[iDC] Some thoughts on Jean Baudrillard

Simon Biggs simon at babar.demon.co.uk
Mon Mar 12 17:23:16 EDT 2007

Denial and display in the 1970's

John Inman died within 24 hours of Jean Baudrillard. Inman's death received
blanket coverage in the UK's popular media. Even the Guardian's obiturary
came out with an entire "Berliner" page. A quick check of the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation's web portal confirmed the international import of
this death. On the other hand I am yet to see a single English language
printed reference to the great French philosopher's death.

I imagine for much of the world's peoples the question would be "John who?",
whilst for the average TV viewer or newspaper reader in the English speaking
world the question would be "Jean who?".

John Inman and Jean Baudrillard might actually have more in common than just
the timing of their deaths. Baudrillard most famously proposed the concept
of the simulacra, when something is what it is because it resembles what it
should be, regardless of what it might actually be. In his most famous TV
role as Mr. Humphreys in UK TV's classic bad taste sitcom "Are you being
served" John Inman enacted Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum at about
the same time as Baudrillard would have been furiously thinking through his
initial thoughts on the subject.

Baudrillard mastered the art of the philisophical double entendre as he
absorbed the phenomenologies of Merleau Ponty and Heidegger. The necessity
to square Kantian circles ensured that he would be able to seem to mean one
thing whilst actually meaning something entirely different.

Similarly the character of Mr Humphreys functioned to deny and defer the
import of gendered identity, whether straight or gay. His effeminate but
non-confronting persona functioned to reassure us that difference was not
really different, that we had nothing to fear. In this sense his work
prefigures not only Baudrillard but also Derrida. The only difference
between Inman's and Baudrillard's philosophy might therefore only be a
matter of taste.

100 years from today I am confident that Baudrilard will be remembered for
his important works, such as "Towards a Political Critique of the Sign" and
"Simulation and Simulacra". As to whether John Inman will be remembered is
an open question. Until his death I had forgotten his existence (with
relief). To be reminded of Inman's existence at the same time as absorbing
the news that a thinker who had very deeply effected my own thinking had
died was an unwelcome distraction. Unwelcome, but strangely fortuitous.

March 2007

Afternote: in the final stages of writing this I received Charlie Gere's
piece on Baudrillard and found he too connected his death with that of
Inman. The question now is whether to trash what I have written or "publish
and be damned"...well, you know the outcome.



Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM: simonbiggsuk
Research Professor in Art, Edinburgh College of Art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

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