Oftentimes, when we think about “the simulation”, we think about the Matrix and Neo’s journey in and out of the Matrix, and more recently Fontaine’s journey through “The Glen” in Juel Taylor’s “They Cloned Tyrone”. This simulation was run by the AI computers who used the simulation to extract body heat from humans and run the world. While this was one of the first mainstream examples of “Simulation Theory” a recent trend in Afrosuralist art and movies have complicated what our “present reality” is or isn’t for members of the African Diaspora.
Is our current digital reality built on an Afro Surrealist simulation? That’s the question I want to explore today.
Afro-surealism was coined by artist and writer Amiri Baraka and contextualized in his 1974 paper about African American “avant garde” painters. The idea was expounded upon by author D. Scott Miller in his paper “The AfroSurrealist Manifesto ” where he defines what exactly “Afro-Surreal” is from a creative perspective.
“[The] Afro-Surreal presupposes that beyond this visible world, there is an invisible world striving to manifest, and it is our job to uncover it. Like the African Surrealists, Afro-Surrealists recognize that nature (including human nature) generates more surreal experiences than any other process could hope to produce.” Afro surrealism speaks to the here and now; the absurdity of the present and past. – D. Scott Miller
Unlike the creative thesis of “simulation theory” proposing that “someone or something” is creating our present reality, according to Nick Bostrom’s , “simulation theory” explores the idea that we can live within an extremely powerful computer program in the present. He argues that our mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is generated through a virtual meta-reality. Some argue there is a 50/50 chance that we are living in a simulation and some even argue that “aliens” are in charge of our present reality!
Television shows like Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” and Bootsy Riley’s “I’m a Virgo” or “Sorry to Bother You” bring forth the ideas of the Afro-Surrealism pushing the imaginations boundaries and highlighting the surreal and illogical reality that exist for black people in a uniquely anti-black, “post Obama” world. Even some satire expressed in Issa Rae’s “Insecure” or Aaron McGruder’s “The Boondocks” touted the idea that life, as it is happening, can sometimes feel like some kind of simulation or meta reality blending elements from the past into our present, and elevating the mundane part of our life beyond reason and logic.
Many artists and philosophers before the modern era have asked the question of “Are We Living in a Black Simulation?” Or if there is, at least, the possibility that we live within a “simulated meta reality?”. As we consume this surrealist art and content, the digital world of Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok certainly support this claim. In the realm of Afro-Surrealism, the boundaries of reality and absurdity become increasingly blurred, with the “memefication” of black experiences having found their way into the mainstream media. Creating influencers like “the Island Boys” and “Lil Tay,” who seem to have created their social media identity exclusively from internet tropes and meta identities created. It often delves into surreal and fantastical discussions that explore the intersection of Black culture, identity, and technology.
From dissecting the latest memes to exploring the implications of advanced technology, Black Twitter is a microcosm of Afro-surrealism in the digital age. It’s a place where users may jokingly ask if Elon Musk is a time traveler or ponder the existence of alternate dimensions. All while navigating the complexities of real-world issues like systemic racism, gender inequality, and social justice all at the same time.
While it’s essential to remember that the concept of living in a simulation remains a philosophical and theoretical idea, so the argument can’t be quantified, but these directors and writers are certainly onto something. Whether we are truly living in a simulation or not, the exploration of these ideas through AfroSurrealist art and online subcultures. Challenges us to expand our minds and think critically about the nature of our existence and how we interact within society, ultimately.
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