Hyperreality

In semiotics and postmodernism, hyperreality is an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. It allows the commingling of physical reality with virtual reality (VR) and human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI). Individuals may find themselves for different reasons, more in tune or involved with the hyperreal world and less with the physical real world. Some famous proponents of hyperreality/hyperrealism include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel J. Boorstin, Neil Postman, and Umberto Eco.

The postmodern semiotic concept of “hyperreality” was contentiously coined by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation. To Baudrillard, “hyperreality” is a representation, a sign, without an original referent. It involves creating a symbol or set of signifiers which actually represent something that does not actually exist like Santa Claus.

Italian author Umberto Eco explores the notion of hyperreality further by suggesting that the action of hyperreality is to desire reality and in the attempt to achieve that desire, to fabricate a false reality that is to be consumed as real. Linked to contemporary western culture Umberto Eco and post-structuralists would argue, that in current cultures fundamental ideals are built on desire and particular sign-systems.

Hyperreality can also be thought of as “reality by proxy”; simply put, an individual takes on someone else’s version of reality and claims it as his or her own. For example persons who watch soap operas, begin to believe that these extreme dramatic relationships are authentic and real, and they may begin to judge social relationships and situations by this heightened lens of reality.

Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain current cultural conditions. Essentially, fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than any interaction with any “real” reality. There are dangers to the use of hyperreality within our culture; individuals may observe and accept hyperreal images as role models, when the images don’t necessarily represent real physical people. This can result in a desire to strive for an unobtainable ideal, or it may lead to a lack of unimpaired role models. Daniel J. Boorstin cautions against confusing celebrity worship with hero worship, “we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but who are famous because they are great”. He bemoans the loss of old heroes.

Simulation/Simulacra: The concepts most fundamental to hyperreality are those of simulation and the simulacrum, first conceptualized by Jean Baudrillard. Simulation is characterized by a blending of ‘reality’ and representation, where there is no clear indication of where the former stops and the latter begins. Baudrillard suggests that simulation no longer takes place in a physical realm; it takes place within a space not categorized by physical limits i.e., within ourselves, technological simulations, etc. The simulacrum is often defined as a copy with no original, or as Gilles Deleuze describes it, “the simulacrum is an image without resemblance”. Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right, aka the hyperreal. He created four steps of reproduction: (1) basic reflection of reality, (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which “bears no relation to any reality whatsoever”. Both Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard refer to Disneyland as an example 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.”   Films in which characters and settings are either digitally enhanced or created entirely from CGI (computer generated image?),  a well manicured garden (nature as hyperreal), Professional sports athletes as super, invincible versions of human beings, many world cities and places like Disney World and Las Vegas, and 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.

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