Itis an undisputable fact that reality TV, a previously unusual form oftelevision, has now become a full-scale cultural sensation notdisplaying any signs of slowing down anytime soon. When sampling thechannels on TV, it is hard to disagree with the fact that the numberof shows under the "reality TV" section are increasing atan alarming rate. Bishop explains that "the existence of realityshows has dissolved the thin line that separates fantasy fromreality. Reality television shows are nothing more than an imageengineered by the media to illustrate to their viewers, what they areexpected to perceive as ideal" (117 ). Through the lens of JeanBaudrillard`s HyperrealCultural Theory,this paper explains how the contemporary system (individuals)develops the lack of capacity to differentiate between a simulationof something and reality induced by the media. Baudrillard came upwith this theory to clarify how the postmodern system isdisassociated from the "real" by conforming to newdiscourses that have no referent, ground, symbol, or origin.According to Baudrillard, the postmodern system is in a state of"hyperreality" because of the "excesses" doctoredby the media.
AsBaudrillard would argue, reality shows are doctored simulations madeto appear more real than the actual reality they duplicate.Accordingly, as Godwin observes, "the viewers of reality showsare exposed to both the media created image of reality and the actualreality" (91). Baudrillard coined the theory of hyperreality tomake comprehensible, the most perplexing aspect of the propagation ofcommunication through the media as a platform. Baudrillard centersthe HyperrealityCultural Theoryfrom the viewpoint of new media to assert that a new form of culturehas emerged one that is impenetrable to the influences of theprinciples deeply rooted in traditional assumptions that aremetaphysical in nature. "Simulations run the present-dayculture," Durham and Douglas contend. According to them, "thenew media is flooded by discourses that have no referent, no ground,origin, or foundation" (22).
Norrisdraws attention to the fact that Jean Baudrillard was a Frenchcultural analyst and philosopher who spent most of his initial yearsof academic life as a Marxist sociologist with a specific interest inthe consumer society. Baudrillard began his writing expedition withTheSystem of Objects(1968). Norris perceptively states that "Baudrillard wasscripting this book to bulwark the Marxist critique of capitalisteconomies in areas that dealt with the theory of the mode ofproduction" (24). However, after World War II, Baudrillardnoticed that the system formerly engaged in methods of production hadtransformed into one of consumption. It is the opinion of Sementellithat "Baudrillard eventually discovered that the Marxistproduction theory was inappropriate for determining the status ofcommodities in the post-war era. Dissatisfied with theinappropriateness of Marxism, Baudrillard jumped the Marxist ship andhopped aboard the train of opinions matching those of philosopherslike Derrida and Foucault, who considered the commodities peopleconsume as a system of signs and symbols that have to be deciphered"(112).
Afterdeserting the Marxist school of thought, Bishop argues that"Baudrillard swiftly incorporated semiology and structuralisminto his models of consumer analysis. It was after this thatBaudrillard began viewing objects in the post-war era as a systemthat was embedded in intricate structures of consumption a factor hegenuinely thought could be analyzed sociologically" (124). "Onlya semiological," model, Baudrillard argued, "could helpdecipher the meaning of the structure of a modern commodity."From this point of perspective, a postmodern product embodies acommunicational configuration that is divergent from the conventionalunderstanding of the intended symbol. "With a modern(postmodern) commodity," as Durham and Douglas explain, "thecorrelation of referent, meaning, and symbol is broken in a mannerthat the force is directed to the gratification of human desires andnot the utility or referent use of the commodity. The communicationcode of postmodern commodities is not a representation of formersocial realities" (25). Therefore, these new objects create anew form of social reality, which Baudrillard refers to as"hyperreality." Through the eyes of Baudrillard,hyperreality is a distinct kind of social reality in which reality issimulated and hence cannot be defined by reference to previousmodels.
