From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb the depths of Homeric profundity. Two cliches make us laugh but a hundred cliches moves us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion . . . Just as the extreme of pain meets sensual pleasure, and the extreme of perversion borders on mystical energy, so too the extreme of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the Sublime." -- Umberto Eco, "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage" (1984) from Travels in Hyperreality
- This article is about the concept of hyperreality as it applies to contemporary continental philosophy and sociology. For hyperreality in art, see Hyperrealism (painting).
In semiotics and postmodern philosophy, the term hyperreality characterizes the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy, especially in technologically advanced postmodern cultures. Hyperreality is a means of characterising the way consciousness defines what is actually "real" in a world where a multitude of media can radically shape and filter the original event or experience being depicted. Some famous theorists of hyperreality include Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco.
Most aspects of hyperreality can be thought of as "reality by proxy." For example, a viewer watching pornography begins to live in the non-existent world of the pornography, and even though the pornography is not an accurate depiction of sex, for the viewer, the reality of "sex" becomes something non-existent. Some examples are simpler: the McDonald's "M" arches create a world with the promise of endless amounts of identical food, when in "reality" the "M" represents nothing, and the food produced is neither identical nor infinite.
Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more. Baudrillard borrows, from Jorge Luis Borges (which Borges also 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.
Significance of hyperreality
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 the consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance. Essentially, (although Baudrillard himself would perhaps balk at the usage 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. What isn't a dream, of course, is that the casino takes your money, which you are more apt to give them when your consciousness doesn't really understand what's going on. In other words, although you may intellectually understand what happens at a casino, your consciousness thinks that gambling money in the casino is part of the "not real" world. It is in the interest of the decorators to emphasise that everything is fake, to make the entire experience seem fake. The casino succeeds in turning money itself to an object with no inherent value or inherent reality.
Definitions of hyperreality
- "The simulation of something which never really existed." - Jean Baudrillard
- "The authentic fake." - Umberto Eco
- "The secret affinity between gambling and the desert: the intensity of gambling reinforced by the presence of the desert all around the town. The air-conditioned freshness of the gaming rooms, as against the radiant heat outside. The challenge of all the artificial lights to the violence of the sun's rays. Night of gambling sunlit on all sides; the glittering darkness of these rooms in the middle of the desert. Gambling itself is a desert form, inhuman, uncultured, initiatory, a challenge to the natural economy of value, a crazed activity on the fringes of exchange. But it too has a strict limit and stops abruptly; its boundaries are exact, its passion knows no confusion. Neither the desert nor gambling are open areas; their spaces are finite and concentric, increasing in intensity toward the interior, toward a central point, be it the spirit of gambling or the heart of the desert - a privileged, immemorial space, where things lose their shadow, where money loses its value, and where the extreme rarity of traces of what signals to us there leads men to seek the instantaneity of wealth." - Baudrillard on Las Vegas
Examples of hyperreality
- a sports drink of a flavor that doesn't exist ("wild ice zest berry")
- pornography ("sexier than sex itself")
- a plastic Christmas tree that looks better than a real Christmas tree ever could
- a magazine photo of a model that has been touched up with a computer
- a well manicured garden (nature as hyperreal)
- any massively promoted versions of historical or present "facts"
- professional sports athletes as super, invincible versions of human beings
- the Gulf War, to the extent that America understood it: Baudrillard claimed that the Gulf War never happened.
- 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, and Las Vegas
- TV and film in general (especially "reality" TV), due to its creation of a world of fantasy and its dependence that the viewer will engage with these fantasy worlds
- a retail store that looks completely stocked and perfect due to facing, creating a world of endless identical product
- Jean Baudrillard
- Consensus reality
- Simulated reality
- Theme park