What is hyperreality and what does it mean? Why is Las Vegas postulated to be ‘hyperreal’? Furthermore why is it that so many people in the world want to visit Las Vegas, and people return back to Las Vegas year after year, even though we all believe the city, and everything within it, is superficial and fake? Perhaps it is to do with nostalgia, or the fact that Las Vegas is very good at being a themed illusion which puts everyone into a trance and make them believe they are in fantasyland?
Why is Las Vegas the way that it is and has been, and will it be as successful in years to come? Why does Las Vegas stand out within the theory of Hyperreality? It is because it epitomises the core functions of what hyperreality is as a theory.
¬Hyperreality is difficult to separate from postmodernism, but hyperreality is about how the signification is more important that the authenticity, which means the meaning and experience is more important than the function.
Why be satisfied with reality, when you can experience hyperreality which is “better” than the real thing. Nowadays we all live in a hyperreal world, many things are replicated and are a reconstruction of a copy of a copy, what was real is getting confused with the fake, so the true meaning or understanding of anything is getting tainted and often lost. For the purpose of this essay hyperreality is defined as “the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy”1.
Therefore many of the real things are getting mingled with replicas and fakes causing hyperreality to grow and become a bigger part of our lives. Modern cultures and societies such as America and the UK, are alarmingly obsessed with duplicates so much so that the people within these societies aspire to live within or attain these “false” levels of satisfaction. How can one be truly happy or content, if one’s understanding or interpretation of the world and everything within it is twisted and manipulated and goals set upon a false set of values, striving for an unattainable ideal.
Hyperreallity offers a person “satisfaction” but based upon false expectations and values as Italian Philosopher Umberto Eco suggested, the “authentic fake”. Primarily Las Vegas emphasises its hyperreal state by standing alone in the desert. It is as though it was “creatio ex nihilo” (created out of nothing). Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, as if it is the only thing that exists. The fun and satisfaction falsely related to being in Las Vegas predominately stems from the feeling that if they leave Las Vegas they have nothing and xperience nothing because Las Vegas is surrounded by emptiness and a feeling of nothingness. However, it is of utmost importance to understand that Las Vegas is a hyperreal environment, a reflection and multiplication and in itself a shadow, if you like a glamorisation of reality, therefore multiplying and extending emotions and feelings that one has, falsely making people think the environment is better and more fulfilling than it really is.
The marketing concept of Las Vegas is that it provides fun, glamour, wealth, sex, all through what the city contains, its architecture, signs and many hotels, reflecting this hyperreality. The architecture and marketing concept of Las Vegas fulfil the physiological needs of a human being that makes one happy according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. By fulfilling the most basic needs of every human being Las Vegas sets up a fake sense of achievement and happiness. Why is it that people travel and stay in Las Vegas, and become disillusioned and believe what is surrounding them.
Is it primarily to do with the architecture and the sounds, smells and flashing lights that is luring the customers in and causing them to come back repeatedly. Firstly Las Vegas is known for the cascade of flashing lights, it is “The giant billboard, the decorated shed, the use of moving light and colour, continuous, competitive frontages of accelerating fantasy and novelty, all meant to attract the automobile moving at highway speed, seduce with visual wonders that lead to the gaming tables and hotels. 2 As seen in figure 1 of the Las Vegas strip and Figure 2 of the signs which have now been updated to digital, it is very eye catching and appealing to anyone passing by, its as if you have to stop incase you miss out on something incredible or life changing, its somewhere that you have never been to before or may not experience again. It’s being able to escape your own life for a couple of days to be able to live in this ‘fantasy world’ and experience things all in one amazing place.
The flashing lights might be considered a supply of artificial light to reflect the artificial nature of Las Vegas, however the hyperreality environment it emanates unconsciously influences people and their uncontrolled impulses into this fantasyworld. Las Vegas has its very different rules towards architecture, all about attracting the customer, then to keep them there as long as possible to get them to spend as much of their money as possible.
As said in the book ‘Learning From Las Vegas’ it’s “An entire vocabulary and language of architectural forms has been invented to satisfy new social, commercial, and cultural requirements and criteria. ”3 The architecture here is has been influenced about history and main icons have been built in the past, but the ‘decorated sheds’ as they are known here in Las Vegas, do not contain any history, other than being replicas of the real thing.
These ‘decorated sheds’ are all about entertainment now instead of the function/meaning of what they are meant to be. Customers are amazed by what they see, for example in figure 3, it is Ancient Egypt and is a full-scale replica of King Tut’s tomb, but it is made in plastic and glass and is designed to look like an Ancient Egyptian pyramid, however everything is not as it seems. The only thing that is the same as the real tomb and pyramid is the sand.
If you compare figure 3 and 4 you can see that in Las Vegas they have an updated version and have made the sphinx look and appear better than the real thing so therefore is more aesthetically appealing to the eye. People believe that what they are experiencing in Las Vegas is the same thing as if they were in Ancient Egypt, there is desert and it heat is still extreme, however, what they represent is completely different.
The Real Ancient Egypt is about Pharaoh’s, their cultures, beliefs etc, however in Las Vegas it’s a gambling palace. How do the two (gambling and Ancient Egypt) link, they do not, unless it is relating to how the Pharaohs were so rich with their gold and had so many fortunes, and the casino is meant to reflect how this could be you, becoming rich like a Pharaoh and experience what it would have been like to be in such an amazing place, it imitates the unattainable ideal which hyperreality falsely makes you think you can obtain.
