04 Immersion and Voyeurism

Please submit your response based on the following readings by Feb 28th 4 pm. Thanks!

Schwartz, Vanessa R. “Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus: The Public Taste for Reality in Fin-De-Siécle Paris.” In Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, edited by Leo Charney, 297-319. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Sandberg, Mark B. “Effigy and Narrative: Looking into the Nineteenth-Century Folk Museum.” In Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, edited by Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz, 320-361. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Eco, Umberto. “Travels in Hyperreality (1975).” In Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays, 1-58. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

13 responses to “04 Immersion and Voyeurism

  1. Anish Gonchigar

    With this week’s readings, we continue to look at the rise of popular venues and spaces for the masses. Schwartz’s article looks at turn-of-the-century Paris and its growing culture of visual entertainment as the predecessor to film. Schwartz mentions panoramas , dioramas, and wax museums—specifically the Musee Grevin—but I was most drawn to her descriptions of the Morgue behind the Notre Dame as a popular attraction. This early fascination with the macabre and the ‘real’ seems directly in line with the modern popularity of CSI and ‘gross-out’ reality shows. My question, however, is if the Morgue was considered a ‘tasteful’ place to visit, or whether it was relegated as lowbrow even then?
    Sandberg’s article follows the beginnings of the folk museum in Northern Europe. The theme I found particularly interesting in this article was the transition from spectacle to narrative in these kinds of spaces. This led me to think about the inclusion of narrative in modern public spaces and entertainment. Movies are the obvious example, but numerous ‘historic districts’ and natural sites are framed in the context of ‘what happened here in the past’. This idea even applies past physical spaces to the way we understand society. The news is a constant narrative: a single story can continue long past its relevance until it becomes cemented into the social consciousness.
    Finally, Eco’s humorous piece is written as a travelogue through American ‘hyperreality’. He cites the tendency toward visual (rather than historical or contextual) authenticity. In line with Eco’s ideas, I do believe that people often recognize that what they see is not ‘real’, per se, but they nonetheless push it toward that goal. For example, today’s video games are ever more realistic, with colossal processing power behind these seemingly photorealistic images. But they aren’t real, and no amount of technology will make them so. It’s an interesting concept, as people are simultaneously self-aware and oblivious.

  2. I thought it was interesting how the representational apparatus of the folk museum helped to navigate culturally the changes wrought by rapid modernization in Scandinavia. Here, a particular kind of museum – situated within the newly developing technologies of vision – emerges as a way of making sense of loss, with the folk body as a “desirable, nostalgic object” (325) linking past ways of being with modern existence. Both celebrating and mourning modernity, the folk museum was captivating in its in-betweenness, thrillingly juxtaposing traditional culture with modern wonders. This case study leads me to wonder about the role of nostalgia in other themed environments, which, through aesthetic and spatial manipulation, present a particular historical narrative and conception of time. Certainly, we can see the uses and affects of nostalgia in a contemporary environment like Disneyland, as so vibrantly described by Eco, and in even in places like the Renaissance Fair, Little Italy, or the Futurama – each work to situate the individual within a comforting story about the present by harkening back to an imagined past and future.

    The folk museum is also an obvious antecedent to living history museums such as Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg. I think this tension between the immersive environment, or the “functionalist display,” and the ordered collection is still being played out in the museum world today – especially as increased emphasis is placed on providing memorable “experiences” to visitors. Current anxieties over “edutainment,” echo earlier critiques which “saw all narrative compensation as unscientific” (326). Here, difficult issues arise over the use of narrative in historical representation, and the relationship between object and interpretation, accuracy and speculation. But at the heart of this dilemma is the question: how do we make objects meaningful?