Asinitially described, hyperreality is an altered form of realitybecause the thin line separating fantasy from reality is liquefied.Baudrillard coined the HyperrealityCultural Theoryas he was turning away from Marxism, after which he became loyal tothe theory of postmodern culture that was fascinated by how the mediaaffected the perception of the universe and reality. Consistent withthe words of Horrocks et al., "the postmodern era media isexperiencing something referred to as the death of the real"(79). Horrocks and the other authors are saying this to signify thatindividuals in the contemporary society are in an era copyrighted byhyperreality woven firmly by objects like music videos, Disneyland,reality TV shows, or virtual reality games. In accordance toBaudrillard, all these objects are mere simulations of reality.Godwin observes that "while giving a lecture in Australia in1987 on TheEvil Demon of Images,Baudrillard emphasized that even if the United States lost theVietnam War on the ground, they apparently were the victors in thehyperreal world as exemplified in movies like Platoonand ApocalypseNow"(92).
Itis the opinion of Baudrillard that these movies are fantasticalreconstructions of the war, but not as the actual story of defeat byan indomitable Vietnam. After the Gulf War of 1991, in his articletitled Liberation,Baudrillard claimed that the war had not taken place. He said allthose images shown on the television screens about the war were aseries of hyperreal images. Godwin correctly argues that "SaddamHussein was a former ally of the United States in the Middle East, sothe outcome of the war was predictable because there was no realenemy" (95). So regardless of the loss of the lives of thousandsof innocent Iraqis, the war in the West was a "hyperreal"war at its best according to Baudrillard. From these two instances,Baudrillard tries to prove that because of the media`s wrongfulrepresentation of the universe, the line of separation betweenfantasy and reality has disappeared hence the loss of meaning. "Asa result of the exposure to two forms of reality," Sementelliargues, "individuals can no longer tell the difference betweenfacts and hyperreality" (112). Baudrillard considers MarilynMonroe and John F. Kennedy as the last persons still exerting"symbolic force," signifying that the "loss ofmeaning" happened sometime in the 60s.
Reexaminingthe beginning of Baudrillard`s new "postmodern" theory,Baudrillard makes reference to a historical narrative about LuisBorges Jorge, who makes a very detailed but so big a plan that itcovers the whole empire. The map, according to Borges Jorge, is aperfect replica of the entire empire. However, after a short while,the map begins to tear from the edges to a point that it ultimatelyfrays. The inhabitants of the empire start to "mourn" theirloss, having long well-thought of the map (a simulacrumof the Empire) as the real empire! From the map, the territory hasturned into a "real desert." In place of the actual empire,is a frayed map which is perceived of as a simulacrum of reality.Norris notes that "the terminology simulacrum dates back toPlato, who used it to refer to a false copy of something" (116).Baudrillard`s concept of hyperreality is embedded in his idea of thesimulacrum, which he defines as something that replaces reality withits representations (simulations). Baudrillard coined his 1970sHyperrealCultural Theoryto highlight the effects of media and culture on the society heconsidered a "system."
Sementellimakes the observation that "the contemporary world is a completesimulacrum, where the actual reality is replaced by false andmanufactured images, to the extent that human beings can no longerdistinguish between the unreal and the real" (112). Thisexplains why in this context, Baudrillard argues that the Gulf War of1991 did not take place suggesting that the reality of the Gulf Warwas a mere "representation" engineered by the media.Additionally, by the concept of the simulacrum, Bishop notes that"the media`s representation of the United States` victory in theVietnam War in television shows is a falsified representation of theactual loss on the ground" (122). Therefore, according toBaudrillard, the reality of the Vietnam War is distorted by itsinaccurate representation by the media. To this effect, Bishopcontinues to explain that "the postmodern culture is dominatedby the television, media, film, news, and the internet whichdestroys the whole impression of a falsified or exact copy ofreality. These television shows are simulations of reality, whichappear to me more real to us than their flesh-and-blood equivalents"(125).
