Life over the Edge: Baudrillard and the X-Treme Hyperreal1
(The Next Wave
Answers to the
compulsion to seek the ultimate experience may be found in one philosopher’s
theory of simulations and hyperreality. Contemporary French
theorist Jean Baudrillard claims we live in a world saturated by simulations.
Simulations are reasonable facsimiles, or authentic replicas, of the world
produced by the media, advertising, television, motion pictures and other
Just driving down the
highway, I encounter these simulations. I listen to radio, playing back to me
reproductions of music. I see bumper stickers with catchy phrases and political
statements. I see billboard signs, trying to entice me with the latest
restaurant. I see signs for McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, and Wal-Mart at every exit.
None of these things are real in themselves, but symbols or signs for something
else. How many simulations do you encounter each day? Baudrillard would say
everything we deem as real is only simulation:
The only physical beauty is created by
plastic surgery, the only urban beauty by landscape surgery, the only opinion
by opinion poll surgery... and now, with genetic engineering, comes plastic
surgery for the whole human species. (America, 1986:32).
These simulations have
invaded our consciousness so greatly we confuse the facsimile with the real.
Would his conclusion then be by using reason and critical thinking we can
overcome this deception? Surprisingly no, Baudrillard claims this is
impossible. We are too saturated. Even our so called reasoning is infected by
It is now impossible to isolate the
processes of the real or to prove the real... all hold-ups, hijacks and the
like are now as it were simulations... inscribed in advance in the decoding and
orchestration rituals of the media. (Simulations, 1981:41-2).
What is the natural
response? Panic. We desperately attempt to escape this plastic world by
embracing events, activities, and lifestyles which assure us of our reality. In
the panic, we overcompensate with an obsession for the supposedly authentic.
Baudrillard calls these events hyperreality or more-real-than-real.
X-treme sports are an example of hyperreality. X-treme sports enthusiasts
pursue the rush of adrenaline as a validation of their existence in a world
outlined in neon lights. X-treme sports are not the only hyperreality. Body-piercing,
tattooing, talk-shows, "real TV," giant video screens at sporting
events or concerts, celebrity worship, surround-sound, virtual reality,
self-help manuals, telephone psychics, and fad diets, these things could all
find a place in our attempts for validation. Baudrillard ironically states
these things are also just another simulation. They are hyper real.
© David Hopkins and the Next Wave website