Analysis: Plato’s Cave & The National’s Fake Empire


From Baudrillard-inspired The Matrix, the idea of what makes our reality real has been tackled in all kinds of art forms. What might be the earliest form of this tackling is Plato’s Cave; an allegory created by Ancient Greek philosopher Plato to analyse the power of wisdom over the general world of ignorance.

Let me show, in a figure, how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. (Plato)

Plato describes a cave that is filled with a gathering of people who are chained and facing the wall of the cave their whole lives. They have been there since they were born, and are expected to die there. The people watch shadows that are projected on to the wall they are facing, by things passing in front of a fire that they cannot see behind them. Reality for these people is the shadows. The allegory focuses on one person who escapes the cave and realizes that the true form of reality is not the shadows.

American band The National explore this concept quite simply in their song Fake Empire. The repeated lines of We’re half awake in a fake empire is a more general and ambiguous way of commenting on the way society and humans attend to their way of life. However there is no threshold as to what makes up ignorance and what makes up enlightenment, so defining what the shadow is and the true form is, is an ever-increasing difficultly in our simulated 21st century.

Fake Empire is a simple song describing a drunken night out in New York City, the shining city. Tip-toeing through its numerous forms of art and entertainment; diamond-slippers and all the other odd forms that make up our consumerist culture, which seem further away from the truth. But alas, words like truth and reality are grand narratives that our postmodern culture strays away from. Whilst Plato sought wisdom and knowledge through truth, we seek it through a Google search.

A contemporary and postmodern take on Plato’s Cave would have to be Jean Baudrillard’s postulations which take our use of technology into account. His 1981 treatise Simulation and Simulacra (the book that inspired the world of the Matrix) seeks to explore the relationship between reality, symbols and society.

Truth is however, non-existent in Baudrillard’s world. Baudrillard explores a more complex and grey-area world, there is no truth and untruth, these are old Romantic ideas that have become overly complicated terms in the 21st century.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. (Baudrillard).

With this quote, Baurdrillard believes that the object that hides the truth is truer than the actual truth. It is an interesting foray into analysing humankind’s need for certainty, and the kind of age of anxiety we are living in as we come to realize maybe there is nothing ultimate.

Fake Empire addresses this kind of anxiety, and the need for some kind of release or catharsis away from all the uncertainty. Let’s try not to figure everything out at once. It’s hard to keep track of you falling from the sky. The act of falling from the sky could also be seen as biblical; falling from the Utopian and pure image of Heaven, onto Earth where pureness is plagued by human ignorance – the shadows and dim lighting that make for such confusion.

Lyrics to Fake Empire

Stay out super late tonight
Picking apples, making pies
Put a little something in our lemonade
And take it with us

We’re half awake in a fake empire
We’re half awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city
With our diamond slippers on
Do our gay ballet on ice
Bluebirds on our shoulders

We’re half awake in a fake empire
We’re half awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out, say goodnight
No thinking for a little while
Let’s not try to figure out everything at once
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky

We’re half awake in a fake empire
We’re half awake in a fake empire

Further reading, watching & listening:

Baudrillard, J. (1981). Simulacra and Simulation. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Plato. Allegory of the Cave. Available:

The Matrix, 1999. (Film). Directed by The Wachowski Brothers. USA: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The National. 2007. Boxer. (Album). USA: Beggars Banquet Records.


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