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Bachelor of Communications with Philosophy, Year 3

Year: 2017-2018, Semester 1




University of Malta

Faculty of Media and Knowledge


In what ways do media and communication
reflect their contextual time & space in society? With reference to
sociological literature, examine in detail one area of your choice that was
covered during the course. Refer to the local Maltese context with references
to studies and examples.






Sociology and Communications   


Dr Valerie Visanich        

Postmodernism is a late 20th century concept related to the
skeptical, critical interpretations of the arts, architecture, literature,
philosophy and culture amongst others. It indicates a shift from the
traditional view of modernism. In this essay I will be speaking about
postmodernism and how it is involved within time and space in society. I will
also be mentioning hyperreality and its approach to media. Moreover, I will be
discussing postmodern theorists and their opinions on how postmodernism and
hyperreality affect us in today’s world. Finally, in this essay, examples from
different contexts will be given.


Postmodernism is
made up of a mixture of distinct artistic styles and media with a recurrent integration
of images which are associated to consumerism and mass communication of the
late 20th century postindustrial society (Pynchon, 1966).
Additionally, postmodern media tends to adopt parts of different media from
different genres, to create new media. Postmodernism ignores conventions such
as time, space and narrative to create a hyperreality. This is the “deliberate
distortion of reality.” (Lynes, 2013).


The postmodern
approach to media is against the idea that any media product or text has a
higher value than the other. Judgments of value rely on different tastes. Thus,
anything can be art reaching different audiences. There is no true distinction
between media and reality anymore as our world’s ‘reality’ is defined by images
and representations. This is a state of simulacrum (Bhattacharya & Hooton,
2010). Some great postmodern examples would be artists like Madonna, Lady Gaga
and David Bowie through their creation or recreation of different identities (Bhattacharya
& Hooton, 2010). If advertising is taken into consideration, many
advertising promotions do not try to copy what is already there, but rather
create something new from imagination. This then becomes our reality.


Postmodern writers
argue that our society today is over-visual in the idea that we rely more on
images, videos and anything which does not last longer than 3 minutes. Our
reality is now controlled by popular media images found in advertising,
television images, film and video games amongst others. Thus, culture no longer
reflects reality. Postmodernist theorists tend to ignore the continuity from
modernism and instead focus on the differences between the two approaches.


Lyotard’s Postmodern Condition starts
off with the hypothesis that “the status of knowledge is altered as societies
enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known
as the postmodern age.” (Lyotard, 1985). Moreover, Lyotard claims that both
ancient and modern cultures legitimate themselves by “telling and retelling
stories which give cultures purpose and meaning” (Gerlach, 2013). According to
Lyotard, Postmodernism is a playful engagement with many conflicting micro-narratives.
These are alternatives which have been brought out by questioning the actual
meta-narrative (Lyotard, 1985). For Lyotard, dominant power ceases to exist.
However, now there are dominant language-games. Additionally, there is no
dominance which political resistance needs to deal with (Bignell, 2000). 


Lyotard rarely uses
media examples. However, it can be seen that media culture plays a negative
role within Lyotard’s argument as it states that one of the ways how power legitimates
itself is through the use of the social function of communications technology (Bignell,
2000). It does this “by storing, working with and restricting access to
information.” (Bignell, 2000).  Thus, for
Lyotard, media culture, specifically computerized communications media are
associated with the modern, not the postmodern “with order and the potential
for totalitarian control, rather than the diffusion and decentralization of
power.”  (Bignell, 2000). 


Jameson and Jean Baudrillard, detail the postmodern moment as a new,
“schizophrenic” mode of space and time” (Foster, 1983). According to
Baudrillard, our era is that of the death of the subject. Jean Baudrillard is a
French sociologist and philosopher. He believes that today’s world has been
replaced by an imitation world in which we only look for simulated stimuli
(Zompetti & Moffitt, 2009). Simulation is a recreation, reconstruction or
imitation of an event or object. “Simulation threatens the difference between
‘true’ and ‘false’, between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’.” (Baudrillard, 1981). It is
the process by which reality is taken over, while simulacrum is the condition
produced, particularly “a system where empty signs refer to themselves and
where meaning or value are absent” (Sandoz, 2003).