    As far as Eco, it’s interesting to think about his piece in the mid-70’s context in which he wrote it – to what extent do these observations still hold true in post 9-11, recession-era America? I’d be interested to know how he interprets the fakery going on in China today – for example, Shenzhen’s Window of the World (linked on the class website) which recreates global architectural wonders for public consumption. And while visiting Macau’s Venetian Casino, I was surprised to see crowds of visitors enthusiastically snapping pictures of a trompe l’oeil sky – a Chinese copy of the Las Vegas copy of the Italian copy of the real sky.

  3. Even 35 years later, Eco’s analysis of America’s quest for the “authentic fake” remains a remarkably apt cultural critique. However, I would argue that the “authentic fake” has since moved beyond the realm of the museum and the theme park and into the suburbs. In New Urbanist towns like Disney’s Celebration, Florida and New Albany, Ohio, small American communities themselves have become the objects of theming. Even in my own hometown of Albuquerque, NM, new housing developments are striving to imitate enclaves of Mediterranean villas (with a bit of a southwestern flair thrown in for local color). Although many of these pre-planned communities strive towards greater community involvement and pedestrian-friendly spaces, the aesthetic comes off as rather ossified and static – there is a museum quality to what are supposed to be dynamic, living areas.

    It is a kind of fakery that is so pervasive and insidious that we’ve even stopped noticing it. As Mark Sandberg’s article on “Effigy and Narrative” demonstrated, the line between convincing and eerie or uncanny in themed environments can be quite fine. Wandering the campus of New Albany’s high school a few years ago (which is directly based on Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia), I was struck by how displaced the signifier had become from the signified; the pale shadow of the “original” had a rather unsettling quality. Unlike the barrage of “Last Suppers” witnessed by Eco, where the allusion was always certain, in these recent suburban developments direct quotation has been replaced by thematic adaptation such that the “authentic” can no longer even be clearly discerned in the copy. Far from the spectacles of nineteenth century Paris, which were deeply embedded in the sociopolitical context of the day (such as the morgue displays or wax museum tableaus), today’s New Urban landscapes are rogue networks of signs that lack a mooring in a singular inspiration: the aura of the counterfeit remains though the authentic has now been obliterated. Eco eviscerates the tackiness of the Madonna Inn – is its range of referents really so different from today’s outdoor mall, suburban development, or McMansion?

    How else have “authentic fakes” developed since the writing of Eco’s essay? What other environments and objects can be considered within this framework?

    FYI: For those of you who found Scandinavian folk museums absolutely fascinating, I’m pleased to inform you that they exist in America too! This example from northern Iowa features an outdoor component, costumed mannequins, complete reconstructions of Scandinavian living spaces before and after immigration to America, and plenty of overflow areas containing everything from woven blankets to Norwegian bridal tiaras: http://vesterheim.org/index.php

  4. The description of holography in the article by Eco makes me think of voyeurism. It seems that holography creates a whole new level for the concept of the gaze. As Sandberg claims, “the appeal of the museum was the mobility of the modern gaze” (Sandberg 350). The viewers of paintings stare at subjects who may positioned suggestively and/or motionlessly staring back. The subjects of holograms only exist in the gaze since the viewer lacks the ability to even approach without their disappearance. The viewer controls through the gaze; as the viewer shifts, the subject in the hologram moves as well. In addition, Sandberg notes such voyeurism with realistic mannequins in museums, specifically folk museums. The models on display “take no notice of what is outside” (Sandberg 338). However, the open air museum seems to make the voyeuristic quality more physically interactive as there is an “imagined possibility of being discovered by the original owners as one snooped around their house.” The viewer is made to feel as if he is “breaking and entering the space of a display that had previously been off-limits” (Sandberg 347). The act of unnoticed observing is no longer just through passive gaze in museums that are open-air or use holography.

    Eco claims that “The ideology of this America wants to establish reassurance through imitation. But profit defeats ideology, because the consumers want to be thrilled not only by the guarantee of the Good but also by the shudder of the Bad” (Eco 57). However, there is always Bad in life, and such glimpses of Bad, such as lurking villains in Disneyland, makes the fantasy more realistic. In the end, Good always overcomes Bad in such idealistic settings. I would thus argue that the Bad makes the ideology seem more realistic and obtainable, and thus give a sense of hope.

