Hyperreality in the Media

Disneyland-Resort

Postmodernism is one of my favourite media theories and I’m fascinated by postmodern films and media, and find them altogether more enjoyable to watch. I love feeling like a part of the text, and being treated as an intelligent, media knowledgable individual. Scream, The Truman Show and Family Guy are a few of my favourite (and more well known) postmodern texts.

I’ve decided to talk about hyperreality as its something that interests me, and I recently watched Derren Brown’s Apocalypse which rose a few questions and ideas about hyperreality in today’s media. Hyperreality to those unsure is basically a simulation or representation of reality. It distorts the reality that we know, or sometimes doesn’t even depict anything with a real existence at all.

Media theorist Jean Baudrillard has expressed fears about the negative impact hyperreality has on society. He argues that it blurs the distinction between what’s real and what’s a representation, to the point where we are unsure whether our experiences are real or not. Baudrillard has referred to Disney Land as an example of hyperreality, where an illusion of reality is created, and people’s imagination about the real world is satisfied by man made, contrived structures. Life sized plastic animals are all available for visitors to see and touch, satisfying people’s curiosities about the creatures in real life; why spend a fortnight in Africa where you may or may not see lions in their natural habitat, when you can go to Disney Land and be sure to see a plastic replica?

Disney Land brings fiction and imagination to something that seems real, it’s aesthetic, we can walk around and touch buildings that replicate those we have seen in Disney movies and we can even collect autographs from Mickey Mouse himself.
Baudrillard states:

“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.”

Trumanshow

Films like The Truman show seek to expose hyperreality and its impact, breaking the fourth wall to reveal its medium to the audience. These are all postmodern techniques which acknowledge the audience as a group of intelligent individuals, undermining previous beliefs that the audience is one unthinking passive mass (the hypodermic needle theory). The Truman show exposes the nature of our thirst for reality TV, and our desire to watch other people’s lives unfold instead of living our own. The Truman Show is a great film to watch as an example of what hyperreality is, and how the media has affected people’s ability to decipher the difference between what’s a real life experience and what is a simulation or representation.

essex

Another less obvious example of hyperreality is ‘reality’ TV like The Only Way is Essex, which openly states that it is “scripted for your viewing pleasure”. People will blindly watch and allow themselves to be taken in by this false idea that the things that happen in these shows are real. The first point I’d like to make is that people have to audition to be in these so called reality shows, many of which are wannabe actors anyway. This begs the question why employ actors on a show that is supposed to follow real people? Secondly is mediation. The moment a producer places a camera and presses record, a text is being mediated; even in documentaries, the producer will take a particular angle on a story which will represent events in a certain biased manner, which often don’t completely ring true. Even shows like Big Brother are hyperreal because they’re being mediated; the people involved act a certain way because they know they’re on camera, thus aren’t acting how they would in reality. Finally, who ever heard of scripted reality anyway?! I find it hard to believe that people buy in to this, the words scripted and reality just do not go together! Even if some events are real, the fact that half the show is scripted and contrived to make better viewing speaks volumes about how much the media has changed and how hungry we are to compare ourselves to other people by watching their lives unfold. It’s sad to think that people get so much pleasure from watching Big Brother contestants fighting over a banana rather than actually go out and live some real life experiences.

Scenes from Derren Brown's Apocalypse
Scenes from Derren Brown’s Apocalypse

The last thing I want to touch on is Derren Brown’s Apocalypse, which was on television recently. It’s actually given me a lot of inspiration and ideas, particularly regarding film ideas in the horror genre. Derren Brown created this hyperreality very similar in theory to The Truman Show, in which  Stephen, a young man stuck in a rut, wakes up 28 Days Later style in a hospital bed, having experienced a meteorite shower that almost wiped out the UK (all created by Derren Brown and his crew). They hacked into his mobile to add fake news stories to his most visited websites, got local radio DJ’s and scientists to talk about the imminent threat of a meteor collision with Earth and planted ideas in Stephen’s head weeks before they staged the meteor shower to get him to fully believe it was happening. He then had to battle his way through hoards of zombie-like infected people (all actors) to make his way to find his parents and be evacuated to safety. All of this was to make him think about what he had and stop taking his life for granted. It’s all very clever, and I’m a huge Derren Brown fan, but its slightly scary to think that it’s so easy to completely alter someone’s perception of reality and make them believe that what they are experiencing is real. It’s amazing and frightening that one person and a crew have the ability to construct such an extravagant and life changing world all for one person. It’s very much like The Truman Show, and it does make you wonder how easy it could be for us to be living in one of these constructed realities without realising.

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13 thoughts on “Hyperreality in the Media

  1. It is actually a disgrace the way some people act in public these days and it is all because they see other adults acting that way on The Kardasian’s, Real Housewives, Big Brother, etc… I can’t believe people are still watching Survivor when it has been proven to be FAKE and if it’s fake, then it is sub-standard entertainment. I do watch some shows that depict people working at their jobs, American Pickers, Pawn Stars, etc but I feel I learn something about history in every episode. However, I have learned nothing from watching that stupid Donald Trump show – other than if you’re a rich celebrity, you can call all your freinds to sell them cupcakes at $20 a peice. I see people’s comments on Facebook everyday, things that they would NOT say to someone IN PERSON and I see them act worse than children! And most of them are parents raising the next generation…. okay I give up.

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    1. Yeah I know what you mean…a group of 30-50 year olds who live in my village recently started a torrent of Facebook comments threatening to beat up one of the dinner ladies at the primary school (can’t remember why but it was something to do with one of them had a grandson that went to the school and the dinner lady had told him off…apparently he’s a little shit…not surprised with those kinds of parents!) and this was all middle aged adults! The worst part is most of them have kids! It’s unbelievable what people will say online just because they’re behind the safety of a computer screen.
      None of those shows are real, that’s the point Baudrillard makes, and the whole hyperreality theory. The minute a producer puts a camera anywhere, even if it’s ‘hidden’ and the people being filmed have no idea it’s there, it’s being mediated. Even in documentaries the producer takes an angle and shows only what they want the audience to see. None of it is a reflection of reality, and that’s why so many people have lost touch with what’s real and what’s not.
      The media, TV, film…all of that is great and all but there is a line, and I think we crossed it a long time ago!

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    1. There’s a reality show like The Only Way is Essex being filmed here in Coventry sometime soon. I went and helped to shoot some interviews with the people auditioning…it’s all a farce. The auditions were a publicity stunt; the producer kept on coming out and pretty much telling us who had got in and who hadn’t…they already knew who was going through they just held auditions to generate interest. And yet people think these shows are reality?! Half the people that got in were actors, the rest hand picked for effect (for instance, a stripper who came in topless) it’s all a farce and none of it is ‘reality’ in the slightest. How people believe it I’ll never know

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  2. I am very happy about this post… (I was just googling about hyperreality)
    this site is about entertainment, but despite what most (99.99999%) entertainment blogs around the web do, namely they generate more publicity for a given title, that is, help a sales department, this post forms a very sophisticated criticism, even in the philosophical meaning of the term…

    Liked by 1 person

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