12.9.12

The Spectres of Simulacra: Hyperreality, Consumption as Ideology, & the (Im)Possible Future of Radical Politics

IJRC | Archive | Vol. 01 No. 01 (2012) | Articles | KINDER

Jordan Kinder 
University of Northern British Columbia
Department of English

Abstract-
There is a pervasive liberal argument that contemporary Western society (socio-politically as well as economically) have moved “past” or “beyond” ideology. In his 2008 book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Žižek rejects the “anti-ideological” thesis when he states, while discussing positions from economist Guy Sorman, that “this [Sorman’s] anti-ideological description is, of course, patently false: the very notion of capitalism as a neutral social mechanism is ideology (even utopian ideology) at its purest” (25). Žižek’s argument here is quite straightforward so we must ask where Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality fits? If one presupposes that ideology, following Barthes, is some form of representation—a sign-system—then ideology itself can function semiotically within a framework of hyperreality. By examining new forms of advertising and corporate promotion, such as the corporate integration into social media and commodities themselves in relation to hyperreality and then applying those perspectives to the “post-ideological” neoliberal arguments from scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, this article argues that hyperreality can expose the ways in which postmodern capitalism as hyper-ideology absorbs and depoliticizes the discourses of the very ideologies that challenge its hegemony. Ending with a discussion as to how corporations are utilizing venues such as social media to blur the distinctions between individual and corporation as well as consumer and activist, this article argues that Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality both proves and illuminates Žižek’s thesis that anti-ideological sentiments are paradoxically saturated with ideology—they are ideology, as Žižek argues, at its purest. 
“This is the reason for this journey into hyperreality, in search of instances 
where the American imagination demands the real thing and, 
to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.”
UMBERTO ECO, TRAVELS IN HYPERREALITY 
“Infinite spaces … have become advertising spaces.”
JEAN BAUDRILLARD, COOL MEMORIES
Since its inception and explication by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard in The Precession of Simulacra, the postmodern semiotic concept of hyperreality has played—and continues to play—a large role in such diverse fields as science fiction studies, video game studies, and, not surprisingly, sociology.   In many ways, arguably, none of these applications of Baudrillard’s insights are entirely surprising since a central question in each of these respective fields revolves around notions of reality and, in the case of video game studies, the participation in virtual realities. In this way, Baudrillard’s theory has made international intellectual and critical waves.   Like any well-received theorist, however, there are rifts in the acceptance of his theories—even hyperreality in and of itself— but these rifts do not deny their importance or their far ranging reverberations; regardless of the levels of their “acceptance,” Baudrillards theories continue to stimulate intellectual discourse.  Indeed, hyperreality is a controversial notion as it is defined immediately in The Precession of Simulacra by Baudrillard as “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (1); in other words, it is a representation, a sign, without an original referent.  This notion is explored here in the epigraph by Italian novelist and literary critic Umberto Eco as he suggests that the action of hyperreality is to desire reality and in the attempt to achieve that desire, to fabricate a false reality that is to be consumed as real.  It is easy to see here why such a theory has such wide-ranging application in contemporary Western society—a society that is, as many (post-)structuralists would argue, built on desire and sign-systems.  However, it is beneficial at this point to shift our focus from the broader socio-cultural implications of Baudrillard’s hyperreatlity to the socio-political implications of such a theory. 

Exploring the political implications of hyperreality is not a new theoretical venture; indeed, Baudrillard’s formulation of hyperreality in The Precession of Simulacra as well as in Simulacra and Simulation as a whole is both implicitly and explicitly political, especially if one pays special attention to Baudrillard’s diction.  Baudrillard points to the political qualities of his theory as he states that “[t]his is why power is so much in tune with ideological discourses on ideology, that is they are discourses of truth” (27).  Embedded in these political excursions is a special attention to mass (re)production; this ability to produce and reproduce in mass quantities is arguably what gives rise to notions such as hyperreality—in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, commodities and ideas are, through technology, constantly produced and reproduced.  However, the critical reception of Baudrillard’s politics is ambiguous at best as Chris Rojek states “[b]ecause his work does not align with established positions in the political arena some commentators have been driven to reject Baudrillard as politically neutral” (108-9).  Rojek refutes this reception of Baudrillard as indifferent or neutral by stating that “it is not accurate to maintain that Baudrillard is politically neutral” (109).  Building from Rojek’s argument here, I maintain that Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality is not only politically motivated, but can function to illuminate how ideology is at work in the sphere of contemporary postmodern capitalism—a sphere that suggests that contemporary society is “beyond” ideology.  


