Why we like (fake) reality

The attraction to the real that I have observed anecdotally in audiences arises, says David Boyle, because for the last century or so we have lived in an increasingly artificial world. Boyle argues that there is a struggle underway between the real and the artificial. “There is a quiet ‘authentic’ lobby, increasingly committed to real food, real culture, real politics, real schools, real community, real medicine, real culture, real stories” (Boyle 32).  The examples he gives include local food, materiality in art, unbranded vintage fashion. In every experiential or consumer field he sees  “a demand for human-scale, face-to-face institutions and real experience” (32).

Whether or not these ‘real’ things are really-real (read-also pure, authentic, honest) in and of themselves or are the products of our perception of them (this is undoubtedly the topic for another post), these objects/experiences have been validated as “good.”

Paradoxically then, in this same cultural moment, enters the hyperreal. (See Umberto Eco Travels in Hyperreality) The hyperreal constitutes a set of fake objects/experiences that are clearly artificial but are so cleverly constructed that they are ‘just like’ the real thing — but better. I just finished reading a fascinating article about fake Irish pubs (that is Irish-style pubs outside Ireland) and the marketing models and consumer design behind these establishments. By recreating the (perceived) quintessential qualities of an Irish pub, one can replicate this desirable experience but with better food and better lighting — and importantly without going to Ireland. One of the main features of these hyperreal fakes is that they open exotic experiences to those who do not have the means to experience the original.

The Ocean Dome at the Seagaia water park in Miyazaki, Japan (now closed, I believe) is another one of these hyperreal fakes but on a very grand scale. This fully enclosed beach spans 300 metres by 100 metres, and features an always perfectly blue sky, 30 degree Celsius temperature and pristine white sand. As lovely as this is, the imagined effect strikes me as uncanny (there is that word again…). It seems to me that the main attraction of the Ocean Dome, apart from the passing touristic pleasure of going to the beach in January, is the opportunity to marvel at the human capability so obvious in such an endeavor. My primary experience is to appreciate the technique. The experience of the beach will always come a distant second to the pleasure in contemplating this amazing fakery.

Even bringing this back from the hyperreal to the simply real-real, there is still remains an element of “How did they do that?” Whether it is the collection and transcription of verbatim interviews or the curation of an object of provenance or the rehearsal of an animal or a child, it is the backstage world that captivates some significant part of our attention.

Works Cited

Boyle, David. Ocean Dome: The Most Artificial Place on Earth” The Ecologist. (October 2003): 30-32.


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