Jean Baudrillard against the Post Office

David Misselbrook is a retired GP

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard suggested that we can no longer tell the difference between fiction and reality.1 The borders are just too blurred. His most infamous claim was that “the Gulf War did not take place”.2 By this he did not mean that no US or British troops went to Iraq in 1990 to kill the locals. Rather, he meant that to us “the gulf War” was a jingoistic and visually addictive media production consisting of high-tech missiles and TV explosions, following a constructed narrative that bore little relation to the totality of what could be observed in the “real world” (if you would pardon such a crude concept). To Baudrillard we now inhabit a realm of hyperreality, where reality and fiction are homogenised into a media-driven consciousness. As Baudrillard says elsewhere, “the real is jealous of the image.”3

I enjoy French post-structuralist philosophers just as much as the next guy, and of course they do love to tease. But now and then one might think that Baudrillard disappears just a bit too far down his own rabbit hole, such as when he said, of the collapse of the twin towers in New York on 9/11, “It was, in fact, their symbolic collapse that brought about their physical collapse, not the other way around.”4

Over 4 million people watched the first episode of Mr Bates against the Post Office when it screened on New Year’s Day. And suddenly things started to happen.

But perhaps Baudrillard was on to something. Over 4 million people watched the first episode of Mr Bates against the Post Office when it screened on New Year’s Day. And suddenly things started to happen. The Prime Minister waded in, and the Guardian reported that “The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, told BBC Breakfast the government would do ‘everything they can’ to speed up compensation for operators who were still waiting.The Metropolitan police confirmed the Post Office was under criminal investigation. And as I write, over 1 million people have signed the petition to remove Paula Vennells’ (then Post Office CEO) CBE.6

Yet all the facts of the matter have been clearly known since 2021.7 Even before that, in 2019, Mr Justice Fraser ruled in favour of sub postmasters, saying “This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred …… It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”8 Strong words for a judge. And Private Eye has been banging on for 20 years.

Over 700 Sub Postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office (who are able to bring their own prosecutions, bypassing the police and the Crown Prosecution Service) despite knowing that their branch computer system was faulty. So far 93 convictions have been quashed, with the likelihood that more (if not all) will follow. Which will not help the sub postmasters who committed suicide, and will be of limited comfort to those jailed, bankrupted, made homeless and publicly humiliated.

So the facts led to an official process that soon dropped from the headlines and dragged on without an end in sight. But a TV drama led to mass mobilisation and government action. “The real is jealous of the image.”Come home Baudrillard, all is forgiven.

So, who’s going to write a TV drama about the plight of the juniors and the state of British General Practice? Perhaps we all need a dose of hyperreality?


  1. Baudrillard J. Simulacra and Simulation: The Precession of Simulacra: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
  2. Baudrillard J. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place: Selected Writings, Stanford University Press, pp. 231–253, May 1, 2002.
  3. Baudrillard J. The Spirit of Terrorism. London: Verso, 2002, p28.
  4. Baudrillard J. The Spirit of Terrorism. London: Verso, 2002, p48.
  7. Court of Appeal. Hamilton & Others v Post Office Limited, April 2021.
  8. Sixth judgment on Bates v Post Office. Law Society Gazette, 16th December 2019.

Featured photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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