The argument that contemporary Western society (socio-politically as well as economically) have moved “past” or “beyond” ideology is a major focus for Slovenian cultural critic and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek.  In his 2008 book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Žižek rejects the “anti-ideological” thesis when he states, while discussing positions from economist Guy Sorman, that “this [Sorman’s] anti-ideological description is, of course, patently false: the very notion of capitalism as a neutral social mechanism is ideology (even utopian ideology) at its purest” (25).  Žižek’s argument here is quite straightforward so we must ask where Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality fits?  If one presupposes that ideology, following Barthes, is some form of representation—a sign-system —then ideology itself can function semiotically within a framework of hyperreality.  Indeed, this is the fundamental argument of this article: by taking positions such as Fukuyama’s or Sorman’s—the rejection of capitalism-as-ideology—and placing them within the framework of Simulacra and hyperreality, capitalism is exposed as a hyper-ideology.   Postmodern capitalism then, which denies its own (socio-)ideological motivations, does not simply become post-ideological, but instead, it manifests into capitalism qua hyperreality—hyper-ideology, where the prefix “hyper” retains all of its Baudrillardian connotations.  By examining new forms of advertising and corporate promotion, such as the corporate integration into social media and commodities themselves in relation to hyperreality and then applying those perspectives to the “post-ideological” neoliberal arguments from scholars such as Francis Fukuyama, this article argues that hyperreality can expose the ways in which postmodern capitalism as hyper-ideology absorbs and depoliticizes the discourses of the very ideologies that challenge its hegemony.  Ending with a discussion as to how corporations are utilizing venues such as social media to blur the distinctions between individual and corporation as well as consumer and activist, I argue that Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality both proves and illuminates Žižek’s thesis that anti-ideological sentiments are paradoxically saturated with ideology—they are ideology,  as Žižek argues,  at its purest.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ideology: Advertising Through Social Media, the Company as Subject, and the Pervasiveness of Consumption:
“Internet ultimately offers both the seductions and subductions of a postmodern "world."”
MARK NUNES, “BAUDRILLARD IN CYBERSPACE”
The largest venue for the creation and perpetuation of hegemonic ideology is, arguably, the mass media in the specific form of advertising. It is unsurprising, then, that a large portion of Baudrillard’s critical oeuvre focuses on advertising.   Baudrillard expresses his views of advertising quite aptly in the essay “Absolute Advertising, Ground-Zero Advertising” as he states that advertising is “the absorption of all virtual modes of expression” while later stating that “[t]he whole scope of advertising and propaganda come from the October Revolution and the market crash of 1929” (Simulation 87).  In a 1996 book entitled Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson state that “advertisers have turned again to the shadowy world of ‘hyperreality’ … by technically modifying the encodings of realism and drawing attention to codes of media realism” (57).  Before developing his theories of hyperreality, Baudrillard alludes to this in a 1968 book The System of Objects where he states that “behind the psychology of advertising, it behoves us to recognize the demagogy of a political discourse whose own tactics are founded on a splitting into two—on the splitting of social reality into a real agency and an image” (191). Advertising, here, is essentially always-already an exercise in hyperreality—it is the creation of an alternate or virtual reality that consumers are offered the chance to enter and it is within this arena that desire is constructed and perpetuated.  By consuming, an individual is promised the ability to enter such a hyperrealist world.  Within such a promise, the hyperrealist implications are quite clear.

In many ways, advertising is not only increasingly pervasive in the contemporary mediascape—especially in television and increasingly in social media platforms such as Facebook: it is the mediascape.  Discussing the “commodification of human relationships,” Jeremy Rifkin argues that “[i]n the cyberspace economy, the commodification of goods and services becomes secondary to the commodification of human relationships” (97).  With specific regard to online social media platforms such as Facebook, the manner of integration of advertising in social media is interesting.  To digress in an enriching manner, it must be noted that Facebook itself is an exercise in hyperreality—users create “profiles” which are supposed to encapsulate their “person” and communicate with others, “friends,” through its interface.  What becomes increasingly clear, especially in terms of Baudrillard’s simulacrum, is that, rather than an “accurate” portrayal of an individual—assuming it is possible in the first place to create such a portrayal—the Facebook profile is a user’s interpretation of who they believe they are presented within the confines of Facebook’s own parameters as to what makes an individual.  Facebook, then, is arguably doubly hyperreal.  Baudrillard, when questioned as to who he is famously replied by stating “I am the simulacrum of myself” (“Jean Baudrillard”).  If one is, as Baudrillard states he is, a simulacrum of themselves, then a Facebook profile arguably functions a simulation of that simulacrum—doubly hyperreal.

In terms of advertising and Facebook, what must be noted is that in its inception, Facebook contained no advertising.  Considering the above elaborations on hyperreality and Facebook sans advertising, it is clear that in its current form (i.e. with advertising), Facebook functions as a postmodern confrontation of two forms of hyperreality: the social mediascape of Facebook and the inherently hyperreal medium of advertising.  In these terms, Facebook functions a postmodern space that creates distinct manifestations of their participation in terms of consumption.  Moreover, the ability for companies themselves to create their own profile (as any person is able to) functions to blur the distinction between corporation and person.   Other social media sites, such as Twitter, function similarly, as they allow corporations to post their own “updates” as if they were any other individual.  As a result of this blurring, corporations not only become subjectified, but social—able to be interacted with.  It is a literal manifestation of the earlier statement from Jeremy Rifkin in relation to the commodification of human interaction and relationship by simulating a human relationship with a corporation through social media.  This functions within an economy of hyperreality when one acknowledges that some critics, such as Mark Nunes, argue that communication through the internet is hyperreal venture by default; by simulating such an interaction, an interaction that is always-already saturated with simulation, the corporation-subject’s origin is a priori that of “reality.” Moreover, Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality highlights how such a subjectification is possible: the ability for a corporation to create a subjectified “profile” on social media websites functions to blur the boundaries between human and corporation, thereby nullifying such a distinction and creating a corporate-subject whose origins contain no “referent.”  Correlating this point through discussing corporate media in general, Mike Gane states that this  “process is one which involves a considerable effort of transformation of human relations into relations which are, in decisive respects, relations between objects; they become human relations inflected with commodity attributes” (55).

