“it is dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is nothing behind them.” ― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.
Right then, my readers and only friends, we are heading towards the final chapter of the blog. Before we go any further, I would like to point out something. Throughout the course of this blog series I have mentioned cavemen, various writers, psychologists, advertisers and will go onto mention things like social media etc. I would like to make the VERY IMPORTANT point that in no way am I assigning blame to anyone of these things or people, not even collectively! There is no blame.
I used the example of the beads found in turkey and subsequent production of beads and there usage to denote certain social signifiers such as warrior or mother etc as I wanted to demonstrate at capitalism, and using items to demonstrate personality type is an emergent property of humanity.
The people came first, then making the objects, then eventually selling them. These things happened over the course of time and were no way forced on us by some external being. We, as a species, have become the most dominant life form on the planet because of our competitive nature. Because we are able to imagine things that may threaten us, then plan strategies to avoid such threats! We strive for more! For better!
If our lands no longer grow the foods we need then we bravely travel, historically across continents, until we again find more fruitful lands. As people began to communicate and teach each other, our societies organised themselves into hierarchy. The tribal leader would provide inspiration to his followers, and would be the strongest and wisest. These things naturally occurred due to millions of years of evolution,l; evolution of survival…
Sadly, that is now the exact thing that is killing us.
Back to (hyper) Reality
Before we move on, I want to lay the ground work for the understanding of hyper reality…
As we saw last week, the majority of people are aware of perspective, and reality being subjective to each person. The basic question you need to ask yourself is how do I know that Bob sees the same blue I see? Does he even see blue or does he see green? Basically reality is what is and where we all live…
I’m going to introduce you to a couple of terms and give VERY BRIEF definitions to try and warm you up to where this blog will end up.
The main theme of structuralism is that you can only understand something once you relate it to the wider structures within which it operates. A great example of this is in the very accessible book Teach Yourself Philosophy by Mel Thompson. The first example he gives is, “to understand a word, consider its meaning in terms of other words and the language as a whole” (page 212). A nice straight-forward simplification of this, in terms of language, is binary oppositions like UP-DOWN or HOT-COLD. On the surface these are just pairs of opposites, but they’re not just opposites of each other; they also define each other. The very concept UP can not exist without its opposite of DOWN. Additionally, with this pair one must also consider themselves as the central point between what is UP and what is DOWN. Everything above me is up and everything below me is down. Imagine trying to give someone directions without understanding the concepts up up/down left/right forwards/backwards, and understanding that the YOU is central in space in order to understand where the directions start from? In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to ask someone for directions as the whole concept of explaining movement wouldn’t even exist, imagine ALL OF THAT simplified down to UP/DOWN LEFT/RIGHT FORWARDS/BACKWARDS?!?!
So… thats structuralism, yeah?
The reason I just dropped that in is I want you to think about words, how they to relate to each other, and what they relate to outside of them. Not just in terms of opposites like in the above example but words in general, like if I were to say coffee take note of all the other things that just popped into your mind; coffee, beans, coffee, shop, cup, milk etc.
Take it a little further, try coffee, nice, relaxing, wakes me up, helps me focus, morning, wake up etc.
You see where I'm going with this? Practically, any word you use has a entire universe of other words, meanings, feelings and realities attached to it. Some are just for you and others are shared… <— see that? SHARED…
A basic example, still using coffee, would be if I were to say coffee some people would think, “I like that!” and others would think, “I don’t like that!”. So there is a shared and created reality around either liking or disliking something; approving or disapproving of it.
The above is a really brief look at what is actually several schools of thought spanning decades, for a more in-depth look into what I've discussed look up Phenomenology, Existentialism and the works of people like Jean-Paul Satre and Edmund Husserl.
Now, when talking about language we need to also consider the evolution of words and what they mean. A good way to look at this is to consider slang. Consider bad, bad is bad, it’s not good. Good is positive and bad is negative, but bad can also be good when used in slang terms. So if someone were to say, “yeah, he’s bad!” Bad could still mean bad, but in this context refer to a positive remark towards someone, imagery of the attractive bad boy spring to mind.
