Beyond the Hyperreal

The prefix “post-” has cropped up in reference to many of the writings we have read in this class so far. Steven Shaviro claims that film has transitioned into a post-cinema era where the art of movie making is losing its long-held relevance with the rising popularity of other media-based artforms such as television and video games. Donna Haraway’s writing prophesizes the ideas of the post-humanists, who posit that mankind is capable of transcending the constraints of the human form through using increasingly complex technology. I want to take things a step further and throw one more term into the mix that, unlike the other two, does not just apply to the realms of cultural theory or futurism but is directly related to our daily existence: post-reality.

Already we maneuver through our physical lives within and alongside an invisible extra layer just above our waking reality. Every time we log into a social network like Facebook or access a social app on our phone, we are interacting with others via projected, fantasy versions of ourselves represented as virtual avatars. With these tools, we can engage in an act of simulation whereby we can become whoever we want, creating an image of ourselves that reflects our inner desires and fantasies that represent an imagined ideal. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called this realm of experience “hyperreality”; a place where simulations of the real world are confused with what that which is actually happening, bridging the gap between our imaginations and surroundings. Donna Haraway mentions something similar in her clairvoyant essay “A Manifesto For Cyborgs.” She suggests that as man continues to become more integrated with technology, “ideologies of sexual reproduction can no longer reasonably call on the notions of sex and sex role as organic aspects in natural objects.” By extension, this implies that social constructs like race and gender will no longer serve the roles they once did in this post-human, post-reality world, where the “cyborgs” have more flexibility with their personas and identities than humans ever have before.

The movie Gamer deals with these themes heavily throughout, but nowhere does it feel more prevalent than during the segments depicting the game Society. A literal manifestation of Baudrillard’s hyperreality, Society is a massive multi-player online roleplaying game where players are in control the actions of living, breathing people. The world of Society is a gaudy, over-saturated, brightly-colored mess of tacky clothing and hypersexualized fantasies. Though populated by thousands of players, the one whose eyes we see the game through is an obsese man who has adopted the avatar of an slender and attractive pink-haired female. The most disturbing part about Society, though, is not the disgusting actions of its morbidly overweight player nor the tacky taste in visual design, but the uncomfortable closeness with which it mirrors our actual experience while taking part in digital communication. Gamer‘s use of garish excessiveness to depict the accelerated state of our modern day techno-utopia feels eerily similar to the actual experience of browsing through social networking profile or Instagram pictures, relishing in the fantasy world that we live inside of and through as a preferable and more palpable alternative to the dry and less imaginative substitute known as reality.

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2 Responses to Beyond the Hyperreal

  1. charlenejo says:

    I love your inclusion here of Baudrillard’s hyperreality, the way in which Society is the literal extension of an imagined reality, and it’s near direct correlation to the world we inhabit through social media interaction. I wonder, though, do you find the movie to be constructive? Does it take us somewhere? Those are the questions that run through my mind as I consider this movie in the way you’ve presented it here. I can give it (the movie) credit for accurately depicting the hyper-real phenomenon, but I guess I’m pushing for something more. I wonder what could/(should?) be the next stop in this process of revealing the way we inhabit technological identities.

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  2. You’re right on to reference Jean Baudrillard here, but I would have liked to see more close, careful, and critical analysis of a specific moment in the film (perhaps w/ Baudrillard in mind [or even quoting him . . . “The Precession of Simulacra” seems like a rich text to put in conversation w/ Gamer]).

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