Chapter 8: Simulational Selves,
Simulational Culture in
Chapter 8 is a rhetorical analysis
of the 1993 film Groundhog
Day. The film centers on Phil
Connors, a selfish and
egotistical TV weatherman, who
finds himself in a time loop in
which he relives the same day,
Groundhog Day, over and over
The chapter uses both culturecentered and feminist techniques
in its examination of the film as
a cinematic satire of the
simulational nature of our
The film critiques the
simulational and its implications
in regards to real life.
What Does Simulational Mean?
A simulation is “an experience that is self-contained,
referring mainly to itself”(p.247). A classic example of a
simulation is a video game. When we play a video game, we
temporarily detach ourselves from reality and become
immersed in the world of the game. The objects we find in the
game world are representations of the objects found in
reality. We understand that the objects are representations
and serve no purpose outside of the game.
For example, you may control the movements of a sword in a
way that mirrors the movements of a real sword, but you do
not associate the “game” sword with any particular sword in
The events that take place in a game are simulational and
have no direct connection with reality.
“Industrialized cultures with capitalist economies that have a heavy dependence on electronic
media for entertainment share a significant characteristic, and that is that they are increasingly
simulational” (p. 247) Such cultures include the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
In addition to media, various leisure activities are also simulational. For example, amusement
parks, shopping malls, and spectator sports are all simulational. Each simulational environment is
its own little world. We are involved these simulational worlds as long as we are in them but
have little to no effect on us once we leave them.
Into the Simulation
The film Groundhog Day begins with shot of streaming clouds.
Clouds are one of the earliest forms of simulation (p. 248). Clouds
morph into various shapes, and some of them take on shapes that to
us resemble other things, such as an animal like a dog or an
The film is a metaphor for a life of social disconnection and selfabsorption, some of the main characteristics of a simulational
Phil Connors the Weatherman
The main character is Phil Connors, a weatherman for a television station
in Pittsburgh. The film introduces him acting in a simulation pertaining to
The film audience first sees him talking and gesturing in front of a blank
blue screen but given its context we know that he is doing a weathercast.
The screen then changes into the smaller screen of a television where the
map is now visible to us. The map itself is another simulation. We know
that the map is an illustration of the real state rather than a live image of it.
The simulational world of the weathercast ends when the cameras on set
shut off and Phil heads out the door.
The day before Groundhog
Day, Phil, along with his
producer, Rita, and Larry the
cameraman, head to
Punxsutawney to cover the
yearly emergence of the
groundhog. In the van, Phil
complains to the others about
having to do this assignment
year after year.
Phil’s comments are indicative
of another characteristic of
simulations and that is
repetition. The annual
emergence of the groundhog
is simulational because it
occurs on the same day every
Punxsutawney Phil is the groundhog of
Phil the groundhog is a simulation. The
residents of Punxsutawney gather every
year on February 2nd to see Phil emerge
from his den and prognosticate whether or
not there will be six more weeks of winter.
The people assume that the groundhog is
the “same” groundhog from previous years,
but the truth is that groundhogs do not live
forever, and just like his predecessors, Phil
will die in a couple of years and be replaced
with another groundhog.
Despite the indubitable fact of Phil’s
eventual demise, simulation tells us that it is
the “same” groundhog. To them there is
only one Punxsutawney Phil.
Phil’s cruel, ironic, and coarse demeanor
keeps him from connecting with others and
developing sincere relationships.
On the first Groundhog Day, Phil encounters
the kind landlady, Mrs. Lancaster, who, in an
attempt to make friendly conversation, says to
him, “There’s talk of a blizzard.” Phil then
mockingly gestures at an imaginary map,
reenacting his weathercast to point out to her
that there will be no blizzard.
On his way to the Groundhog Day festivities,
he comes across Ned Ryerson, an insurance
salesman and a former classmate. Phil
assumes that Ned recognized him from
television and tries to ignore his persistent
badgering regarding their high school
connection. Phil then says, “Thanks for
Phil assumes “that people relate to him not at a
personal level but in terms of his fame within
the simulational world of television”(251). In
both situations, he denies social connection
because of his refusal to disconnect from his
professional simulational self.
