Hyperreality

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Hyperreality, according to French sociologist Jean Baudrillard is, ‘A real without origin or reality.’ Italian philosopher called it, ‘The authentic fake.’ More recently, Hungarian filmmaker Pater Sparrow forwarded the term ‘virtual irreality.’ The term is used in semiotics (the study of symbols) and postmodern philosophy to describe an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced post-modern societies. Hyperreality is a way of characterizing what our consciousness defines as ‘real’ in a world where a multitude of media can radically shape and filter an original event or experience. Most aspects of the concept can be thought of as ‘reality by proxy.’

Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more. He borrows, from Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘On Exactitude in Science’ (which borrowed from Lewis Carroll), the example of a society whose cartographers create a map so detailed that it covers the very things it was designed to represent. When the empire declines, the map fades into the landscape and there is neither the representation nor the real remaining – just the hyperreal. Baudrillard’s idea of hyperreality was heavily influenced by phenomenology, semiotics, and Marshall McLuhan.

Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain current cultural conditions. Consumerism, because of its reliance on sign exchange value (e.g. brand X shows that one is fashionable, car Y indicates one’s wealth), could be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of hyperreality or the hyperreal condition. Hyperreality tricks consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance. Essentially, (although Baudrillard himself may balk at the use of this word) fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than any interaction with any ‘real’ reality. Interacting in a hyperreal place like a casino gives the subject the impression that one is walking through a fantasy world where everyone is playing along. The decor isn’t authentic, everything is a copy, and the whole thing feels like a dream.

Both Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard also refer to Disneyland as an exemplar of hyperreality. Eco believes that Disneyland with its settings such as Main Street and full sized houses has been created to look ‘absolutely realistic,’ taking visitors’ imagination to a ‘fantastic past.’ This false reality creates an illusion and makes it more desirable for people to buy this reality. Disneyland works in a system that enables visitors to feel that technology and the created atmosphere ‘can give us more reality than nature can.’ The fake animals such as alligators and hippopotamuses are all available to people in Disneyland and for everyone to see. The ‘fake nature’ of Disneyland satisfies our imagination and daydream fantasies in real life. Therefore, they seem more admirable and attractive. When entering Disneyland, consumers form into lines to gain access to each attraction. Then they are ordered by people with special uniforms to follow the rules, such as where to stand or where to sit. If the consumer follows each rule correctly, they can enjoy ‘the real thing’ and see things that are not available to them outside of Disneyland’s doors.

In his work ‘Simulacra and Simulation,’ Baudrillard argues the ‘imaginary world’ of Disneyland magnetizes people inside and has been presented as “imaginary” to make people believe that all its surroundings are ‘real.’ But he believes that the Los Angeles area is not real; thus it is hyperreal. Disneyland is a set of apparatus, which tries to bring imagination and fiction to what is called ‘real.’ This concerns the American values and way of life in a sense and ‘concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.’ ‘The Disneyland imaginary is neither true or false: it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real. Whence the debility, the infantile degeneration of this imaginary. It’s meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the ‘real’ world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusion of their real childishness.’

Other examples: films in which characters and settings are either digitally enhanced or created entirely from CGI (e.g.: ‘300,’ where the entire film was shot in front of a blue/green screen, with all settings super-imposed); a well manicured garden (nature as hyperreal); any massively promoted versions of historical or present ‘facts’; professional sports athletes as super, invincible versions of the human beings; many world cities and places which did not evolve as functional places with some basis in reality, as if they were creatio ex nihilo (literally ‘creation out of nothing’) (Disney World; Dubai; Celebration, Florida; and Las Vegas); TV and film in general (due to its creation of a world of fantasy and its dependence that the viewer will engage with these fantasy worlds — the current trend is to glamorize the mundane using histrionics, particularly in ‘Reality TV’); a retail store that looks completely stocked and perfect due to facing, creating a world of endless identical products; a life which cannot be (e.g. the perfect facsimile of a celebrity’s invented persona); a high end sex doll used as a simulacrum of an unattainable partner; a newly made building or item designed to look old, or to recreate or reproduce an older artifact, by simulating the feel of age or aging; and constructed languages or ‘reconstructed’ extinct dialects.

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