We live in a world
of copies, look-alikes, fakes, substitutes, simulations, reconstructions and
replicas. Hyperreality is the concept of being better than reality. It is the
inability to distinguish simulation from reality. Moreover, it is an imitation
of simulation or a process. It could be said that it is ‘the authentic fake.’ “Hyper-realism
is often spoken of as something that involves images and is assumed to be more
real than real, where the ability to discern the real from the unreal or image
becomes impossible and in many ways insignificant.” (Parry-Giles, 2007). Hyperrealistic
reproduction involves art, history, and also nature.


Hyperreality is a
state where the real and fiction are mixed and combined together to the point
that there is no straight division as to where one ends and where the other
begins (Tiffin & Terashima, 2001). In hyperreality the imitation often
becomes more believable than the real thing (Crystal, 2017). A state of
hyperreality is when “images refer to each other and represent each other as
reality.” (Bhattacharya & Hooton, 2010). The reality which existed before
the image is no longer the only reality we see.


For Baudrillard,
when media starts to represent reality very closely, they start to incorporate themselves
into the daily ‘real’ experience, until it is almost impossible to tell between
the mediated and the real. Thus, the simulation becomes confused with reality
(Sandoz, 2003). This is what happens on Reality TV. Moreover, Baudrillard
states that contemporary society is organized and maintained by simulation not
by political economy (Durham & Kellner, 2016). According to Baudrillard,
the world we live in is made up of simulation and hyperreality where the
subject becomes a precession of simulacra. Baudrillard speaks of a ‘catastrophe
of modernity’ which he says is what reality, meaning, identity and other modern
categories break down into (Durham & Kellner, 2016).


Hyperreality leaves
certain effects behind on its audience. Some of the effects are the following.
Firstly, hyper-real images may get audiences who start looking up to hyper-real
images and start seeing them as role models, even though the images do not
portray real people (Boorstin, 2012). “We lose sight of the men and women who
do not simply seem real because they are famous, but who are famous because
they are great.” (Boorstin, 2012). Secondly, the audience suffers from
simulation confusion in which we mistake realistic fakes for what they imitate.
Thirdly, content is turned into the realm of experience instead of trying to
communicate the truth. Thus, how we are affected by the medium becomes the main
way of explaining things (Sandoz, 2003). 


Baudrillard believes
that today abstraction does not limit itself to a map or a mirror and
simulation is no longer something which refers to something else. Today society
lives with the real without an origin. Simulation no longer reflects beings and
appearances and rationality is no longer obligatory. Reality is no longer
imitated, duplicated or made a parody of. This is hyperreality. (Baudrillard,


In his essay The City of Robots, Umberto Eco writes
that we create re-creations and themed environments attempting to emerge something
that is better than reality, since the real is not enough (Traveling through
hyperreality, n.d.). Eco believes that there is a need to create things which
are more thrilling, more fun, more adrenaline pumping and most of all more
intriguing than the ordinary daily life (Traveling through hyperreality, n.d.).
In his essay, Eco gives his readers a tour of the United States, while
reviewing and mainly criticizing the United States for trying to recreate the
real by evoking images of fake art, nature, history and cities (Traveling
through hyperreality, n.d.). He went on a tour of the United States to get a look
for himself which copies and replicas were being shown in museums and other tourist
attractions (Eco, 1986).


