Baudrillard has moved from a Marxist-inflected critical commentary on the affluent consumer society to an ambiguous position which can be interpreted either as a bleakly lucid perception that there is no escape from what Deboprd calls the society of the spectacle, or as a horrified fascination with the shallowness of a postmodernist society in which the sign has become a simulacrum that signifies nothing.
Baudrillard's early studies of the consumer society are influenced by a variety of tendencies within sociology and philosophy, ranging from Marx's theory of commodity fetishism to Barthes of Mythologies (1957) and The Fashion System (1967) and from Debord's denunciations of the 'society of the spectacle' to Mcluhan's celebrated proclamation that 'the medium is the message'.
Packard's classic study of the 'hidden persuaders' of the advertizing industry is also an important point of reference.
According to Baudrillard, the consumer society is dominated by a system of object-signs (consumer goods and gadgets) which circulate endlessly and cosntitute an order of signification which can be compared to the signs of Saussure's linguistic system.
Their use-value is less important than their ability to signify the status of their consumer; the posession of a washing amchine allows one to wash clothes, but it also signifies membership of a social group.
In a postindustrial society where the importance of economic production is in decline, it is consumption that binds society together.
The society described by Baudrillard in these early studies is remarkably similar to that depited by OULIP-member Georges Pec in his novel things (1965), in which an affluent couple live through the objects they purchase and consumer.
In the course of a far-ranging discussion of Saussure, Mauss's theory of the gift relationship (1923) and Freud, Baudrillard now argues that, in the era of postmodernity, signs are replaced by simulacra, and the real by hyperreality.
Consumption itself gives way to the game of seductions in which nothing real is at stake, and to a simulation in which sexuality itself is absorbed into a vacuous hyperreal pornography which is more real than any actual sexual encoutner could ever be.
Baudrillard is a deliberately provocative writer.
His contention that the imagianry Disneyland is a cosntruct designed to convince us of the reality of an America that now exists only as a hyperreal simulacrum of itself is seen by many as an entertaining paradox, but the claim that the Gulf War of 1990 would not take place (1991), followed by the assertion that it did not take place, seems to defy all logic.
Such statements are anticipated by the earlier claim that the only future war would be a hyperreal and dissuasive war in which no events would take place because there was no more space for actual warfare.
The underlyign argument is that the Gulf War was a simualted war or a reproduction of a war.
He revives the pataphysics, or science of imaginary solutions, of jarry to describe the inexorable build-up of weapon-systems which are designed not to be used, and the notorious claims about the Gulf War appear to allude to the title of Jean Giraudoux's play The Rojan War Will Not Take Place (1935), which ends with the Greek army going off to war in a fulfilment of Cassandra's unheeded prophecy.
Baudrillard's style -and style of thought- often resemble sthe cultivate and glacial dandyism of a Baudelaire, particularly in the fragmentary notations and observatiosn of the three volumes of Cool Memories (1987, 1990, 1995).