The interior has the same style throughout but “The decor is not authentic, everything is a copy, and the whole thing feels like a dream. ”4 It’s as if you are walking through fantasy world and this has been reinforced with the decor, even the chips. “It is in the interest of the decorators to emphasise that everything is fake, to make the entire experience seem fake. ”5 This is how the casino succeeds due to hyperreality, you are turning your money into an object that has really no value at all so your consciousness is not aware of what is happening.
There is no sense of time, as there is not a clock anywhere in the casino, you never know what time of the day it is, so you do not leave and therefore spend more money. Also Las Vegas and its casinos are a perfect example of postmodern architectures that disorientate people. Every casino is a maze, as none of the exits are clearly labeled or labeled at all, and even if you ask for directions out you get even more confused, furthermore there are signs saying “free” shows, meals etc… this all stops you from finding the exit.
The hyperreal structure and design of the buildings themselves are designed to confuse people into spending more money unconsciously, as hyperreality changes one’s ability to recognise reality for example, the chips have indeed great value but one is fooled into believing that they are worthless and so take much larger risks than one would if you were playing with real money. There are many other buildings that have the same principal (figure 5 and figure 6) such as “Caesars Palace” designed to look like historical Greece and has a Roman – Rococo mall with triumphal arches, cascading fountains, statues and computerized sunsets.
Here the Family can shop and game together, as with the casino, there are no windows in Caesars Palace and the sunsets are set to happen at a regular basis during the day so you never know what time of the day it is. When the computers make out that it is sunny inside it could be midnight outside, so this fools one to continue on browsing, buying, gambling and to spend even more money due to the fact that you are being tricked by an illusion.
Why wait to see a volcano erupt when there is one that erupts at certain times at the Mirage hotel. It’s the same with “The Venetian” the scene captures the beauty and essence of Venice tricking you into thinking this is exactly how it would be a feel in Venice. You are able to sit on a slow moving gondola while a typical mustachioed Italian man quietly and peacefully ferries you from one place to another. While aboard the boat, the smell of bread lingers in the air, whilst traditional Venice music plays in the background.
The whole experience would reflect you being in actual Venice itself, however, if you actually went to Venice there would not be the smell of bread, more likely to be the smell of cars or water, and there would probably be no music playing. The Venice in Las Vegas does not exist in real life, this is just a hyped up version of the real Venice, everything that you expect such as the sights, smells, sounds and sense of Venice are there but they would not be in real life, Las Vegas does this to make each customer’s experience even better and to make one lose them self in this fantasy world to ensure the consumer returns.
This is yet another example of hyperreality and how it is sold and used by corporations on a daily basis. There are so many sights to see in Las Vegas including the Eiffel tower, the New York Empire State Building, Chrysler building, Seagram, CBS and AT&T that all form a collage of pinstripe of towers. There is the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty both surrounded by a looping roller coaster. So not only do you think you are in New York it makes the experience surreal as you would be riding a rollercoaster that twists its way in and around these well known buildings.
In conclusion Las Vegas is a perfect example and working definition of what hyperreality is. Real meanings become lost within fake reconstructions of reality, and it is used to create a place where you cannot distinguish the difference between what is real and fake, and has been used for entertainment purposes instead. Ada Louise Huxstable suggests in her book, that the architecture used in Las Vegas has made the copy look better than the original to engage the viewer, and trick them into thinking that they are experiencing the best when they are being tricked by a illusion.
The job of the architecture is to lure the customers in and keep them there as long as possible and make them believe they are living in fantasy world, letting them escape from their lives and reality, however all of this prettiness and innocence is just a cover to make it all look harmless, when really they are out to take as much money from the customer as possible through false ideology.
The reason people come back to Las Vegas year after year is because why go elsewhere when many things are in one place, you can see the Eiffel Tower, the Empire Estate Building and experience the sounds sight and smells of Venice, or you can go on the looping roller coaster whilst flying past many of the iconic buildings seen in New York. There is a pirate show too at Treasure Island that is repeated throughout the day like many other attractions, watch the vessels fight with canon explosions and fire, as the actors (pirates) fight until their death, but return later alive again, all of which can only happen in hyperreality.
Las Vegas uses hyperreality, postmodernism and illusionism very well, to trick consumers. They use better versions of the real thing to make you go to Las Vegas, the architecture is there to create a place that does not seem real but is, it’s a ‘fake’ city, but a real ‘fake’ city. What you see and hear and experience is all fake. Las Vegas is “a privileged, immemorial space, where things lose their shadow, where money loses its value, and where the extreme rarity of traces of what signals to us there leads men to seek the instantaneity of wealth” as said by Baudrillard.
Las Vegas uses hyperreality to exploit and take advantage consumers to influence their subconscious behaviour, all through where it is built, the architecture, design and structure of the entire city and how it functions, without hyperreality and its successfulness Las Vegas would be just another city. References 1Art and Popular Culture, “Hyperreality”, Internet, (n. d. ) 2Huxstable, A. (1997), “The Unreal America”. United States, The News Press, p. 75 3Venturi, R et al. (1994), “Learning From Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbol Of Architectural Form”.
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