Study Abroad Seminar: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hyperreality

Contemporary postmodern culture is dominated, according to French cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard, by simulation and hyperreality. In postmodern culture the image has become the new reality — or hyperreality — a virtual world floating above the real world in its own sealed off hermetic envelope. It is a culture which has lost touch with its referents in the real world, and one where, paradoxically, the term ‘real’ has been hi-jacked by the multi-national conglomerates. It’s the ‘real thing’, a Coca-Cola world of industrially manufactured, ‘natural’ ingredients. In a world where the imaginary becomes the ‘real’, there is no longer a place for the real. In the ‘perfect crime’ of the twentieth century reality itself has been stolen. Nowhere has the cover-up been more obvious than in Disneyland, the archetypal dream-centre of this culture of consumption, and Los Angeles – as the city that produced Disneyland – is seen as the epicenter of this culture of hyperreality.

This course in contemporary cultural theory interrogates the theme of hyperreality not only through a close reading of various theoretical texts, but also through movies about LA and visits to iconic sites around the city. The theoretical texts consulted are by cultural theorists, such as Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord and Fredic Jameson. The movies shown include Reyner Banham Loves LA, Los Angeles Plays Itself and Blade Runner. The site visits are to spaces of hyperreal culture, such as the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Venice Freak Show, Bonaventure Hotel, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Disney Imagineering, and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. The course treats Los Angeles as a laboratory of the immediate present, an experimental breeding ground for possible realities. Los Angeles itself becomes the classroom and studio for this course, and many sessions are actual site visits.

The submission of a movie as a final assignment will be encouraged, or – for those unable to make an actual movie – a movie script, storyboard or other appropriate media. However, this is a class about cultural theory and not about movie making. The final assignment will therefore be judged on its content, and not on its technical proficiency.