It must also be noted that the utilization of social media in this hyperreal manner is not a niche venture.  Contemporary television advertisements often contain urges to “like us on Facebook”—a process in which a human-user subscribes to the corporate-user page and the content produced in it—which speaks towards the multiple mediascapes collapsing in on each other in a manner that functions to promote corporations and consumption. Moreover, a staggering amount of websites for corporations such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Clorox, Kraft, Nike, integrate Facebook into their homepage allowing individual users to subscribe to their pages with a single, or very few, clicks of their mouse.   This pervasiveness suggests that the subjectified corporation may soon—if it is not already—become the norm in cyberspace and, in turn, everyday life.  Subjectification through social media then functions to enact hyperreality.

In terms of contemporary theory, there is not much scholarship dedicated to analyzing the implications of consumption and social media: it seems that as of now, marketing is ahead of theory.  Anyone that analyzes the spheres of contemporary consumerism and ideology—sociologists, cultural critics, media scholars, and so on—must confront the internet as a postmodern, social space that shapes contemporary social interaction on an incredibly large scale.  To brush “cyberspace” off as superficial and/or not worthy of analysis is to ignore a sphere of communication that is continually becoming ever-saturated with advertising and corporate control through their presence in such social media as Twitter  and Facebook and also more and more present within contemporary Western social culture. These spheres of social media illustrate spaces of mass—Facebook currently has over 845 million users (“845 Million”)—communication that is always-already mediated through multiple levels of pervasive advertising that functions through both “traditional” advertisements that are placed on a side-bar of each page and also through the ability for corporations to create “pages” for themselves as any other human-being (subject or user) can.  Hegemonic Western ideologies cannot be analyzed anymore without at least some reference to social media; otherwise there is a wilful ignorance at work, which places on the periphery a large venue in which ideologies (especially in relation to consumption) are perpetuated both overtly and subtly. Here, Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality functions to expose these underlying mechanisms that are functioning in the background to shape human interaction—albeit human interaction mediated through technology—and arguably commodify human interaction.  Along with commodifying human interaction, through hyperreal commodities, contemporary postmodern capitalism is masking its ideological function by placing consumption in a realm of socio-cultural, unquestioned “givens.”


I Can’t Believe It’s Not Nature: Nature, Commodities, and the Ideology of Consumption

“Powdered water: just add water to get water”
JEAN BAUDRILLARD, COOL MEMORIES

At first glance, the epigraph here functions as a playfully absurd, paradoxical, and characteristically Baudrillardian statement.  However, on a more subtle level, it also quite cleverly—in a “tongue-in-cheek” manner—speaks to the nature of commodities in contemporary postmodern capitalism.  Certainly, the fact that a commodity such as bottled water has become a pervasive, and no doubt “empty,” commodity sheds light on this paradoxical epigraph; in a world—and within an ideological system—that “make[s] bottled water a plausible, and perhaps even inevitable, product of our times” (Wilk 319).  Of course, hyperreality is at work here when Richard Wilk notes that:
we have a world with acknowledged ecological problems, rising energy prices, and global climate change, where a significant amount of energy and materials are being expended to transport water to places that already have plenty of it, freely available. (319).
Here, Wilk notes the absurdity of such a commodity while also subtly alluding to its hyperreal functions—indeed, water is a “freely available,” especially in North America, resource that is packaged and sold at high prices. Along with hyperreal advertising that collapses the distinction between person (subject) and corporation (institution), I argue that many objects (commodities) in postmodern capitalism themselves are in the realm of the hyperreal, which currently can be seen in such “empty” commodities as bottled water and carbon credits.  However, before analyzing bottled water and carbon credits as a hyperreal commodity as well the socio-political implications of such commodification, I must explicate on both what a hyperreal commodity is and what its implications are on the larger argument present that postmodern capitalism is not post-ideological, but rather hyper-ideological.

While Baudrillard defines “hypercommodity” as objects that “are the poles of simulation around which is elaborated … a hyperreality, a simultaneity of all the functions, without a past, without a future, an operationality on every level” (78), I am moving away from Baudrillard so as to theorize the hyperreal commodity as a commodity that drives a mechanism and an agenda of hyperreality.  Moreover, I suggest that such commodities are beyond “material.”   In other words, hyperreal commodities are, in this context, commodities that enforce consumption-as-ideology through hyperreality by collapsing otherwise opposing characteristics of the “object.”   Indeed, here exists a hyperreal tension between referent and simulation.  This is evidenced above in the elaboration of bottled water as collapsing the boundary between a resource that is “freely available” and a commodity that is accessible only to those that are affluent enough to afford it.   In other instances, hyperreal commodities function in a more overtly socio-political manner, such as commodities that through consumption function to paradoxically collapse distinctions between consumerism and activism.

