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Hyperreality

Hyperreality

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Published by Jason Lowe

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Published by: Jason Lowe on Mar 31, 2011
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08/17/2014

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Jason Lowe BA Visual Communication Yr 2
Hyperreality is the central value of the modern high street.It drives the retail economy at every level.
Hyperreality can be described as a ‘simulation of something that never really existed’ (Baudrillard,1981). It has never been so apparent than on today’s high street where it can ‘alienate, subjugate anddominate not just through the workplace, but through commodity culture in all its variations, includingshopping.’ (Horrocks, 2000). Think of any major shopping city, and it is the institutions of hyperreal-ity that take prime pitches. In Leeds, described by Lonely Planet in 2005 as the ‘Knightsbridge of the
North’, the retail core is dominated by hyperreal brands such as ‘Urban Outtters’ whereas stores
providing a service, such as ‘Wilkinson’ are found on the edge of the retail area. The increasingly imageconscious society have become locked into a series of brands, or what they see as institutions, whichemploy hyperreal environments as discussed later in the essay. Jorge Luis Borge expands by sayingthat hyperreality ‘is a condition in which reality has been replaced by simulacra.’ To discuss hyperreality,
it is necessary to introduce the key concept of simulacra; dened in the simplest terms as the product
of hyperreality.
The rst and potentially most obvious area of discussion is that regarding simulacra. Simulacra are
the products of hyperreality, and have an intrinsic link with production lines where ‘objects become
undened simulacra one of the other’ (Baudrillard, 1983). Therefore, simulacra takes centre stage on
the high street. The consumer is under the hyperreal impression that each garment is individual andoriginal, despite being simulacra. Eco (1986) attempts to explain this by stating that ‘once the total fake
is admitted, in order to be enjoyed it must seem totally real.’ Simulacra is ‘characterised exclusively by
self equivalence- it is exclusively quantative in nature. The quantative is what it develops and it can onlydevelop within the quantative.’ (Debord, 1967) With simulacra developing solely within the quantativein a society where ‘we live at the pace of objects’ (Baudrillard, 1970), simulacra serves to fuel the highstreet.‘Adidas Originals’ are one of the most explicit examples of simulacra as in their very name, they claim tobe original- Eco (1986) puts it simply as ‘the authentic fake’. Of course the reality is that they are madeon several production lines throughout the Far East. This results in a rather intriguing concept however,
 
because as ‘origin is no longer a concern’, goods ‘never need to be counterfeited’. At face value, thisconcept can appear rather simple, but it is made more complicated by the fact that each product car-ries a sign value, so despite ‘Adidas Originals’ being a product of mass production, counterfeiting isrife in an attempt for the public to drive the price nearer to the use and exchange value. This further
complicates the scenario as the market is now polluted with ‘third order simulacra’ (Baudrillard, 1993);
representations of representations.A strong example of simulacra holding a sign value is Calvin Klein underwear, where the consumer be-lieves that buying and wearing their underwear will lead them to be as perfect as the airbrushed modelsin their adverts. This hyperreal illusion leads to simulacra being represented on the high street by a signvalue; the value it represents in the realms of hyperreality rather than its use or exchange value. Onecan expect to pay several times more for branded Calvin Klein underwear than other lines despite themhaving similar use and exchange values (what the product is actually worth). It is important to recognisethe reign of sign value to appreciate how and why hyperreality is the central value of the modern highstreet.Genosko (1999) states that ‘symbolic exchange is in general incommensurable with any system of value’, however some try to argue that one of the few areas of the retail market which remains originalthus valuable is vintage, however a more complex assessment proves vintage to be just as hyperreal
as other areas of the market in terms of carrying sign values. When many of these clothes were rst
sold, it is more than likely they would have sold for their use value, but they have now picked up a signvalue. Initially, one may believe that vintage clothing is original as the clothing itself is the original piece.
The rst obvious counter argument is that each garment has lost its original purpose; for example a
practical belt may now be worn as an accessory. A further point regarding vintage is that vintage styles
are based on the stereotypes of the era. Due to lms and the media, we have a stereotypical denition
of the clothing of each decade- but of course people wore a wide range of clothing styles in every era,and so vintage is yet another level driven by hyperreality.The craze for vintage clothing has been born out of a life of watching the life of others, where our liveshave become false interpretations of those we watch. The demand for this has led to a culture of simu-lacra consumption. Items are produced on a chain where ‘the loss of quality of so obvious at every
level. This is epitomised in retailers such as ‘Urban Outtters’ who have leaped onto the bandwagon of 
 
vintage simulacra and thrive on the concept that consumers watch other consumers.
‘Urban Outtters’ are also experts at communication, and use the communication itself as part of 
the brand. In 1964, McLuhan described this as ‘the medium is the message’. Their very presence onFacebook shows that they model themselves to be part of the student community. Many brands use
Facebook, but few have personal proles for each branch, where the brand can become your friend.Each Urban Outtters store has a prole on Facebook to connect with the student community directly.This is the rst demonstration of UO using the medium as the message.
Communication can take many forms though, and is not always as obvious as Facebook. The hyper-real environment is another example where the medium is the message. Baudrillard (1970) discusseshow ‘interacting in a hyperreal place like a Las Vegas casino gives the subject the impression that he iswalking through a fantasy world where everyone is playing along. What isn’t a dream is that the casinotakes his money, which he is more likely to give when his consciousness doesn’t really understandwhat’s going on.’ McLuhan (1964) elaborates adding that ‘it is the medium that shapes and controls thescale and form of human association and action.’ McLuhan and Baudrillard’s theorems draw many par-
allels with ‘Urban Outtters’, who are experts at creating a strong hyperreal environment. Their arrival
on the modern high street has seen the birth of ‘student lockdowns’; essentially shop parties wherethe student is lured into what their consciousness believes is a social event. In this case, it is the com-munity events such as the student lockdowns that make the said group of people associate with each
other based on their common consumption in ‘Urban Outtters’. Even those that believe they do not
consume in UO, the store creates the impression that it cares and is part of the community as it hostswork from local music and art colleges, when of course the reality is it is a business being directed from
an ofce in the USA. ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’ are guilty of this on a much wider and brasher scale. Theirstores are permanently dark, and employ loud music, ashing lights and dancers to resemble a club,
forcing the mind into a hyperreal gear.
Some companies have a limited number of stores, making their brand exclusive and sought-after to all;
‘it goads the millionaire as it does the middle-class tourist.’ (Eco, 1986) It creates an almost cult-like sit-
uation where people travel long distances to stores. In the case of Apple Retail Stores, regional follow
-ings often lobby for store openings in their regional capitals. In both of these scenarios, the consumeris led to believe they are a partygoer, or in the latter case, a tourist visiting a tourist site. This ‘masks

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