Volume 4, Number 3 (October 2007)
Author: Stacy Hardy
This obituary appeared in I Like Magazine: http://www.ilikemagazine.co.za/?month=three (link no longer active 2019)
Jean Baudrillard died last month on March 6 2007. Captain America was declared dead a day later. The two events were in no way related but it’s tempting to read the connections. Captain America died instantly from a sniper’s bullet. Jean Baudrillard’s death followed a long illness. Captain America wasn’t real, he was a comic superhero created by Marvel Entertainment back in 1941. Jean Baudrillard was a contemporary French cultural philosophical provocateur who famously declared the “death of the real.” Captain America fought and triumphed over Hitler, Tojo, international Communism and a host of “super villains”, before his creators took him out and shot him in the 25th issue of his comic. Baudrillard – against Foucault, Kantian rationalism, and liberal humanism – sought to understand the world neither in terms of the subject’s desire to coherently know the world, nor in terms of Foucault’s old interpolation of power within subjectivity, but in terms of the object, and its power to seduce, to stand for, to simulate.
Captain America was created as a symbol of America’s undying spirit. A “sentinel of liberty’s fight for right”, he stood by the law until his very end, dying on the stairs of a courthouse where he was defending his civil rights. Baudrillard was a philosophical outlaw: shunning both the closures of the political economy as much as the suffocating social strictures of sociology, he approached the delirium of contemporary reality through art, employing poetry, irony and sharp-sharp humour to radically oppose semiotic logic – meaning, sign, signification, and commodity exchange – in favour of the symbolic realm – gift exchange, potlatch (the practice of sumptuous destruction) and radical pataphysics.
Captain America sold about 210 million copies of Captain America comic books throughout his 65 year career. His death was headline news around the world, even making onto the front page of News24.com here in South Africa. Baudrillard was one of the “theoretical storm-centres” of twenty-first century politics, society, and culture. He would have probably thought it was pretty funny: the public’s absence of awareness of his death in the wake of all the press surrounding the Captain’s death. After all, Baudrillard’s own critique of media centred on absence and especially the absence generated by the white noise of mass media. “Dying is pointless,” he once wrote. “You have to know how to disappear.”
About the Author
Stacy Hardy is from South Africa