When thinking about changing the meaning or relation to other words, it seems fairly harmless in terms of slang, and in some situations can be even be funny! Especially when you hear someone describe their dinner as “sick”.
Let’s take a look at another example of changing the meaning or association of a word or thing. This one is a bit of a double one really as its starting point is already a distorted reality.
Cigarette consumption had been a thing for a number of years but in the early part of the 20th Century, the idea of women smoking was frowned upon (which in itself is an absurdity as the fundamental truth is that men and women can do what they want equally as social rules designed to forbid behaviour based on gender make no real sense - but that’s a whole different subject), the point is women smoking was seen as immoral, “So widespread was the social stigma attached to women smoking that as late as 1908 a woman in New York was arrested for smoking a cigarette in public 2 “ (https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/9/1/3#ref-2).
In 1928 a man named George Washington Hill, president of American Tobacco Company realised he was only effectively selling to 50% of the population, the male half! he wanted to sell to both men and women, doubling his profits! He was quoted as saying, “If I can crack that market, it will be like opening new gold mine right in our front yard,” (https://yourstory.com/2014/08/torches-of-freedom/).
Cast your mind back to my 3rd blog and the change in marketing, remember I said “where buying the product would somehow improve the persons life/wellbeing. This was largely based on the works of Edward Bernays”. Back to Bernays again, Hill contacted Bernays and asked him to help him crack the female smoking market. Bernays, in turn, contacted A. A. Brill, one of Americas first behavioural psychiatrists. Hill’s interpretation of cigarettes was that they represented power. He said that cigarettes were a phallic symbol and if they (Hill, Bernays) could get women to see cigarettes as power symbol, and that by smoking they were actually becoming equal to men, that would solve Hill’s problem. Bernays came up with an idea, and in 1929 they hired a group of women to all light cigarettes while walking in the New York City Easter parade. Bernays contacted the local press telling them that suffragettes were planning on smoking in public to protest against sexism. The press showed up, the women lit up, and “torches of freedom” were born. “From being a male product, considered immoral for women to use, cigarettes become a symbol of the modern woman.” (http://revistacmc.espm.br/index.php/revistacmc/article/download/1245/pdf_1 - Leal, Tatiane. Filho, João Freire and Rocha, Everardo).
Now You See!
You can now see how easily a reality or perception can be changed simply to serve a purpose; the purpose often being financially motivated. What Bernays et al had done was to realise how to sell to people
Before now, the products were sold by necessity, as tools to use; a new car to replace your broken car, new shoes because your old shoes could no longer be repaired. What Bernays did was to change how things were sold, and on what basis. Buying a new pair of shoes was because new shoes would make you cooler, or appear more successful.
There’s a great documentary online about Bernays et al, and the psychology of advertising called The Century of Self. It’s online and free to watch, but here’s a shorter video which has picked out some of the most important points...
As we saw, or hopefully realised, how powerful simple words are when we consider the seemingly simple terms like UP and DOWN. The change is how we relate to them and how we use them to relate to other people and reality.
Heres a little promo (self plug) I put together a part of my documentary (in production) and this blog to try and demonstrate what I mean...
Ironically, I nicked the concept from a 1974 film called The Parallax View (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071970/).
Advertisers now tell us that owning certain trainers will make you a better athlete, drinking certain drinks makes you cool, using certain technology makes you smarter etc etc. A car advert will show you the glory of driving this symbol of achievement around cities and roads with no other cars, no traffic, no pedestrians!
When I started this section I was going to try and attempt to give a good example of what hyper reality is. I will go into further depth on this concept in my final blog in this series but to put it simply, the hyper reality is the reality you see in all car adverts, it‘s a super reality in which everything is perfect, everything is free, the roads are all clear and you are liberated by your success and driving around with zero forms of stress or consequence.
Next week we will take a look at social media and advertising.