What is the meaning of simulacrum? Definition and examples

Simulacrum Definition


  1. an image or representation (e.g. a dummy or a wax model)
  2. an insubstantial form or semblance of something (metaphorical)

The second use is metaphorical and has negative connotations.


Simulacrums or simulacra. These days either is fine.


  • Often found in colocations such as ‘sorry simulacrum’, ‘awful simulacrum’, ‘dry simulacrum’ or with other negative words. The phrase ‘only a simulacrum’ is common.
  • Any semblance between the simulacrum and the original thing is vague, slight or otherwise unreal; superficial.
  • There can be an element of trickery e.g. simulacrum as pretence, a sham, trying to persuade people of its reality when it’s nothing of the sort.
  • But sometimes everyone is in on it. E.g. everyone knows that an effigy is just an image or representation. A wax museum is full of simulacrums of famous people, but (we hope) everybody knows they’re made of wax. Everyone knows p*rn is not real sex.
  • However, knowing something isn’t real doesn’t mean it’s not also influential, including harmful.
  • Used metaphorically (as it often is), avoid comparing something to a ‘simulacrum’ if you don’t intend a negative connotation. Your favourite film or novel isn’t a simulacrum of real life (even though it technically is). Your favourite stories presumably do a good job of reproducing reality, to a positive end.



[P*rn] etches deep grooves in the psyche, forming powerful associations between arousal and selected stimuli, bypassing that part of us which pauses, considers, thinks. Those associations, strengthened through repetition, reinforce and reproduce the social meaning assigned by patriarchy to sexual difference. This is especially true of filmed pornography, which harnesses the power of the most ideologically potent entertainment apparatus of all: the moving picture. The movie (p*rnographic or not), unlike the still image, the book or audio recording, needs nothing from us — no input, no elaboration. It requires only our enthralled attention, which we are compelled to give, and give willingly. In front of the p*rn film, the imagination halts and gives way, overtaken by its simulacrum of reality.

The Right To Sex by Amia Srinivasan, p64

Srinivasan defined ‘simulacrum’ for us in the introduction to the same book:

A famous philosopher once said to me that he objected to feminist critiques of sex because it was only during sex that he felt truly outside politics, that he felt truly free. I asked him what his wife would say to that. (I couldn’t ask her myself; she hadn’t been invited to the dinner.) This is not to say that sex cannot be free. Feminists have long dreamed of sexual freedom. What they refuse to accept is its simulacrum: sex that is said to be free, not because it is equal, but because it is ubiquitous. In this world, sexual freedom is not a given but something to be achieved, and it is always incomplete.

The Right To Sex by Amia Srinivasan, p. xiv

Srinivasan seems to be talking here about a kind of widespread gaslighting that happens to a group of people. The simulacrum is an idea used to persuade women that women are sexually free.


[Disneyland] is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper-real and of simulation.

Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations (1981)

Spirited Away suggests the fundamental permeability of boundaries, evoking a liminal world of uncertainty, loss, constantly changing identities, and abandoned simulacra, where old truths and patterns no longer seem to hold and where the deep-seated desire to return home may never be fulfilled. […] The theme park can thus be seen as a simulacrum of recent Japanese history, a history that, since it is emblemized by a theme park, is essentially inauthentic, evocative of Appadurai’s “warehouse of cultural scenarios.”

Susan J. Napier, The Journal of Japanese Studies Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 287-310

This short story is about two sisters whose mother recently died after several decades of Parkinson’s disease. One sister left the small town to build her own life in the city. The other stayed on for ten extra years as caregiver. After a long stand-off, the one who left comes home to guide the older, caregiving sister through the process of individuation.

[T]he two sisters tell stories together in order to come to terms with their past and their current relationship. According to Ajay Heble, they talk about the past in order to transform their traumatic experience and by substituting reality with fiction they “attempt to simulate a diplomatic gesture of peace, a kind of Treaty of Utrecht between siblings” (Heble 1994, 42). However, this entire process is not a mere simulacrum. On the one hand, they cannot simply come to terms with the conflicting nature of their relationship. On the other hand, as the title suggests, one party will have more access to the situation from now on—The Treaty of Utrecht gained a British foothold in Canada— Nova Scotia—but by no means ended French domination, as intended. Thus, the conflict by and large remains unresolved.

Painful Interactions: The Elusive Mother-Daughter Relationship in Alice Munro’s “The Peace of Utrecht


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




error: Content is protected