    I wonder what the authors’ views on Body Works would be. Eco claims wax museums are popular in America because of our supposed obsession with kitsch and realism. However, the figures in Body Works are actual preserved bodies, rather than just models of wax. What then could be said of realism? There are interesting levels of reality within the wax museums. The material is fake, and the scenes range from models of real events to portrayals of absolute fantasy. Body Works seems reminiscent of the Morgue as described by Schwartz, but with more of a museum setting to add an air of dignity to the corpses. Body Works also has more of educational purpose along the lines of being a museum. Both Eco and Schwartz seem to argue that wax museums are popular because they are kitsch, because they represent the already familiar. Sandberg argues that realism occurs in folk museums as a sincere way to attempt to seem authentic. I suppose these authors may all view Body Works the same they do any other museum because of its use of the familiarity of the human body, even if its models differ by being actually real.

  5. The three sites of popular pleasure of the late nineteenth-century France presented in Vanessa R. Schwartz’s article, “Cinematic Spectatorship before the Apparatus: The Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris”, shocked me and intrigued me to this actuality of the masses somewhat grotesque and twisted interest in the “real”.

    Perhaps it is due to my previous cultural upbringing, but the concept of the ‘morgue visit’ as popular pleasure was quite the surprise to me when I first learned of this. Though there are many cultures that celebrate death and the deceased body, and though museum displays of mummified/deceased bodies are common practice, there is something unsettling when the recently dead is turned into an attraction at the specific site of the morgue. Both museum and the popularized nineteenth-century morgue presents essentially the same subject matter; a dead human body. What makes one, the museum, morally/culturally (though perhaps biases) tolerable, while the other, the morgue, somewhat unnerving. Perhaps the site itself helps create a preconceived verdict in our minds that completely shape our experiences of this subject matter. The fact that the museum is an “academic” institution, pre-activates our brains into schooling mode. Here, our minds are focused and directed with the objective of intellectual learning (though perhaps this is not all true, it may stand as a generalization). We are completely attentive and aware of ourselves, as well as the other visitor’s surveillance and gaze. We tend to act a certain way – the way commonly recognized as socially acceptable within that culture. Though, with the morgue, it is completely another story. The people attend the morgue as a means of pure entertainment. Perhaps much like when we visit an amusement park, the people visiting the morgues enter the environment with a more relaxed mind. The “academic” goal driven portions of the brain is turned off, and a more primitive, primal body takes over. Here, we are driven almost entirely by desire and the selfish need for stimulation of the pleasure center in our brains. Simplifying our cognitive capabilities, we care less of the others gaze and surveillance. Thus perhaps, we act more “natural”. Though interestingly, and as mentioned in the article “Travels in Hyperreality”, in both museum and morgue, we are still completely dependent and vulnerable to the entertainment creator’s ideals. In both cases, we are guided through the exhibits. Thus our experiences, though as genuine as it may seem, are one of pre-constructed episodes.

  6. This week’s readings discuss the negotiating of reality and fiction in commercial enterprises, museums, entertainment centers, cinema. Schwartz discusses how real life become identified with spectacle in turn of the century Paris, while spectacle began more and more to blur the boundaries between itself and reality. Morgues sensationalized deaths that were reported in the press, and in fact became “celebrated as public theater” (299). Meanwhile, wax museums tried to serve as living newspapers through their lifelike figures and detailed tableaus.