In this way, hyperreal commodities function as another mechanism which creates the means to internalize politics of consumption, which function to amalgamate those politics into a socio-cultural “given” wherein consumption is no longer seen as political and thus no longer ideological.   Moreover, such products often function to anticipatorily negate any criticism against capitalism.  While bottled water may initially seem to be a commodity that highlights the absurdity of contemporary (over-)consumption, certain corporations have taken steps to create what they label as an “environmentally friendly” type of plastic bottle, which I will address below. In the matrix of hyperreal, postmodern capitalism—capitalism purported as post-ideological—hyperreal commodities function to both mask and promote, simultaneously, capitalist ideologies as well as, paradoxically, anti-capitalist sentiments through consumption.

Arguably as a result of consumer demand for more “eco-friendly” products, an increasing amount of corporations are providing “eco-friendly” alternatives to their main product line. Returning to bottled water, Richard Wilk argues that “all of these meanings have today been captured by commodities, and as such they are all antithetical to any ideal of water as a free good, a natural right and therefore the absolute opposite of a commodity” (314). While these pseudo-ecological options are becoming more pervasive in the realm of commodities, I would like to focus on bottled water that utilizes the technology of plant-based plastic as it functions as a perfect exemplification of the paradoxical status of environmentalism—a radical ideology—within the sphere(s) of postmodern capitalism. In other work of mine, I analyze an advertisement for Dasani (a subsidiary brand of Coca Cola), which utilizes naturalistic imagery to suggest that the bottle itself came from “nature” (DASANI); here, implementing Baudrillard’s “successive phases of the image” illustrates the paradoxical manner in which bottled water—especially bottled water that is promoted as environmentally “friendly”—functions as a (hyper-ideological) commodity.  Indeed, placing potable water as a “reflection of a profound reality,” tap-water as “mask[ing] and denatur[ing] a profound reality,” and bottled (commodified) water as “mask[ing] the absence of a profound reality,” these successive phases illustrate water bottled in plant-based plastics as the next phase wherein “it is its own pure simulacrum” (Simulacra 6).  While this may be considered a theoretical stretch—Baudrillard marks the second phase as an “order of maleficence” (Simulacra 6) and many would argue against tap-water falling into such a categorization—it is, regardless, a fruitful illustration as to how such a commodity functions on the plane of hyperreality.  While bottled water is conventionally seen as an image of over-consumption, the plant-based bottled water collapses both ends of such a spectrum that Wilk points toward in the above quotation; indeed, it functions as hyperreal.

Like recent conceptions of plant-based plastic bottled water, a category of commodity that seeks to revitalize contemporary capitalism and consumption with environmentalist aspects has recently emerged—carbon credits.   A response to global climate change, especially from what is known as the Kyoto Accord, carbon credits are a form of “trading” wherein “a set of middlemen companies, called offset firms, estimate a company’s emissions and then act as brokers by offering opportunities to invest in carbon-reducing projects around the world” and “a company can buy certificates attesting that the same amount of greenhouse gas was removed from the atmosphere through renewable energy projects such as tree planting” (“What is Carbon Credit”).  In other words, to balance out emissions that are known to contribute to greenhouse gases, corporations can invest in other companies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (like a re-forestry corporation) to “zero” out their emissions.   It is an attempt to undo the effects of contemporary capitalism and consumption through even more consumption and exchange.  Carbon credits, then, function simply as a means to perpetuate an “image” of erasure as if emissions simply disappear at the sight of money; of course, these practices are not without controversy.  In an article entitled “Carbon Trading, Climate Justice and the Production of Ignorance,” Larry Lohmann states that:

Offset projects can involve planting trees, fertilizing oceans to stimulate carbon-gobbling algae, burning methane from landfills to generate electricity or setting up wind farms—yet none of these things can be verified to be climatically equivalent to each other or to reducing one’s fossil fuel consumption. (362)

Here, Lohmann suggests that, contrary to the illusion that carbon credit/offset market suggests, the manners in which these credits are applied are not proven to provide a balance between the negative effects produced by the company or government that is purchasing the offsets.  These “credits” functions as a hyperreal commodity; it creates an illusion—a virtuality—wherein a corporation’s arguably damaging environmental/ecological practices can be promoted as “erased” through dedicating a certain amount of money to projects like re-forestry.

