When Jean Bauldrillard said in Simulacra and Simulation that "it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them," he wasn't even privy to our current context, in which platforms serve as superspreaders of the never-ending stream of images generated by people ("creators") and algorithms ("generators").
We hungrily read exposés about Ozy, the news organization that turned out to be a simulation of a news organization, even though none of us can remember ever reading the actual stories on Ozy. We retweet AI-generated scripts for Olive Garden commercials, not skipping a beat when it turns out that the script was actually written by a human comedian. Hell, my freelance fee for these very words is being paid for because some of you had a collective dream about the price of drawings of mud.
We are all of us nothing more than three empty representations in a trench coat. Skip the movie and read the hot take. The horse_ebooks of it all. Who even remembers what the meme was memeing in the first place?
So when I say that I am suspicious of the Twitter account @80snewsscreens, which shares stills from '80s news shows, it isn't with any animosity or sorrow. On the contrary, I find its sense of humor, perfectly distilled Vibes and the complete draining of context, absolutely delightful. A woman with a Princess Diana cut and the drop-shadowed chyron "doesn't like idea," against the backdrop of window blinds that smell like Reagan.
I have no reason to believe it's real, no tears to shed if it isn't, and don't care enough to investigate. I consume it as it's meant to be consumed, as a series of raindrops scrolling upwards past my face — gradients, poorly kerned type, mullets — a jolt of pure nostalgia that evaporates as quickly as it raises inside me a silent LOL. It all just exists to sell t-shirts anyways.
"Is it real or fake?" is a question that's lost all meaning because there is nothing to compare the memory to. In this way, nostalgia is like the platonic ideal of Bauldrillard's simulacra: take an image that has never existed and misremember it as the perfect root of all that exists. I should know: I wasn't even alive in the '80s. — By Elan Kiderman Ullendorff