Like most of us, Phil Connors lives a simulational life. In addition to the
repetitive nature of his existence, he is completely self-absorbed. All he talks
about is himself and he does not care much about others. He also insults
people on a regular basis and is consistently rude to everyone.
When the blizzard that was not suppose to happen according to his forecast hits the
town, Phil and the crew, while on their way back to Pittsburg , discovers that the
roads are closed due to the increment weather, and that the only thing they could do
is go back to Punxsutawney. Phil gets out of the van and confronts the officer on the
road. The officer asks him, “Haven’t you listened to the weather?” To which Phil
replies, “I make the weather!” He is disconnected from the actual situation as a result
of his continual engrossment in a simulation associated with his professional role as
a weatherman (p. 251). He places himself above others and refuses to accept the fact
that he had made an error despite all the tangible snow surrounding him.
After the road incident, Phil attempts to make a long-distance phone call but finds out that
the lines are down because of the blizzard. He tells the telephone company that surely they
must keep some lines open for celebrities and emergencies, and then goes on to say, “I’m a
celebrity in an emergency” (p. 252). Phil is an egocentric individual and his selfcenteredness will contribute to the endless cycle he will soon find himself in.
“The experiences of Phil Connors that are about to unfold
become a commentary on all our everyday experiences,
and a warning to be alert for their simulational dangers”
On Groundhog Day, Phil becomes trapped in a
simulational loop as he literally finds himself repeating
the same day again and again.
“What if there were tomorrow?”
“No tomorrow...that would mean there would be
no consequences, there would be no hangovers,
we could do whatever we wanted...”
The Value of Simulation
After having experienced the shock and confusion regarding his
situation, Phil comes to terms with the fact that he will be waking
up to same day everyday. He soon realizes that since there is no
tomorrow, he could do whatever he wanted without any
In real life, one of the major reasons people find simulations to be
“fun” is because simulations do not have consequences. As the
famous saying goes, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and
similarly what happens in the simulational world stays in that
world. This is perhaps what makes simulations, like video games,
For example, you can play a game and commit certain acts via a
simulated character that in reality could have severe consequences.
In the game world, you can slice an enemy with a sword but if you
did that in real life, you would probably be charged with assault or
You could also leave the game world anytime you wanted. You can
leave the sword, the enemy, and everything else inimitable to that
world behind and continue on to another dimension.
The Value of Simulation
Upon his realization that his actions would have no
consequences because there is no tomorrow, Phil
immediately leads the local police on a wild car chase. He
does end up getting arrested and put behind bars but on the
“next” day, he wakes up and finds himself back at the inn as
though nothing had happened. He had experienced a “game
over” moment with the police but then the “game” had reset
itself and Phil is able to start over.
The resetting of each day is signified by the clicking of the
bedside clock from 5:59 to 6:00 am and then playing “I’ve
Got You Babe.”
Phil continues his reckless behavior by sucker punching
Ned and indulging in an array of unhealthy foods. Phil also
uses his newfound “freedom” to study the security
surrounding the loading of an armored car in order to find
the best moment to rob it, which he does. He uses the stolen
money to satisfy his selfish desires, such as buying a Rolls
Another attractive feature of video games, and of
simulations in general, is the ability to repeat the
experience. For example, you can reenter the game world
simply by pushing the power button on the gaming system.
You can also start over, and use past experiences to improve
your gaming strategies that could help you go on to the next
Phil and the Groundhog
Eventually, Phil reaches a point in which he no longer sees the lack of
consequences as a sign of freedom but as a sign that his life has no meaning
because ultimately everything he does do not matter because the day will reset
itself so that there is no tomorrow, and since there is no tomorrow, there is no
future to consider.
Phil desperation and anger begin to take over. He smashes the bedside clock
to no avail and gives a bitter on-camera monologue, and he says, reflecting on
his own situation, “There’s no way that this winter is going to end. As
Long as this groundhog keeps seeing its shadow, I don’t see any other way
out” (p. 256).
The legend holds that if a groundhog sees its shadow, winter will continue for
six more weeks, and if the groundhog does not see its shadow, is not given a
token of itself, and can thus look to matters in the world around it, will there
be an early spring (p. 256).