    Sandberg notes a similar tension in visual culture in his exploration of 19th century folk museums. Curators struggled to create an experiential connection between visitors and the artifacts on display. Mannequin effigies helped mediate, becoming both objects of attention themselves and vehicles for the actual folk artifacts on display. Folk museums experimented with elaborate dioramas, allowing visitors varying degrees of participation in the scene. Displays were intended to appear as if a scene was proceeding regardless of a visitor’s watching it (329), in some cases allowing visitors to walk amongst the objects as if they were peeking in on someone else’s home: “visitors could act out an extension of the voyeuristic fantasy by actually inserting themselves into the domestic space while the supposed inhabitants had ‘momentarily stepped out’” (334). Mannequins began to be phased out, replaced with live actors, though this risked threatening the hierarchy of viewing that depended on effigies not being able to return your gaze.

    Eco’s discussion of American theming and virtuality also contains this contradiction between real life and illusion—at the San Diego zoo, for example, there is a constant “oscillation between a promise of uncontaminated nature and a guarantee of negotiated tranquility” (51). In these cases, what appears most important is that the tension between reality and falsity is itself what draws visitors. The ambiguity and blurring of boundaries must remain in flux in order to hold its attractive power. Had the immersion been more totalizing, Sandberg writes that it might become “claustrophobic and panic inducing” (348). Instead, it works, because visitors have an easy way out as well as an easy way in. This “in-betweenness” of the experience is what gives it pleasure (354). In Disneyland, “the important thing is precisely the fact that these are not humand and we know they’re not. The pleasure of imitation…is one of the most innate in the human spirit” (Eco 46). The question becomes whether we become seduced by the fiction, preferring the faked nature to the real as it corresponds much better to our ideal fantasy.

  7. In trying to read through Eco’s condescension towards the Sun Belt and its bounty of institutions profiting off of fakery, I was fixated on the mental image of the Hearst Castle’s interior oversaturated with the accoutrements of the man’s massive wealth. Eco himself was struck by “the sense of fullness, the obsessive determination not to leave a single space that doesn’t suggest something, and hence the masterpiece of bricolage, haunted by horror vacui, that is here achieved (23).” The objects, authentic and recreated masterpieces spanning many cultures, suggest a drive to contrive the appearance of wealth that ironically made Hearst’s project uninhabitable. In this context and with the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, the nouveau riche haven’t cultivated the good taste necessary to display their prosperity; almost any act to do so is a disingenuous attempt to dress themselves in artificial historicity. I wonder if this hardline undermines the conventional hierarchy that Echo subscribes to whereby the American west is considered (culturally) less than its east coast counterpart. I’m well acquainted with idea of New York, especially when compared to Los Angeles, as the capstone of authenticity, a masterpiece of diverse architectural styles that are not fake by virtue of the “revivalist awareness of the period in which they were built” (28). This interpretation of realness brings me back to the material matter inside of the Hearst Castle. As Getty had demonstrated in trying to recapture in his museum villa the emotions he felt in the cultural reservoirs of Europe, it is not possible to separate the collector’s emotional life from his relationship to things. Although Hearst’s accumulation may have had the character of a vulgar vintage whose main aim was to announce his financial success, it nonetheless connected him to the cultural world from which his fake and real objects came. And perhaps in that connectedness and hyperawareness we can see a need for self-creation rooted in the quality of authenticity that Eco points out was elusive even for the greatest and oldest cultural halls of Europe and the architecture of New York City.

  8. Reading about contemporary reactions to the experience of spectation and spectacle, I was particularly interested in the contrast between the authors’ telling of how people experienced the transition between the exhibit and their normal habitat. Sandberg discusses how the Danish reaction to these exhibits is contrary to his expectation, in that they continue to praise the modern over an idealized past. I think there is something to his interpretation that an ability to choose between the tableaux of the past and present is a large part of the appeal of the museum exhibit, but I think this falls short as an explanation of the popularity of these folk museums. To compare, Eco and Schwartz both discuss types of museums that display simulacra intended explicitly for an experience of voyeurism centered around inspection theretofore well into the realm of taboo. In Eco’s case, the wax figures are an obvious manifestation of this, with celebrities or pop culture icons on plain display. In Schwartz’s case (to name one), the bodies in the morgue—being dead and unidentified—are by default anonymous and hence lose their identity as members of the society to which they used to belong. So the question is, if the folk museums are just a manifestation of this voyeurism at an even more “real” or fleshed-out level, why does the historical aspect, the “time travel,” matter that much? I think that it has a lot to do with what Eco terms as “past-izing” these tableaux—a confirmation that indeed, civilization has progressed, and look at the trains, the craftsmanship of the reproduction, the telegraph. And yet this tendency to create distance with the past is consistent with the sense of voyeurism produced by all of these examples, in that for that sense to germinate, one must distance oneself from the subject of voyeurism by some means (either by entering in an exhibit, by relying on anonymity, dehumanizing, etc.), to allow the cultural taboo to be lifted and the fascination bridled by that taboo to be released.

