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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 theorists 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. Baudrillard defined "hyperreality" as "the generation by models of a real without origin or reality", it is a representation, a sign, without an original referent. Baudrillard believes hyperreality goes further than confusing or blending the 'real' with the symbol which represents it; it involves creating a symbol or set of signifiers which actually represent something that does not actually exist, like Santa Claus. Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more.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' "On Exactitude in Science" (who already 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.
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 for an extended period of time may develop a view of interpersonal relationships (reality) that are skewed by how the writers depict the characters and situations within the show. Individuals may 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. 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.
While hyperreality is not a relatively new concept, its effects are more relevant today than when it was first conceptualized. 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 like Moses, Ulysses, Aeneas, Jesus, Caesar, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Washington, Napoleon, and Lincoln, who did not have public relations (PR) agencies to construct a hyperreal image of themselves.
Simulation/Simulacra: The concepts most fundamental to hyperreality are those of simulation and the simulacrum, first conceptualized by Jean Baudrillard in his book Simulacra and Simulation. The two terms are separate entities with relational origin connections to Baudrillard's theory of hyperreality.
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. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. 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 (1990) 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".
"Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — precession of simulacra — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map." — Jean Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra," Simulacra and Simulation
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." 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 apparatuses 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 illusions of their real childishness."