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Ryan Gregory
CMST 351-02
22 April 2013
Rhetorical Analysis of Hyperreality in Postmodernism
Jean Baudrillards hyperreality is a philosophical concept that describes the
struggle to distinguish reality from the simulation of reality in the postmodern
approach to rhetoric where our consciousness defines what is real. In this
postmodern world, original experiences can be artificially constructed, blurring our
ability to discriminate what is truly real from its replication. This rhetorical tool can
be used to analyze many concepts of postmodernism; an era defined by ambiguity
and uncertainty towards established truths, but in the process embraces relativity
as well as subjectivity. Hyperreality finds its roots in semiotics and philosophy,
reflecting the skeptical postmodern period in which it operates. Hyperreality has
become a highly efficient tool to help explain the postmodern inability to distinguish
what is real from an artificial object replicating that reality. In this digitally
dominated world controlled by a multitude of media, our perceptions of authenticity
have become blurred and hyperreality can help us analyze how we have let reality
become synthetically constructed, thus terminating the importance placed on
original rhetorical artifacts.
To gain a better understanding of hyperreality, we must first analyze the
postmodern world that it functions in. Postmodernism separates itself from the
previous worldview of modernity, which sought an objective truth and reality to
explain many concepts of society. According to Borchers (2011) modernization is a

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term denoting those processes of individualization, secularization, industrialization,
cultural differentiation, urbanization, and rationalization which together have
constituted the modern world (p. 282). Over time, problems began to accumulate
with modernity, centering on oppression resulting from these ideals. Described by
Best and Kellner (1991), the problems associated with modernity produced untold
suffering and misery for its victims, ranging from the peasantry, proletariat, and
artisans oppressed by capitalist industrialization to the exclusion of women from
the public sphere, to the genocide of imperialist colonization (p. 3). These issues
resulting from the modern period eventually led to a change of philosophical
approach in developed societies.
The postmodern approach vastly differs from modernism, as it finds
skepticism in objective realities established by modernity and believes that
knowledge is not universal. Instead, knowledge is relegated to a specific community
and not gained from any one source, leading to incredulity towards grand
narratives, which had previously been embraced. The postmodern movement
gained momentum with new forms of technology, communication, and media vastly
expanding and impacting mainstream culture. New forms of communication, such as
e-mail, the Internet, and digital media have all led to a movement in the postmodern
approach where communication now flows in all directions, rather than simply
limited to previous top-down management styles. Borchers (2011) describes the
shift in philosophical thought as he states postmodern theory acknowledges that all
theories are human constructions and may not provide objective statements about
human nature. Theories, it is believed by postmodernists, are highly subjective and

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influenced by the biases of the theorist (p. 283). In postmodern theory, these biases
and high degree of subjectivity are embraced because it is acknowledged that there
is no objective truth. The heightened acceptance of our relative and subjective views
forms the roots of hyperreality, which leads to confusion concerning what is real.
As a result of the embracement of our relativity and subjectivity, we reflect
Socratic thinking, which encourages us to question all that we know to gain a deeper
understanding of any given rhetorical artifact. An important element of Socratic
wisdom is, knowing that we do not know. In this philosophical theory, the only
thing that we know for certain is that we do not know. We can only begin to
understand ourselves by perceiving our subjective realities, which is highly reflexive
of the postmodern world we are situated in. Naturally, we are subjective beings who
feel bias towards any and all things and now that we have come to embrace it, we
hold control over objects. Its the structures of the mind that bring forth the world in
the postmodern approach. It is now our consciousness that determines our reality,
as we accept the subjective nature of humanity. As a result, our minds define what
is real. The world then simply becomes a construction of whats going on in our
minds. Reality exists only as how we perceive it in our minds. As we become
embedded and, in a sense, lost in postmodern theory, we begin to lose grasp of what
is real and what is simply an artificial replica of what is real. All that matters is that
our minds perceive it as real for us to believe so. This goes beyond objects, as it can
be applied to ideologies and societies. With the advancements made in technology
and media, hyperreality becomes more heightened and we can slowly lose grasp of

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originality as a modified replica in any postmodern, artificial society can easily
replace it.
Hyperreality demonstrates a critical flaw in postmodern theory resulting
from the organization around objects and signs used to assign meaning to ones
position in a societal hierarchy. The implications of a world organized in this
manner allow for hyperreality to take place. To explain, Baudrillard developed a
postmodern cultural theory to describe how subjects relate to, use, and are
dominated by the system of objects and signs that establish our everyday lives (Best
& Kellner, 1991, p. 113). Baudrillard points out that the postmodern world is
constituted by a concern for the production of signs and objects holding particular
meanings for the consumers who purchase them. One undeniable facet of
postmodernity is the emphasis placed on consumer goods and how they reflect the
economic success one holds. If we examine the present day in American society,
consumerism is one of the nations main ideologies, which as a result drives our
economy. As a result, Baudrillard developed the distinction of use-value and
exchange-value for signs. Borchers (2011) describes use-value as based on the
objective needs of a person, which includes food, shelter, and other human
necessities. In the consumer society we currently adopt, products hold exchangevalue, a subjective value appointed to a sign based on a particular cultures
understanding of the representation of that sign. (p. 297-298). This can be
witnessed everywhere in how we flaunt our economic prosperity by the consumer
goods we hold such as the Mercedes a businessman drives and the Rolex watch
comfortably settled on his wrist. The Mercedes accomplishes the same function as a