Likeningthe contemporary culture to the narrative of Borges Jorge, Sementillicontends that "human beings take maps of reality like film,music videos, television, news, reality shows, etc. as more real thanour actual lives. Just like the habitants of Borges`s startedmourning the map (simulacrum) over the real empire, human beings holdonto imaginary maps of reality. These hyperreal copies (simulacra) ofreality precede our lives far much more than facts" (115). Fromthis standpoint, the theory of hyperreality matches the disappearanceof intensity. Because of the falsified representation of reality bythe media, hyperreality becomes something "cool."Baudrillard is often misconstrued for using the term cool. In thiscontext, Baudrillard does not employ the term cool to denote "cool"in the sense of something pleasurable. Best, Steven and Douglas pointout that "cool is metaphorically used to mean a loss of heat,intensity, enjoyment, or emotional investment as opposed topleasure" (127). As a result of the simulacra, which are merelysimulations of reality, the production of television shows, news,music videos, and news is a circulation of theoretical and unrealvalues. "Human beings have entered into an era wheresecond-order simulacra (models) dominate their lives. The fantasticimages circulated by the media occasion a loss of human connection toreal things," in line with Horrocks et al. (81)
Accordingto Durham and Douglas, "the exchange of unreal models ofsimulation is primitive, terrorist, and paranoid. The outcome is thatthe real is no longer real hence the loss of intensity because themedia seeks to create a functional correspondence between viewingitems and their functions" (32). Baudrillard argues that thecontemporary society is centered on the compulsory sharing of thereal and of meaning. It is the destruction of the link between signsand their referents that occasions large social effects. It is theopinion of Godwin that "all spheres tend to converge on a modelof computation of signs and symbols the model of fashion"(105). According to Baudrillard, the engagement of past signs drawson the cyclical revival of past cultural signs and forms as emptysymbols. Style mimics the innocence of "becoming." Theimplication of this fact, as per Norris` words, is that "thereis fashion whenever new forms are produced, it is not through theirdeterminations, but are replicated from previous models" (26).Per se, Norris points out that, "The dark implication taggedalong by the concept of production is that the elements of copyingsubstitute the meaning of the concept of production. The powers ofsigns are rendered illogically because of the free play of fashion"(28).
Best,Steve and Douglas indicate that "fashion is more beautiful thanbeautiful itself. A model is more real than the real model. Becauseof the media and its reporting, these models become fascinating.These models give rise to an ecstatic experience emanating from theirextremely exaggerated excesses" (133). This "ecstaticexperience," which is similar to giddiness in the eyes ofBaudrillard, is the motive of the postmodern era. According toBaudrillard, this experience emanates from a collapse of categoricalsymbolic distinctions. Such images, as Baudrillard contends, deterthe truth by getting too close to them. In other words, these mediaengineered models put an end to the social! Human beings, in thecurrent era of the internet, are obsessed by the feeling of ecstasybecause there is too much of it. In agreement with the words ofSementelli, "the sense of ecstasy and extreme fascination happenwhen beauty is neutralized with the power of the ugly, the truth withthe force of the false, and undoubtedly, the real with the unreal"(116). What ensues is that human beings are left to contemplate onwhat is real and what a simulacrum is. It carries a symbolicexchange, opening and welcoming humanity into the realm of symbolicexchange. In the end, the whole process of "symbolic exchange"escapes from the purpose of meaning.
Forthat reason, the concepts of the "real" vanish into boutsof ecstatic forms thereby becoming the "obscene."Referring to Baudrillard`s views regarding the Vietnam and Gulf Waraccounts Horrocks et al. observe that "these wars are ecstaticin the nuclear form. Since the media was in pursuit of evoking a"euphoric" feeling in Americans, they chose to broadcastfalsified, and unreal misrepresentations of the real battles on thetelevision shows" (98). Apparently, the media makes the real andvisible become obscene. From this perspective, the social becomesecstatic in the masses. Because of the media, real objects becomefilthy as fake commodities are in circulation! According to Godwin,"the media attaches too much meaning to an object to for it toget meaning in the long run. In pursuance of meaning and the exertionof ecstasy, the media attracts too much attention to the unreal as ifthey mean everything and therefore mean nothing" (172). Afantastic concept cannot become real on whatever spectrum accordingto Baudrillard. According to Horrocks et al., "the contemporarymedia`s intention of eliciting ecstasy is an eruption of therepressed because obscenities surface with no apparent secret hiddenbeneath them. Everything is desolately visible to everyone, but sadlyattaches no meaning at all" (58). As Baudrillard argues, forsomething to attach meaningful purpose to it, it needs an appropriate"scene."
