Friday, 5 April 2013

REPRESENTING THE "REAL"


We are who we present and, therefore, we become who we choose to present. We only ever see the world from our own eyes and our own perspective, and conversely, the world around us (or, at least, the inhabitants of it that have the ability to perceive) only ever sees us from their eyes and their perspective. Even if we attempt to present the exact person we feel we are deep down, it’s fundamentally impossible, because our multifaceted personalities can never be fully represented in the superficiality that is our physical and social presence. Even if we wrote an autobiography on ourselves, printed the full text on a dress, and forced everyone we interacted with to read it on our first encounter, that would still be our own interpretation and representation and would still only just be scratching the surface of who we “really” are. Fashion is just another way of writing our representative “autobiography”, arguably in a more powerful way than words ever could, because in an increasingly image-based culture, visual semiotics are more easily understood than linguistics ("a pictures worth a thousand words").

Hyperreality. It’s not real but merely a representation of the real, a world where the boundaries between reality and representation have become blurred. “A world where the fictional dramas on TV are used as teaching aids, or where a company promotes itself by advertising an imaginary product” (Nicholas Perry).

The only definite, unchangeable reality we have is the reality of who we truly are deep down, as it’s perceived by ourselves, anything else is a simulation, a fabricated representation. This is because of the simple fact that we live life permanently through our own eyes, not from the collective eyes of wider society. What is deemed ‘real’ and ‘irreal’ can only ever be judged from our perspective, and anyone else’s opinion is merely their interpretation from their perspective. A clich├ęd and all-too-common example of this point is that of a closeted homosexual, someone who lives their life as a “straight man” but is quite obviously (to themselves) living a simulated life. Underneath it all, the reality of their existence is that they’re attracted to men, but because for whatever reason they don’t want this to be their reality or they feel that this cannot acceptably be their reality, they simulate another reality, a hyperreality, something which is a (false) representation of themselves and not their actual self, but which is presented as their actual self (their “real” self) and comes to constitute their “identity” in social contexts. To live a completely real life (at least, from your own perspective) is to live life exactly how you wish it could be lived, no matter how the wider society would perceive you.

With the increasingly universal adoption of Internet usage and the ability to live almost permanently “online”, the cyberworld has become another place where hyperreality is clearly visible, especially within the parameters of social networking websites. “Facebook itself is an exercise in hyperreality – users create ‘profiles’ which are supposed to encapsulate their ‘person’ and communicate with others, ‘friends’, through its interface.” (Jordan Kinder)

It’s quite clear that rather than an accurate portrayal of an individual (assuming it is possible in the first place to create such a portrayal), a Facebook profile is a users interpretation of who they believe they are or who they want to be presented within the confines of Facebooks own parameters as to what constitutes an individual and what constitutes an “identity”. Facebook, then, is arguably doubly hyperreal. Jean Baudrillard (20th century social theorist), when questioned as to who he is, famously replied by stating, “I am the simulacrum of myself” (Jean Baudrillard). If we are, as Baudrillard suggests, a simulacrum of ourselves, then a Facebook profile arguably functions as a simulation of that simulacrum, a representation of another representation. The impossible question here is that, if we’re now given the freedom to represent something which isn’t even definably real to begin with, where will this cycle end?

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