The examples of plant-based plastic bottled water and carbon credits are not the only contemporary examples of the ways in which postmodern capitalism veils its ideological motivations by simulating politico-ethico frameworks that challenge capitalism and consumption. Indeed, these two examples point towards a larger trend in which commodities themselves embody a collapsed, hyperreal mélange of the politically necessary distinction between capitalism, which seeks profit, and ideologies such as environmentalism, which challenges the very essence of capitalism.  By collapsing both together in a superficial manner, contemporary postmodern capitalism creates hyperreal commodities such as carbon credits to perpetuate an illusion of ethics while functioning in a hyper-ideological manner.   Postmodern capitalism is, in this sense, hyper-ideological because it purports and promotes such paradoxical conceptions as anti-consumption through consumption.  These two aspects of postmodern capitalism mutate into the undeniably hyperreal phenomena known as ethical capital and ethical consumption. This mutation implants an extra-capitalistic (i.e. outside of capitalist dogma) version of ethics which masks the socio-ideological mechanisms that are at work in contemporary postmodern capitalism and consumption.


Ideology After Hyperreality: Post-Ideology, Baudrillard, and Ethical Consumption
“There is no degree zero, no objective reference, no point of neutrality, but always and again, stakes.”
JEAN BAUDRILLARD, SEDUCTION

In a recorded event for Lacanian Ink at The Jack Tilton Gallery in New York City, Slavoj Žižek states that “it is easy to make fun of Fukuyama’s of the end of history, but the majority today is Fukuyamayin … liberal democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally found formula of the best possible society” (Žižek – Ecology).  Žižek’s lecture carries on by identifying the ways in which (neoliberal) capitalism’s pervasiveness continues to be veiled through media, popular opinion, and economic practice.  Fukuyama’s political position is made quite explicit when he states in The End of History and the Last Man that the subject of his book is the following question: “[w]hether, at the end of the twentieth century, it makes sense for us once again to speak of a coherent and directional History of mankind that will eventually lead the greater part of humanity to liberal democracy”; Fukuyama’s answer is, of course, yes (xii-xiii).  Fukuyama suggests that liberal democracy, which produces the socio-economic climate in which the postmodern capitalism described above, is developed.  Certainly, Fukuyama is not alone in these sentiments, as Slavoj Žižek discusses French neoliberal economist Guy Sorman who is, according to Žižek, “an exemplay ideologist of contemporary capitalism” (Tragedy 14).  Indeed, Sorman suggests that economists are not ideologically motivated when he states that “[e]conomists are moved by data, not their opinions” (“Defending the Free Market”).  Where does Baudrillard fit here?  I argue here that—coupled with my elaborations above regarding the ways in which capitalist ideologies are obscured through hyperreal manifestations of advertising and commodities—these notions of neoliberalism as somehow transcendent of ideology are simply an exercise in hyperreality as contemporary postmodern capitalism continues to simulate ethical behaviour in a paradoxical manner.  This appropriation of ethical behaviour functions to obfuscate ethical (and in turn political) action, creating a “new” type of ethical action that nullifies the previous forms of ethical, socio-political action, leaving neoliberal capitalism unscathed.  Elaborating on Baudrillard’s views on consumer society, Gary Genosko states that:

He argued that the place of consumption in the new consumer society is everyday life. Social life is mediated and radically alienated by a controlled logic of merchandise in which consumption has nothing to do with principles of reality and the satisfaction of needs. (xii)
It seems suitable then, to point toward the manners in which consumption is framed within postmodern capitalism.  Indeed, as extensively discussed above, consumption is being framed as a socio-political act; it is through consumption that a “better” (environmentally, morally, etc.) is possible.

Framing consumption as a socio-political act involves an amalgamation of hyperreal advertising.  A recent “grassroots” campaign built from Canadian conservative political activist Ezra Levant’s book Ethical Oil seeks to utilize the discourse of ethics to promote the consumption of Canadian oil.  The term “grassroots” is used loosely because it is easy to see how such an “independent” group may be involved with Canadian Tar Sands corporations.  The argument behind the campaign is that “Countries [including Canada] that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians” whereas “Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries” (About Ethical Oil).  By framing the Canadian oil industry in such a manner, the campaign functions to marginalize environmental concerns by reviving a jingoistic “us” versus “them” nationalist rhetoric.  Indeed, considering a number of the posts on the website—all by a single author—attempt to de-legitimize well-established international environmental rights groups through a number of measures. In terms of environmental ethics, the oil industry is arguably one of the least ethical industries; what occurs here, then, is a Baudrillardian simulation of ethics that functions to collapse the distinction between ethics as a socio-political concept and capitalist consumption, thereby creating a form of hyperreal ethics wherein action (activism) toward the promotion of the rights of women, indigenous, gays, lesbians, and so on is conflated with consuming (Canadian) oil.