Norrisclaims that "all cultural forms of media are gradually beingimmersed into the world of advertising" (45). Norris continuesto explain that "advertising is a zero-sum game because itprioritizes style over substance. In other words, Baudrillard viewsadvertising as a seductive, simplified operational mode and apseudo-consensual presentation" (42). In his works, Baudrillardalso reflected on love to explain his views regarding the media andadvertising. In his 1980 book On Seduction, Baudrillard deliberateson two modes of love: the seductive female mode and the male sexualmode. The seductive female style is symbolic because it isartificial, involves flirtations, and fashion. This mode of loveentails the manipulation of signs like makeup to achieve some form ofcontrol over a symbolic order. Centered on the phallus, the malesexual mode is directed to complete the sexual act. According toBishop, "these two modes of love are entwined with the "cool"seduction of television films pumped out by the media" (88).Expounding on "cool seduction," in his 1988 book TheEcstasy of Communication,Baudrillard discusses how people give in too quickly into the joy ofcommunication to the seductive power of the media!
Sementellipoints out that "in the postmodern era, people attach excessivemeaning to television advertisements, magazines, movies, andnewspapers. Consequently, these obscene and unreal representations ofreality penetrate deep into the lives of individuals in an ecstaticfashion" (167). In his earlier books, Baudrillard highlightedthat advertising promotes far much more than the particular productit is intended to sell it promotes the entire social system.Advertising exists as a way of signifying a way of life apart frombeing an economic practice. Hence, following misrepresentative mediaadvertisements, movies, shows, news, and music, the uncomplicatedform of everything is replaced by an "excessive" or"ecstatic" form. The real is replaced by the unreal, thescene by the obscene, and aesthetics by fashion. From Baudrillard`spoint of perspective, the effect of such theoretical representationsof reality is a loss of meaning (entropy). In other words,advertising accelerates inertia and destroys intensity whichexplains the term "cool" advertising. According to Best,Steven, and Douglas, "ecstasy is a cold or cool passion thatheavily relies on non-investment and non-existence of what is atstake" (152).
Baudrillard`saccount of hyperreality does not settle with smooth functionality.Because of the dissolution of the line separating fiction fromreality, systems are constantly trying to maintain some form ofregime control. As said by Bishop, "such a system is unstablebecause it is prone to collapsing at the slightest rupture of oneelement" (188). The constant instability in a system is whatBaudrillard refers to as Implosion.Baudrillard sees the system collapsing from within because it is nolonger expanding, exploding, or revolving. The system is aninvolution for the reason that it is collapsing upon itself. ForBaudrillard, such a system is gravitating towards its saturatedlimit, expressed in the contemporary society as an implosion. "Theprimary source of implosion," according to Godwin, "is thegrowing number of models representing reality and in due course,"swallowing" all the constructive energy of the real"(101). Therefore, from Baudrillard`s point of view, implosionemanates from the distortion of reality and meaning due to theprocession of simulacra (simulations).
Asearlier exemplified, simulacrum is a word used to define somethingthat replaces reality with its presentations. For Baudrillard, animplosive system`s problem is that signs need a separate realm ofreality to attach meaning and so function as signs. According toDurham and Douglas, "in the postmodern regime of simulation,social realities are generated from signs and subsequently the modelsthat precede them. As a result, it is the model that produces thereal, the medium, and message simultaneously" (42). Depending onthe control regime, the real can be denied, incorporated, ordestroyed. Consequently, the signs become obsolete because the signsstop transmitting any form of meaning. Concurrently, a new system of"pseudo" meaning is created and its intendedmeaningfulness is shattered! Equivalences, truths, and rationaldistinctions break down. Devoid of a focus of intensity, meaningbreaks down (Horrocks et al. 167).
Accordingto Baudrillard, meaning can no longer be limited to particularplaces. It circulates without referent and guarantee. ForBaudrillard, modern cities have converted to black holes that eat upthe past meaning and social sensations. Presently, universities areinsurance companies, and banks are agricultural advisors. ThroughBaudrillard`s lens, this mode of hyper-functionalism renders suchinstitutions functionless because a particular function cannot definethem. Because of the existence of many simulations in the world, asSementilli notes, "Institutions cease to be guarantors ofmeaning because they no longer have the value they once did.Presently, degrees are not as valuable as they used to be in thepast. All these institutions lack a referent, meaning, and symbolbecause they are mere simulations" (134). According toBaudrillard, unlimited responsibility transpires because no "meaning"is exchanged anymore the terms of exchange are the only items beingswapped between these systems. As a result, social relations collapsebecause the media is only out to produce nothing but ecstasy andfascination.
