ reality. In this case, signs do not show us reality itself but instead just hint at the existence of something real. To follow our previous example the digitisation of the ‘Mona Lisa’ is the second order of simulacra. The mass dissemination of it as a piece of cultural and societal significance completely looms over the original fact that Da Vinci made a representation of a real person (supposedly Lisa Gherardini). The commodity’s ability to imitate the original threatens to replace the authority of the original version. This is because the copy is just as ‘real’ as its model.
Finally, the third order of simulacra, commonly associated with Late Stage Capitalism, is where the second-order simulacra overwrites the distinction between reality and representation is no longer there. There is only a simulation and no longer an original. Again, The ‘Mona Lisa’ no longer represents a real person; it now is a twisted representation of consumerism being declared as ‘the most parodied work of art in the world’. No longer is a representation of the ‘Mona Lisa’ enough, Disney, Dali, Duchamp are some of the thousands to manipulate the ‘Mona Lisa’ to fit into their own aesthetic. Exploiting the artwork for political statements results in the mere mention of the ‘Mona Lisa’s’ name to stir intrigue and public interest even among those with little to no artistic background
The concept of hyperreality being a creation of third-order simulacra is most obvious through Umberto Eco’s analysis of Disneyland. Eco writes that Disneyland has been created to look entirely realistic, taking visitors to a ‘fantastic past’. This illusion makes it more desirable for people to buy into a simulated reality. Eco states in Travels in Hyperreality that the ‘fake nature’ of Disneyland satiates our imagination and fantasies in real life. The idea boils down to the fact that nothing in this world is real. There is no original, but merely endless copies of reality ‘An allegory of the consumer society, a place of absolute iconism, Disneyland is also a place of total passivity. Its visitors must agree to behave like its robots’. Baudrillard argues in Simulacra and Simulation that this concerns the American way of life in a sense that it hides ‘the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus saving the reality of principle’:
‘The Disneyland imaginary is neither true or false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It's meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the "real" world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness’
But what does this have to do with Ben Shapiro?
On the 7th of August, the American rapper Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released ‘WAP’ as the lead single from Cardi B’s upcoming studio album. The bass-heavy and graphically explicit song explored the concept of sexual positivity, female empowerment, and liberation. Yet the lyrics and visuals of the song sparked controversy throughout many conservative circles with Conservative political commentators denouncing the song. On his eponymous talk show ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ he stated ‘…it's aimed at young American girls—maybe your girls, your granddaughters and what is it doing to them? Can you imagine what it's doing to them?’, adding, ‘the people pushing it clearly are trying to hurt your children’. And now enter Ben Shapiro.
Ben Shapiro aimed to criticise the concept of ‘WAP’ in a segment on his Daily Wire talk show ‘The Ben Shapiro Show’. In which Ben chooses to satirically read aloud the lyrics to ‘WAP’ whilst simultaneously ‘debunking’ the lyrics. Much as your father would do… grumbling about “kids these days” or something of the other. However, in doing so Ben opened himself up to immense ridicule.
‘WAP’ is obviously hyperbole: ‘Now get your boots and your coat / For this wet-ass pussy’. Nobody needs a raincoat coat and boots for sex, no matter how aroused anyone is. In Ben’s debunking of the lyrics although unnecessary, useless, and a thinly veiled attempt to offload his archaic values regarding a women’s sexuality being inherently linked to their value societally he is not ‘wrong’.
However, the people’s response to Ben Shapiro, defending the hyperbole as if it is true as if his disbelief that a mop would be required following sexual intercourse is blatant evidence of his sexual ineptitude is third-order simulacra.
‘WAP’ itself is already a manifestation of pornographic hyperreality. Pornography generates profit through the distribution of escalating portrayals of sexual possibility. The profit-driven nature of capitalism demands that pornography commodifies women and detaches them from their bodies. A quick browse of most porn websites will instantly reveal videos with titles describing women as ‘brutalised’, ‘punished’, and ‘destroyed’ creating a dissonance between women as people and women as products. Thereby training viewers to desire an unrealistic depiction of sex... We see the damage of this through the proliferation of body image issues, sexual pressure, and dissatisfaction among couples to simulate pornography together. Looking to Baudrillard we can see that we have given so much cultural investment to copies that we are now living in an ‘order of the simulacra’ and that through the hyperreality of sex we have created a simulation that is ‘more real than real’ in essence abolishing the ‘real’.
By doubling down on this concept of pornography we have overwritten the distinction between reality and representation. Through Ben’s seemingly out of touch ramblings about what should and should not be acceptable art and expression he has inadvertently put on a pedestal a gaping crack in society that was opened by Late Stage Capitalism. ‘WAP’ as an attempt to decommodify women and regain power shows the scars of an endemic exploitative issue. Paralleling the allusion to Disneyland earlier, pornography is no longer true nor false.