The example of Ethical Oil here is quite apt with regard to Fukuyama’s thesis regarding neoliberalism.  Ethical Oil promotes a notion that both consumption and capitalism functions not only outside of the realm of ideology, but as a system in which a consumer can promote ethical behaviour.  Capitalism here is promoted as some sort of supra-ideological system, as a tabula rasa in which both ethically “good” and ethically “bad” behaviour can be integrated into. The irony in the case of Ethical Oil, then, is that the (nationalistic) ethical values it suggests are promoted by Canada—and in turn the Canadian Tar sands—are not widely accepted as accurate, especially in the case of indigenous Canadians who have a history of opposing oil-related developments in Canada.  Indeed, this is where the hyperreal ethics emerges—Ethical Oil continually steps away from any sort of Baudrillardian “real” by shrouding its aims in a simulated “grassroots” movement that simultaneously simulates legitimate grassroots, non-governmental organizations.  Ethical Oil, however, is an example of neoliberalism in practice par excellance as it attempts to affirm Fukuyama’s arguments of capitalism’s (within a liberal democracy) ability to “house the homeless, guarantee opportunity for minorities and women, improve competitiveness, and create new jobs” (46) as he essentially argues that there is no system outside of capitalism that can be imagined.  Again, like the Ethical Oil campaign, there is a viewpoint that capitalism functions extra-ideologically and that anything is possible within it, despite the fact that campaigns such as Ethical Oil are clearly simulating ethics in an attempt to promote support of the oil industry in Canada as well as its consumption with absolutely no regard for the ecological implications of oil extraction.  From a Baudrillardian perspective, this suggests that capitalism has truly become hyperreal as it enters a sphere in which it is no longer associated with ideology. This is precisely the collapse that Baudrillard speaks of there being “only signs, without referents, empty, senseless, absurd and elliptical” (74); however, while contemporary postmodern capitalism, which seeks to “mobilize” consumers while simultaneously confining them within the mechanisms of capitalism, is in this sense “empty,” it does have real socio-political ramifications.

The socio-political ramifications of such campaigns as Ethical Oil, which effectively blur the distinction between grassroots activism and capitalist promotion/advertising are quite large.  Indeed, a campaign such as Ethical Oil functions to depoliticize grassroots activism.  Without such necessary political distinctions, consumption becomes an ideology in and of itself wherein corporate entities promise that their consumption will result in a promotion of their ideological beliefs; Žižek identifies this when he states that “the very act of participating in consumerist activity in the struggle against the evils ultimately caused by capitalist consumerism” (End Times 356).  This tautology is precisely the current situation of contemporary postmodern capitalism; within this tautology is the suggestion that capitalism and consumption have become almost beyond internalized as both systems absorb the critiques of such systems in a superficial manner that functions to de facto quell any challenges that may arise against hegemonic capitalism (ethical, political, and so on).  What emerges here, then, is a system that is beyond ideology, but not in Fukuyama’s or Sorman’s sense. Instead, contemporary postmodern capitalism is beyond ideology in a more Baudrillardian sense—it is hyper-ideology.  Moreover, since it functions within a system of simulacra and simulation, it nullifies categories of radical politics which seek to disrupt capitalism’s qua neoliberalism’s hegemonic hold on political discourse and political reality.

Conclusion: Ideology, Hyperreality, and the Future of Radical Politics

Though Baudrillard denies the category of ideology by stating that “[i]t is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real” (Simulation 13), I argue that the effect of such a simulation is ideological and thus must be treated as such.  Ideological critique, then, becomes no longer passé, but a necessary step in dismantling the power-structures that seek to become naturalized and by placing themselves outside of the realm of easily identifiable “ideology” as such.  Indeed, the ways in which corporations are becoming subjectified through an increasing presence in social media and are promoting an image of ethics through consumption speaks to how contemporary postmodern capitalism is collapsing politically necessary distinction, such as the distinction between consumer and activist.  While many view the integration of ethics—especially ecological ethics—into contemporary modes of capitalism as a positive (or at least better than not attempting to integrate them), all this integration is achieving is an obfuscation of the fact that capitalism is an ideology, as opposed to some sort of a transcendental, ideological tabula rasa as neoliberalists such as Guy Sorman argue.  However, in terms of ecology and environmentalism being incorporated into capitalism, Žižek disagrees by suggesting that “[e]cology … is never ‘ecology as such’, it is always enchained in a specific series of equivalences” (12).  Here, Žižek suggests that, like Fukuyama’s view of capitalism, ecology is an ideological tabula rasa that is free to be altered by larger ideological institutions, such as capitalism, socialism, or feminism.  There is a glossing over of fundamental issues related to environmentalism by Žižek; indeed, while there are varying “ecologies,” a consistent thread in legitimate environmentalism is a radical questioning of perpetual economic and industrial growth.  In this, the antagonisms between capitalism, which seeks to always-already maximize growth in a number of ways, and environmentalism, are quite clear.  Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality exposes the ways in which an ideological system such as postmodern capitalism can effectively collapse dichotomous categories (activism/consumerism, ethics/consumption, person/corporation, etc.) and appropriate anti-capitalist sentiments through simulating the categories that are arguably antithetical to capitalism.  This hyperreality functions to depoliticize qualities of hegemony challenging politics while rendering them only valid and acceptable within the commercial sphere.  As this article notes, the sphere of environmental ethics is currently the most obvious arena that is being challenged and obscured by postmodern capitalism’s hyperreal abilities.  Through commodities that purport to be ecological “friendly” and through consumer-campaigns that appropriate the discourse of grassroots activism, postmodern capitalism—via hyperreality—functions simultaneously (and paradoxically) as anti-capitalist as well as capitalist.