Augmentingto his postmodernism concept, Baudrillard observes that the mainintrospect problem of aesthetics in this era full of imagingtechnology is that most of the images do not have actual meaning forthe reason that they have no tangible referents. The imagery in themodern society is fascinating it is in excess. In pursuit ofcreating meaning, Best, Steven, and Douglas note that "modernday images are mere presentations of the real. Things are presentedin such a manner that the surface covers up any possible depths. As aresult, the images displayed by the media are ecstatic. This era`simages are excessive because fashion replaces the basic forms ofaesthetics all because of loss of referents in the contemporaryimaging technology realm" (158). Modern day pictures and signshave no reference to anything because the "real" is deniedor destroyed paving way for the hyperreal. In that way, an entirelynew set of meaningfulness is created, overshadowing the "real"intention of the image. Because modern day images lack referents,truths, equivalences, and rational distinctions, they lack a focus onintensity. The outcome is that meaning breaks down.
Inagreement with Baudrillard`s theory of postmodernism, "cool"advertising is one of the main catalysts of hyperreality. Because ofa loss of referents and truths, the basic form of everything isreplaced by an excessive or ecstatic simulation of the "real."As an outcome of the hyperreality induced, entropy or loss of meaningensues. As such, the media creates negative inertia and damages theintensity. Therefore, to display the aesthetic value and meaning ofimaging in an open and undistorted world, an image`s reality shouldbe tracked in the sense that its "exchange meaning" shouldhave a close correlation of purpose, symbol, and referent for it tofunction as an aesthetic image. In other words, to display theartistic value of a picture, its "ecstatic" and "excessive"forms should be shed.
Accordingto Horrocks et al., "the central concept of showing the artisticvalue of a modern day image is by restoring the real and discardingthe hyperreal. To display the aesthetic value of pictures, theyshould be traceable to their referents. The ecstatic element inimages can be reinstated to its basic form because it is thegratification of human "passion" that ultimately distortsthe real and genuine aesthetic value of an image" (202). Ahyperreal image is not of importance because it lacks entropy(meaning). Therefore, from Baudrillard`s perspective, the aestheticworth of an image can only be confirmed when it drives the "real"and "truthful" message. And for an image to provide"meaning" exchange, it has to have a close correlation ofreferent, meaning, and symbol. Additionally, for an image to exhibitits aesthetic value and meaning, it should not be a mere simulationor model of reality. In other words, it should not be a model.Therefore, the aesthetic value of an image can be displayed if it hasan obvious referent, symbol, and meaning.
Inconclusion, this paper has shed light onto why Baudrillard, throughhis theory of HyperrealityCultural Theory,argues that the postmodern era is totally disconnected from the realbecause of the falsified images doctored by the media. We have seenlearned that Baudrillard holds onto this notion because he considersthe media as a catalyst that has fueled a total collapse ofcategorical symbolic distinctions in the contemporary society.Because of the misrepresented notions of the real, Baudrillard arguesthat media is engaging in "cool" advertisement of realityin a manner that there is the loss of intensity and enjoyment in whatis being advertised. According to Baudrillard, the postmodern era ischaracterized by the gratification of human emotions to a point thatthe real has been replaced by the hyperreal so as to elicit ecstasyhence the entropy in postmodern imaging. Furthermore, this essay hasexplained that to display the aesthetic value of an image ahyperreal image should be replaced by the real. As such, an aestheticimage`s correlation of referent, meaning, and symbol should betraceable, meaning that the real aesthetic value of an image wouldhave been successfully displayed. In other words, an aesthetic imageis one whose communicational configuration exhibits humanity’s pastsocial influences and converges towards the conventionalunderstanding of the image’s intended symbol. Additionally, anaesthetic image’s force should not be focused on the gratificationof human desires (ecstasy). And so, an aesthetic image is not asimulacrum.
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