From the Wikipedia article on Jean Baudrillard’s theory of Simulacra and Simulation
The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the significations and symbolism of culture and media that construct perceived reality, the acquired understanding by which our lives and shared existence is rendered legible; Baudrillard believed that society has become so saturated with these simulacra and our lives so saturated with the constructs of society that all meaning was being rendered meaningless by being infinitely mutable. Baudrillard called this phenomenon the “precession of simulacra”.
“Simulacra and Simulation” breaks the sign-order into 4 stages:
1. The first stage is a faithful image/copy, where we believe, and it may even be correct that, a sign is a “reflection of a profound reality” (pg 6), this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called “the sacramental order”.
2. The second stage is perversion of reality, this is where we believe the sign to be an unfaithful copy, which “masks and denatures” reality as an “evil appearance – it is of the order of maleficence”. Here, signs and images do not faithfully show us reality, but can hint at the existence of something real which the sign itself is incapable of encapsulating.
3. The third stage masks the absence of a profound reality, where the simulacrum pretends to be a faithful copy, but it is a copy with no original. Signs and images claim to represent something real, but no representation is taking place and arbitrary images are merely suggested as things which they have no relationship to. Baudrillard calls this the “order of sorcery”.
4. The fourth stage is pure simulation, in which the simulacrum has no relationship to any reality whatsoever. Here, signs merely reflect other signs and any claim to reality on the part of images or signs is only of the order of other such claims.