  9. I was a little perturbed at the condescension Eco displayed towards the American wax museums. Eco claimed that the scenes themselves were not historically accurate since the juxtaposition of different historical figures and eras was oneiric to the point where reality becomes indistinguishable from fantasy. Perhaps this is true, but it is dubious if this illusion is what is sought by visitors; as Schwartz points out, the “modern social order dominated by celebrity and based on popularity” seems to be much more in line with the popularity of wax museums (306). Schwartz’s argument that “the wax museum materialized that new social order based on the whims of the crowd” makes much more sense as it is still visible and relevant today: the most recent additions to the wax museums internationally include contemporary pop sensations Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga (306). It is clear that the wax museums swift response to contemporary figures such as celebrities separates it as a distinct kind of ‘museum of entertainment’ different from the traditional educational model. Where is the educational value of displaying wax works of current celebrities?

    Besides, I don’t think America is the sole perpetrator as Eco leads us to believe. Is it strange that the largest wax museum company, Madame Tussauds, began in Europe? Or the fact that wax museums were considered a place of folly and silly entertainment there as it is in America? Eco suggests that Americans idolize the wax museum as if it were the pinnacle of high art, something to be sought after, or admired. The only admiration in wax museums would not be for the artistic value or historical knowledge gained but at the meticulousness of the craft. Also, given the enormous size of American’s film industry and the increasingly fanatical obsession with celebrities, it makes sense why wax museums would be more bountiful in America, especially Los Angeles. I doubt the popularity of these museums stemmed from an uniquely American obsession with hyperreality or a need for fantasy. It says something greatly about the lack of dissimilarities between Americans and Europeans if Disneyland Paris is the most visited tourist attraction in all of Europe. Doesn’t it?

  10. Michael Price

    One thing that interested me within the readings was the many ways in which the attractions described played with the passage of time. The simulation of a temporal evolution of a narrative through spatial/architectural strategies such as in the panoramas described by Schwartz (like the 1889 panorama of La Touraine, where viewers boarded a vessel and then went up a set of stairs to find themselves in the open air or out at sea, p.314) really foreshadows the development of film to deliver automatic time-based visual narratives. Following a similar strategy, the sequential wax museum displays of crimes or other recent news stories at various stages of their development respond to the real time of the press (by virtue of their ‘current events’ subject matter), which creates an interesting doubly-layered relationship to time that is not present in, say, the frozen snapshot of the construction of the Eiffel tower. The wax-museum news stories are also fascinating because of the way that they offer an immersion into the virtual world of the published stories in the same way that the morgue offered an aperture into those stories (though that is not the only attraction of the morgue). I was also reminded of the Taiwanese tabloid that routinely posts (rather eerie) 3d computer animated reenactments of recent news stories to the internet (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/mf_appledaily/all/1), which seek to provide the same experience of immersion into these current stories (if no longer spatial, at least visual/temporal) without any primary source props – just pure fabrication of motion
    Also, on the subject of time, I found Eco’s detail of the sheep of Old Bethpage Village really strange- that the animals have undergone, through breeding, a physical change that renders them anachronistic in their themed environment, and that there would be a desire to regain, though those same techniques, the ‘lost’ breed. The question of the real, the duplicate, and the fake is of course prevalent and blurry throughout this entire piece, but when something like the future of a species is predicated on the reconstruction/theming of an environment, suddenly it seems like much more is at stake.