Following Baudrillard’s dismissal of ideological critique, it is important to note that the hyperreal is never immediately recognized as hyperreal. Indeed, this is one of the qualities of hyperreality; it destabilizes the mechanisms at work that produce ideological hyperreality (hyper-ideology) must be exposed and identified before they can be challenged and dismantled.  Indeed, this is one of the major aims of this article—to expose such problematic mechanisms that seem progressive on the surface, but are essentially exercises in the hyperreal.  The effect of postmodern capitalism as hyper-ideological is a destabilization which threatens the future potential of hegemony challenging politics (such as feminism, indigenous rights activism, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, and so on).  Philosopher Mark Fisher points toward the grave problematics involved in the promotion of anti-capitalism through capitalism when he states that “[c]orporate anti-capitalism wouldn’t matter if it could be differentiated from an authentic anti-capitalist movement” (14).  Here, Fisher alludes to a Baudrillardian dynamic within such a paradox that I have explicated throughout this article. What then occurs is a system that “western consumerism, far from being intrinsically implicated in systemic global inequalities, could itself solve them” (Fisher 15).  It is this perspective, which echoes Žižek’s sentiments, that identifies the dangers of capitalism as a hyper-ideology; without deconstructing this paradoxical tautology, radical movements may become depoliticized as postmodern capitalism continues to obscure and appropriate the very systems that work against it.  

Despite accusations of being apolitical, Baudrillard identifies issues surrounding capitalism’s pervasiveness when he states that “[c]apital, in fact, was never linked by a contract to the society that it dominates. It is a sorcery of social relations, it is a challenge to society, and it must be responded to as such” (Simulation 15).  While there may indeed, as Baudrillard proclaims, only simulation and simulacra, within those simulations and simulacra are the mechanisms of ideology that exert itself throughout the spheres of contemporary socio-cultural and socio-political life. Before challenging hegemony, those mechanisms must be destabilized and deconstructed.  Paul Bowman argues for the relevance of deconstruction as he argues that “a first task will be to acknowledge and examine the extent to which, and the ways in which, our activities might be versions of what Judith Butler criticised in certain forms of action: namely, uncritical, unthinking repetition” (21).  One way of approaching such a destabilization, as this article argues, is through Baudrillard’s hyperreality as it reveals the mechanisms that are at work behind such a simulation that creates “uncritical, unthinking repetition” by exposing how such problematic paradoxes pervade contemporary culture. Purported as “ethical,” contemporary postmodern capitalism is a simulation of legitimate ethical activism within an economy of simulacra, which threatens to void hegemony challenging politics.  Indeed, with postmodern capitalism being saturated with hyperreality, it is clear that the ideological mechanisms that threaten the validity of radical politics through superficially amalgamating their discourse into capitalism must be exposed, must be critiqued, and that critique must begin with Baudrillard.


Notes
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[1] In terms of science fiction (SF), Baudrillard himself published an article entitled “Simulacra and Science Fiction” and in terms of video game studies, Christopher Moore’s “Hats of Affect,” published in Game Studies shows the ease of implementation of the term in video game studies discourse community as he uses “hyperreality” almost unquestioningly and without an extensive definition.

[2] This is not to say that his theories, including hyperreality, have been broadly accepted within academia; the metaphor of “making waves” is apt here in that it illustrates both the fluid acceptance and rejection of his theories. Chris Rojeck illustrates these tensions of acceptance in his introduction to Forget Baudrillard? as he discusses how a leading Baudrillard critic, Mike Gane, asserts that Baudrillard is both a “‘powerful’ thinker … [and] that many of Baudrillard’s arguments are ‘ludicrous’” (ix).

[3] I recognize here that the socio-cultural sphere and socio-political spheres are always already intertwined, but for the sake of narrowing my arguments I feel it necessary to focus on the latter with some considerations of the former.

[4] As Žižek points out in First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, see Guy Sorman’s neoliberalist arguments in articles such as “This Crisis Will Be Short Enough” (translated from Portuguese where the original reads as “Esta crisis sera bastante breve”) for more elaboration (22).

[5] This is not a stretch considering theorists such as Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss view ideology and myth with “no significant difference between [them]” (Malešević 90).

[6] One of the aims of this article is to directly combat those who argue that Baudrillard’s theories present ideology as a non-issue; it will directly work against those that suggest that Baudrillard’s “Simulation, defined as the creation of copies for which there are no originals, effectively eliminates the distinction between the real and the imaginary, and dissolves the dualities of reality and representation, truth and falsity” and that “ideology thus becomes a non-issue” (Zhao 76).  Within my use of “ideology” (which attempts to include Foucauldian perspectives of discourse into it) is not a suggestion that there is a concrete “reality;” rather, my usage functions as a blanket-term that allows me to interrogate the functions of such ideological (sign-)systems that are presented as non-ideological, of which I argue postmodern capitalism falls in to.

