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Wax Simulacra

Wax Simulacra


by The Mars Volta


Sure, "Wax Simulacra" sounds like a cool title, but what the heck does it mean? Unless you are a student of postmodernism, "simulacra" probably means nothing to you. But understanding the title is probably useful, considering that the band changed the name to "Wax Simulacra" from "Idle Tooth." The word itself is a plural of the Latin simulacrum, meaning likeness or similarity. It can be used to describe likenesses of gods. "Wax simulacra" makes a lot of sense in this regard, since idols are commonly made of wax. However, recently the word has come to take on a plethora of philosophical meanings because of its use by influential writers like Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard wrote about consumer culture and the images that dominate our popular culture. He wrote vast amounts, notably in Simulacra and Simulations, about symbols in our society. He distinguished between orders of "simulacra" – likenesses, likenesses that replace the original, and likenesses that disguise that no original actually existed. Sound confusing? A simple example might clear things up. Think of Disneyland, particularly the parts of the park that imitate iconic world eras and locations – like Frontier Land. Frontier Land imitates the Wild West, before California was settled fully. Baudrillard suggests that what is interesting about these areas of the park is that they copy something that never really existed; there was never a "wild west" that looked exactly like the Disney recreation. (Which, perhaps, makes Disney's version not so much a recreation as a creation.) That version of the frontier is something created in the imagination, something you might forget in the wonders of Disneyland, but something that becomes undeniable the second you realize that outside of the park's borders is Los Angeles. The polluted urban sprawl of L.A. is not the West we imagine, and it can't be because that West is only a constructed one.

With that in mind, the title is rich with possible meanings. If you think of the song and the album in relation to the spooky events that surrounded its production, are the wax simulacra false idols – demons, maybe?

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