  11. Ned Myerberg

    Eco talks about America’s desire for authentic copies of the past as a way of indefinitely preserving that which is gone –duplication as immortality. He mentions the full-scale replica of the LBJ oval office at Johnson’s presidential library in Austin as an example of such a duplication. It’s a fabricated space that directly references an historical one, one that actually existed. Sandberg writes about the dioramas of the early Swedish folk museums which recreated pre-modern Swedish homes and placed within them properly dressed mannequins to play the roles of the people who may have occupied them in the past. But what to make of the audio-animatronic robots of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The spectacle of “reality” reaches its apex in such a ride. No diorama, no movie, nor any outdoor museum engages as many senses in the spectator as the Disneyland ride where one moves through a three-dimensional space populated by animated bodies speaking. Yet this space, this experience refers more to legend, literature and the imagination of its creators than to anything historical, anything that actually existed. What’s particularly interesting about this is how the medium of the fabricated space and the mannequin–the hyperreal landscape–is used both for representations of history (museum/library) as well as a pure entertainment (theme park). The blurred boundary between documentary and fiction in cinema is often discussed–the fictionalized often being interpreted as real–does the same blur not exist between the museum diorama and the theme park ride? Do the theme rides of Disneyland not conjure up pasts that never existed–worlds that refer not to anything real but to mere legend and fable?

  12. The common point in the three articles is that they all mention the wax museum as a point of comparison but the three texts focus on different aspects in relation to it. Schwartz discusses the situation in Fin-de-siècle in Paris where ”real life was experienced as a show at the same time that shows became increasingly lifelike.(297)” Schwartz frames spectatorship within a particular moment in history with examples of the Paris Morgue, wax museums, and panoramas. Public voyeurism, or flânerie, is practiced by the visitors and residents to Paris around this period, the spectacles becoming more realistic and functioning as a sort of moving press, or “living newspaper.(304)” An interesting fact about the wax museums Schwartz points out is that unlike traditional pantheons and museums which carried selective and relatively static collections, the wax museums, Musée Grévin in particular, “boasted of its range and inclusiveness(306),” and that the museum had a rapidly changing collection that was contingent to the public’s interest of the time. This expansion of the variety of temporal qualities and range of museum collections makes an interesting parallel to the increased accessibility of royal palaces and gardens turned into more public spheres which we have been discussing in the past in class. Another interesting contradiction to this fact is also that while the wax museum broke away with the traditional museums in a way by their inclusiveness and range of material, they still provided its viewers with visual privileges (instead of social ones as ancient palaces used to do) by providing multiple perspectives (panoramic views) and sometimes by providing an apparent proximity to wax figures of celebrities.

    Sandberg’s text focuses more on the folk museums that came about in Scandinavia between 1870 and 1905. The dilemma he highlights of folk museums is that while folk museums try to provide a place of traditional culture, as opposed to modernity, they way in which items are exhibited promotes the popular modern practice of spectatorship, and of an increasingly visual culture. To display traditional objects in a way that would deny the “representational status” or display (235), the folk museums adopt the “functionalist” display(325) approach, in which the objects are restored in to specific contexts to introduce a narrative into the objects. Sandberg highlights the “surveyability and seemingly direct experience(328)” achieved by folk museums. I believe that in contemporary art, some artists strive to achieve the same effects, especially through interactive and participation art, for example, sound installation art pieces which react to the action of the viewers. It was very intriguing the view the connection between wax museums and contemporary art pieces which are more interactive. Another interesting idea that we can further explore in class is the role of a guidebook or catalogue in a museum, and what effects does it have on the collections. Sandberg comments on the narrative character of guidebooks but does it serve any other functions in the contemporary art world? What does it mean to not have guidelines for an art piece and why would some artists do it intentionally? Some artists refuse to give any explanation to their pieces, sometimes even naming their pieces “untitled.”

