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Reality and Representation – Postmodern Media Essay

?“Postmodern media blur the boundary between reality and representation. ” Discuss this idea with reference to the area of the media you have studied. Reality will never be the same for two different people. Jean Baudrillard believed that there is a problem with contemporary reality, he believed that the distinction between what is real and what is imagined is continually blurred and eroded.

His theories are overly concerned with the idea that simulations of reality end up becoming “more real than the real”. For Baudrillard it would most certainly be the case that postmodern media does in fact blur the boundary between reality and representation. However, theorists such as Roland Barthes and John Fiske – who developed Barthes’ semic code – suggest that we don’t actually know what reality is anyway because all of our ideas of reality are just products of simulations we have seen in the media.

Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ (2011 – ) most certainly blurs the boundary between reality and representation; it takes real life situations and pushes them past their limits to a point where it becomes far more than reality. The third episode of season 1, ‘The Entire History of You’ looks at the concept of memories, something we encounter – intentionally or not – on a daily basis. Brooker contorts this concept to become a mechanical process is which the bits we can’t remember or piece together correctly in reality, are permanently stored on an internal chip.

Similarly, the first episode of series 2, ‘Be Right Back’ looks at the unfortunate situation of losing someone you love, something everyone inevitably has to face at some point. Brooker takes this past its natural conclusion – being grieving and ultimately carrying on with your life – and looks at the idea of simulating the deceased’s personality. Brooker’s simulation of reality and his consequent blurring of this highlights the consequence of being taken out of the reality we know.

It shows that if we change the status quo almost that things may not happen in the way we would have hoped they would. Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ (2012) also blurs the boundary between reality and representation but in an entirely different way to ‘Black Mirror’. ‘Life of Pi’ questions the grand narrative of religion and the two possible stories – one filled with magical animals and triumph over adversity, the other with cannibalism – gives you options of which reality you would like to believe.

It asks whether you can suspend your disbelief and believe that Pi found himself on a lifeboat with animals fighting it out or whether you would rather believe that Pi saw his own mother killed and eaten in front of him. The film suggests hyperreality as being a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with something difficult and questions whether people who live their lives with religion as a grand narrative are in fact suspending their disbelief to avoid the harsh reality of being born ultimately just to die and rot in the ground.

‘Life of Pi’ is an example of Baudrillard’s idea of simulacrum, depending which side of the story you believe it may or may not bear any relation to reality whatsoever. Marc Webb’s ‘(500) Days of Summer’ (2009) focuses on reality rather than the blurring of representation indicating that not all postmodern media blurs this boundary between the two. The narrative is similar to that of Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) mimicking the reality of human memory, jumpy and not all there, completely dissimilar to Brooker’s portrayal of memory in ‘Black Mirror’.

It looks at the realities of love and not just the typical rom-com storyline, Tom and Summer by no means have a ‘conventional’ relationship. This goes back to Fiske’s theories, our ideas of ‘conventional’ are based on the media that we have consumed and therefore you could alternatively suggest that ‘(500) Days of Summer’ is blurring the boundary between reality and representation by subverting the typical romance story narrative.

Despite this, everyone knows that fluffy Hollywood romances are representation of what people want and not what the general population have therefore indicating that ‘(500) Days of Summer’ portrays reality instead of representation. It is clear that it will always be difficult to discuss the line between reality and representation because, as highlighted by the likes of Barthes and Fiske, it is almost impossible to define the two and therefore to judge where the line lies.

Whilst some postmodern media, such as ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Life of Pi’ clearly push the boundaries of reality and become hyperreal, toying with representation and simulacra, some postmodern media maintains reality or rather the concept we ourselves have of reality. It could be considered that, as film is often considered a form of escapism, that people just don’t want to watch reality, they want to suspend their disbelief and watch something that doesn’t represent day to day life and therefore that most film blurs the boundary between reality and representation to some extent.


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