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low end used vehicle, but doesnt hold the same exchange-value. A critical problem
with postmodernity is how consumers organize their experience around the
exchange-value signs hold.
As a result of the importance placed on objects and signs in postmodernity,
the developed world then becomes built on simulations and artificial imitations of
the real, rather than the original artifact itself. Explained by Zompetti and Moffitt
(2008) What has happened in postmodern culture is that our society has become
so reliant on models and maps that we have lost all contact with the real world that
preceded the map. Reality itself has begun merely to imitate the model, which now
precedes and determines the real world (p. 286). In postmodernism, hyperreality is
the result of the technological mediation of experience, where what passes for
reality is a network of images and signs without an external referent, such that what
is represented is representation itself (Baudrillard, 1993). As previously stated,
reality exists only as how we perceive it in our minds. As long as we perceive these
dramatic altercations to the original objects and symbols they replicate as real, then
they are real. In this case, hyperreality leads to a blurring of distinctions between
real and not real where the real is produced only by following a model. We can see
this concept applied anywhere from the clothing industry to the automobile
industry and even including plastic surgery as well as modern wars, like the Gulf
war. Hyperreality has no limits and already has replaced reality to the point where
we cannot even recognize that the modern replications are not truly real. Without
the concept of hyperreality we would never even be able to realize that what we are
using and witnessing indeed is not real, proving one of its greatest strengths;

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bringing us back to reality. Yet, as it has its strengths, there are also criticisms.
Implosion maintains the greatest concern to a society posed by hyperreality.
The postmodern hope is that the use of technology will help restore the human
spirit and encourage socialization amongst citizens. The main concern posed by
implosion is that hyperreality will have the adverse effect. Borchers (2011)
describes The humans of the age of affluence are surrounded by not so much by
other human beings, as they were in all previous ages, but by objects. We talk not of
real events, feelings, emotions, and so forth, but of those that are manufactured for
us (p. 299). The great fear is that as a result of losing track of hat is real with
hyperreality, we will lose the sentiments we hold that make us uniquely human and
as a result, we will live at the pace of objects.
A great place to apply hyperreality is to Disneyland, which is self-titled The
happiest place on Earth. Disneyland represents the ideal society and utopia that
everyone dreams to live in. At this location there is no worry, pain, fear, or any other
negative feelings. Instead, the pains we all have to feel are replaced with joy,
jubilation, and communal love. The concept is simple; take the best ideas from
towns and societies developed over time and apply modern technology to create a
close, loving community that exemplifies the positive ideals of the American dream,
imagination, and creativity, without the negative aspects that previous societies
have had to deal with. This is a completely artificial setting that replicates the
original artifact of any given town or society that functions as a whole, but with the
application of modern technology, an artificial utopia is formed that others can
consider to be real if their consciousness allows them to believe so. The problem

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however, is in Disneylands composition. For there to be a successful and efficient
society, there needs to be downs as well as ups. Otherwise all that results is a
Stepford society full of robots functioning on happiness. In the end, we dont care
about pleasure, and in this case the pleasure and happiness that would result from
living in this utopian society depicted as Disneyland. Maintaining our touch with
reality is whats more important to us in the end than pleasure, because its our
concept of reality that adds to what makes us unique as a human species.
The metaphorical downs combined with our ups are what make us truly
human. As the concept of implosion warns, the collapsing of boundaries between
what is real and not real can easily lead to the collapse of a social system of a
culture. When we allow our minds and consciousness to perceive artificial replicas
as real, we live by the objects and to the rhythm of their ceaseless succession
(Baudrillard, 1998, p. 25). In the process we will lose our feelings and emotions, that
which makes us truly human. Though hyperreality holds a strong position in the
postmodern societies we currently adopt, we must not stray from realizing the
importance of keeping in touch with reality. We possess body and spirituality over
machines, which make us unique. The postmodern age we live in is an exciting time
period to occupy with a fascinating renaissance in Socratic philosophy and renewed
importance on subjectivity driving the intellectual societies we operate, but we
cannot let hyperreality control us as its the true reality we recognize that makes us
uniquely human.

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References
Best, S., & Kellner, D. (1991). Postmodern theory: Critical interrogations. New York:
Guilford Press.
Borchers, T. (2011). Rhetorical theory: An introduction. Long Grove, IL: Waveland
Press.
Zompetti, J. P., & Moffitt, M. (2008). Revisiting concepts of public relations audience
through postmodern concepts of metanarrative, decentered subject and
reality/hyperreality. Journal of Promotion Management, 14(3), 275-291. Doi:
10.1080/10496490802623762
Beliveau, R. (2006). An America of Furious Hyperreality. Conference Papers -International Communication Association, 1-25.
Kelly, C., & Hoerl, K. E. (2012). Genesis in hyperreality: legitimizing disingenuous
controversy at the creation museum. Argumentation & Advocacy, 48(3), 123-141.
Baudrillard, J. (1993). Symbolic exchange and death. London: Sage Publications.