main argument is that these imitations do not simply copy reality, but rather, try
to refine it (Traveling through hyperreality, n.d.). Thus, what is being
presented is an even better version of reality, which is in turn entirely
false. Eco also discusses Disneyland. He sees it as a fancy place which hides
its real motive, which is to pitch sales. Eco believes that this reflects today’s
world as it seems the same as how businesses try to offer us things which are
made to look better than what is real with the motif of selling things life
(Traveling through hyperreality, n.d.). Moreover, for Eco, Disneyworld and
Disneyland are both ‘absolutely fake cities’ due to their recreated castles and
main streets which imitate the real thing, and robots which are made to look
lifelike (Traveling through hyperreality, n.d.). He thinks that these theme
parks highlight hyperreality perfectly as everything is made to look better and
more amusing than everyday life life (Traveling through hyperreality, n.d.)..
When one goes back to his daily routine, he finds it boring or bleak.
Disneyland shows him that Capitalism is also visible in theme parks, where one
would not expect it. Theme parks are hyperrealities which last only until one’s
money does. Thus, reality does not exist in theme parks. This gives people the
ability to have a temporary ‘out of reality’ experience (Crystal, 2017).


Another theme park
which is mentioned is Las Vegas. It is the world’s first urban theme park. It
is also called the city of imitation as it is a place where the world comes to
you. For instance, one does not need to go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower or
go to New York to see the Empire State Building. It makes it possible or people
to live an imitated experience. This postmodern society, particularly
hyperreality, is more common in the Western world, especially in the United
States. Hyperreality has become a much bigger concept due to the rapid
development in technology. Additionally, much of the United States’ economy is
based on providing consumers with deceptive simulations. In today’s society, business,
entertainment, politics and news are important groups, or better yet,
hyperrealities, which use simulation to make money and gain power.


In our world today,
reality is changed in some way or another. The information which we are fed is
usually compressed and taken from a certain perspective which showcases a
particular story. Some theorists argue that people are becoming more attached
to the hyperreal world than reality.  However, since every year there are
more and more simulations coming up, we are getting better at not falling for
them. A good example of simulations which are fabricated reality is the


Even though most of
the examples which theorists give are within the United States, hyperreality
happens all around us, even in Malta. Case in point, Maxine Busuttil writes
about the way mediatic images are hypperreal and deeply influence us and the
way youths build their identity (Busuttil, 2013). Busuttil particularly speaks
about the mall and how it is a safe space where youths are allowed to roam
around freely with their friends. However, she also mentions how they are under
constant surveillance due to CCTV. Malls in Malta have not existed for a long
time and thus are still a fairly new concept. While the primary motif of malls
is for consumer purposes, which Ritzer calls ‘cathedrals of consumption’,
youths tend to use it more for recreational purposes (Busuttil, 2013). 


Youths create their
own image out of reconstructions from trying to imitate celebrities, which can
be seen as mediated images at the mall. According to Baudrillard, our constant
relationship with messages and images rather than with other human beings, has
changed our perception of time and space (Buadrillard, 1988). He believes that
we live in a world where we are controlled by images and where we relate to
false things, since there is no longer an origin to real things. The era we are
living in has become one of consumption due to media. Those who go to the mall
to look at the latest trends, to fill their desires which they think are based
on reality, are not really based on reality but on false representations which
they believe to be real. According to Baudrillard, these false representations
have been made believable due to hyperreality (Miles, 1998). 


Postmodernist theorists
believe that identities are no longer influenced by social factors such as by
social class, occupation, gender, ethnicity and age. Lyotard speaks about meta-narratives
which he says no longer explain the identities people adopt and the differences
between them. According to Rojek (1995), we are deliberate to choose what
we do in our free time, which products we buy and the lifestyles we live. 


In conclusion,
postmodern writers argue that our society is constantly being controlled by
media. Thus, the distinction between media and reality, images and the real
thing and experiences and simulations of them is not so clear. It could be said
that media reality is the new reality. Consequently, postmodern media often
rejects the traditional idea that art needs to replicate nature and reality and
instead it puts more emphasis on fiction. This makes postmodernism and entirely
new simulation of reality (Lynes, 2013). Lastly, in today’s society, people
want to experience hyperreality because it’s better than the actual reality.



















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