[7] The concept of “ideology” in post-structuralism is not widely accepted, nor is it utilized as a critical category; indeed, Baudrillard is amongst the theorists who refuses it.   I feel it necessary here to point out that while “[t]he problem of ideology critique for Baudrillard is that its aim is always the same ‘to restore the objective process’” (Malešević 93), my usage of the term is very open ended—it does not suggest that ideology is “true” or “good,” but instead it suggests that ideology is one of the coercive elements of contemporary society.  There are ideologies at work and I argue that Baudrillard’s hyperreality can expose the mechanisms behind these hidden ideologies.  What this does not suggest is that there is only ideology, but rather that ideology is a discursive mechanism that is integrated into contemporary society.

[8] See The System of Objects, Consumer Society, Symbolic Exchange and Death, and The Mirror of Production for example.

[9] Nunes argues that computer screen themselves are hyperreal when using the internet: “In this model, the screen becomes a hyperreal vehicle for travelling across a simulated world” (“Baudrillard in Cyberspace”).  I point to this here because it becomes difficult to discuss hyperreality with regard to computers, internet, and social media as such venues are arguably always already hyperreal; moreover, for the purposes of this article, I would like to propose that there are “layers” of hyperreality, especially in relation to “cyberspace.”

[10] A topical issue as in many instances in the United States, especially in a legal context, corporations have been treated as “people.”

[11] While these corporations were not chosen at random, their variety functions simply as a sample of corporations integrating into Facebook as a promotional tool.

[12] Here I would like to note that I kept my main discussion of corporate integration into social media in relation to Facebook for the sake of brevity and coherence; however, there are several other social media websites that are or are becoming as pervasive as Facebook.  They include, but are not limited to, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest.

[13] In other words, they function in a sphere beyond material commodities.  For example, items purchased in online Video Games are constituted as hyperreal commodities in this framework.  Moreover, while bottled water is material, I argue that is far enough outside of its “original” or referent form that it constitutes such a label as hyperreal commodity.

[11] I implement quotation marks here because, as evidenced above, certain commodities, such as carbon credits and online video games, are immaterial.  Further, it is important to acknowledge that “object,” as Mike Gane notes, is “a term which Baudrillard, like Barthes, resolutely avoids, and for important theoretical reasons” (35).  Baudrillard avoids this term “to avoid conventional kinds of criticism of mass production that is criticism made from the point of view of an authentic experience” (35).  With this in mind, I would like to note that my usage of the term is for practical reasons, not to suggest “an authentic experience.”

[12]  For example, see products from Clorox (a well-known bleach manufacturer) in the “Green Works” line.

[13] It is important to note that carbon credits are also understood as a form of currency.

[14]  The University of Northern British Columbia, which received, along with Harvard, an award from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its bioenergy project and brands itself as “Canada’s Green University,” also purchases carbon offsets/credits (“UNBC Green Strategy, Phase 1”).

[15] In a 2008 book by Zygmunt Bauman entitled Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers, he interrogates the notion of ethics being able to exist within the hegemonic socio-economic systems of Western capitalism.  Within a framework saturated with consumerism, Bauman states that “[t]he possibility of populating the world with more caring people and inducing people to care more does not figure in the panoramas painted in the consumerist utopia” (52).  Essentially, legitimate ethics becomes a non-issue if they cannot be factored in to a profit-building system.

[16] The manner in which donations are disclosed is attests to such suspicions as the only accounting of donations on the website is that the median donation is $38 (About Ethical Oil).  It is important to note that the calculation is a median, where in the literal middle value is the median; for example, if the campaign was donated $1 million, $30, and $1 respectively, the median would be $30.  Moreover, the address used by the campaign for donations is the same as one previously used by a Conservative MP, Tony Clement (“Coincidence”).

[17]  This is arguably what happened to feminism within contemporary popular culture as promotional culture sought to superficially embrace feminism as a promotional tool.  Angela McRobbie identifies this phenomenon as post-feminism in her influential essay “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.”

[18] In a 2008 book by Zygmunt Bauman entitled Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers, he interrogates the notion of ethics being able to exist within the hegemonic socio-economic systems of Western capitalism. Within a framework saturated with consumerism, Bauman states that “[t]he possibility of populating the world with more caring people and inducing people to care more does not figure in the panoramas painted in the consumerist utopia” (52). Essentially, legitimate ethics becomes a non-issue if they cannot be factored in to a profit-building system

[19] The manner in which donations are disclosed is attests to such suspicions as the only accounting of donations on the website is that the median donation is $38 (About Ethical Oil). It is important to note that the calculation is a median, where in the literal middle value is the median; for example, if the campaign was donated $1 million, $30, and $1 respectively, the median would be $30. Moreover, the address used by the campaign for donations is the same as one previously used by a Conservative MP, Tony Clement (“Coincidence”).

[20] This is arguably what happened to feminism within contemporary popular culture as promotional culture sought to superficially embrace feminism as a promotional tool. Angela McRobbie identifies this phenomenon as post-feminism in her influential essay “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.”


References
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Žižek, Slavoj. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. New York: Verso Press USA, 2009. Print.
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________________
Jordan B. Kinder is a graduate student in English at the University of Northern British Columbia. His primary research interests are ideology, popular culture, and critical theory. He is currently working on a thesis project entitled Sustainable Appropriation: Consumption, Advertising, and the (Anti-)Politics of (Post-)Environmentalism.

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