    Finally, in Eco’s text, it was very interesting to see how Florida’s Disney World went further then wax museums in that they openly admit the fakeness or surrealistic nature of the things they display, but still employ methods to make them look as realistic as possible. An intriguing concept Eco introduces is the idea that “the frantic desire for the Almost Real arises only as a neurotic reaction to the vacuum of memories; the Absolute Fake is offspring of the unhappy awareness of a present without depth.”(30) He provides an interesting insight into the American culture and its obsession with realism and also into “an America of furious hyperreality(7).” It would be interesting to look at other cases in the contemporary world (whether or not in America) where we can find instances of obsession with realism and hyperreality in class.

  13. Alice Hines

    Several of my classmates asked in their posts about the continual relevance of Eco’s 1975 essay “Travels in Hyperreality.” While Eco’s essay remains very pointed critique of certain sites of spectacle, I think the way viewers experience these sites has evolved. In particular, I wonder if the class divides between intellectual and popular still exists as Eco describes them.

    At the very beginning of his essay, Eco states that this cultural phenomenon of hyperreality is associated with a certain class, “. . .a more secret America (or rather, just as public, but snubbed by the European visitor and also the American intellectual).” (7) Later, he writes, “If America is the country of the Guggenheim museum or the new skyscrapers of Manhattan, then Disneyland is a curious exception and American intellectuals are quite right to refuse to go there. But if America is what we have seen in the course of our trip, then Disneyland is its sistine Chapel . . .” (48)

    Eco argues that the “Disneyland” side of America resolves an obsession with reality by producing very convincing, or “absolute” fakes. The masses take pleasure in different aspects of this hyperreality: perceiving the totality or completeness of a fantasy world (Disney), in experiencing history preserved or recreated “as it once was” (the Getty), or the pure visual spectacle of somewhere like Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Most all of his example imply an uncritical reception on the part of the spectator. According to Eco, all of these fakes ultimately serve to quell fears about death.

    Eco’s tone, combined with this larger argument about escapism and death, suggest a viewer who takes pleasure in being tricked or convinced by the copy. His essay also implies a position of “critical” viewer—Eco and the reader—who are able to look without being immersed. The critical viewer would understand these sites as “kitsch,” a word Eco uses several times to mean “cliché” or “in bad taste.” (10, 19) He would recognize the irony, or disjunction, of the “realism” of a wax sculpture, or of nouveau-riche attempts at elegance in something like the Hearst castle.

    If attitudes towards reality and hyperreality has evolved, it has something to do the spread of an ironic, kitsch-conscious perspective among both “intellectual” and “popular” classes. Eco writes that intellectuals never visit Disneyworld—today, I think that many do. In “Rhetoric, Authenticity, and Reception,” Harwood also points out that Disneyworld has ended up attracting visitors it was not designed for.

    I wonder if today’s visitors go to Disneyworld neither as “critics” nor “robots,” but something in between. Parents take their children as part of a childhood ritual, and end up finding the experience both enjoyable and repulsive. The pleasure of experiencing Disney World as an adult comes from talking about how ridiculous the place is as you follow your child around to all the rides. (For a great example of this attitude is the 2009 Slate.com article “The mecca of the Mouse.”)

    Today, intellectuals are more ready to embrace a kitsch aesthetic; meanwhile, everyone is expected to criticize or mock the pop culture they consume. Many current spectacles demand their viewers not to take them at face value. Reality television great example this. For all viewers, even those who identify somewhat with what’s on screen, the pleasure of watching comes from criticizing and distancing oneself from the “absurd” spectacle. I think this attitude of ironic distance that we tend to assume even while immersing ourselves in pop culture is particular to our time, and perhaps something that has evolved since Eco wrote his piece.

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