The groundhog seeing its shadow represents the simulational self as a product
of narcissism. In the context of the film, Phil Connors continually “sees his
shadow” by thinking only about himself and it is not until he turns away from
his “shadow” and thinks about the lives of those around him that he begins to
break out of his temporal prison.
In continuation of his frustration, Phil kidnaps Phil the groundhog, steals a
pick up truck, and drives the both of them off a cliff. The truck plunges into
the bottom of the cliff and erupts into flames. Phil then finds himself alive the
next morning at 6:00 am, as though back from the dead. Phil then makes
several attempts to commit suicide. He tries electrocuting himself, stepping in
front of a truck, and jumping off a building, but even death could not release
Phil from the simulational world. The film is emphasizing to the audience the
pointlessness of simulations.
A Feminist Perspective
In the simulational loop, Phil
exploits women by employing a
strategy similar to the one he used
to rob the armored car. He extracts
information from the women about
themselves, and then uses the
information the “next” day to make
it seem as though they have some
connection in order to seduce them.
For example, he asks a woman
named Nancy for information
regarding her high school and then
the next day says to her that he went
to the same high school and uses the
details he had given her the
previous day to establish the
A Feminist Perspective
Phil also tries this strategy to seduce Rita,
his real desire. At one point he takes her to a
bar to find out what her favorite drink is. He
then surprises her the “next” day by ordering
it. The scene repeats several times, and each
time is slightly different from the last from
the changes Phil makes to the scene in an
attempt to improve the situation.
Nonetheless, his strategy to seduce Rita fails
as highlighted by a brief episodic sequence
of Rita slapping Phil from each day.
Towards the end of the film, Phil begins to
feel some genuine closeness to Rita as he
tries to explain to her his predicament. They
spend the day together and as she is sleeping
next to him, he leans over and tells her that
she is the “kindest, sweetest” person he
knows. This is “an important first step in his
recovery” (p. 257).
The film positions authentic relationships
with women as and antidote to a
simulational obsession (p. 254).
“Maybe it’s not a curse, just depends on
how you look at it.”
Out of the Simulation
Phil turns his life around near the end of the film. He begins thinking less
about himself and more about others. He starts to use his “find the right
moment” strategies to help people rather than manipulate them as he did
before. He studies the patterns of the town so he could be on the spot when
those in trouble need help. He arrives on time to help a group of elderly
women by changing the tires of their car. He also saves a kid falling from a
tree and gives the Heimlich maneuver to a man choking in a restaurant.
He also gives money to a homeless man he had passed by numerous times,
but it is when he discovers that the man dies that day that the harsh reality
of the world sets in. Phil tries to save the homeless man by buying him food
and giving him CPR when he finds him dead in an alleyway, but despite his
efforts, Phil could not save him from his inevitable fate.
Phil also tries to better himself. He takes piano lessons, reads literature,
learns languages, and make ice sculptures.
As Phil dances with Rita on the evening of the final day of the time loop, he
is warmly praised by the people he had helped that day. They then meet
Ned Ryerson as they leave the hall. Ned is happy because Phil had bought
insurance from him.
The next morning, as usual, Phil wakes up at 6:00 am and hears “I’ve Got
You Babe” playing on the radio but this time, he discovers that Rita is still
next to him. Her being there meant that he has finally established a true
human connection with her, and this connection has pulled him out of the
simulational loop and onto the day after Groundhog Day, February 3rd.
The film is a rhetoric of simulation. Phil’s life reflects the
simulational culture a lot of us live in. “People today are
preoccupied with self and selfish interests, obsessed with
entertainment and its technological underpinnings, unable to
make real human connection” (p. 258). Therefore, the film
focuses on the negative side of simulations. It shows us that a
simulation is an illusion of freedom and that it is actually a
detachment from reality. The film advises us that it is
important that we deviate from our simulational selves and
form human connections with others to find real meaning in
Brummet, Barry. Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Third ed.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 2011. Print.
Groundhog Day. Dir. Harold Ramis. Perf. Bill Murray,
Andie MacDowell. Columbia Pictures, 1993. DVD.