Venice Beach, the Hyperreality of California

Venice Beach is California at its best: the diversity, irreverence, and playfulness of Venice Beach attracts millions of visitors every year, and whenever I am in LA, I feel a strong urge to go there. With all its diversity, it seems to remain what it always was: Street shops for tattoos, marijuana, and T-shirts, entertainers performing their shows with sizable audiences, graffiti, ballgames, roller-blades, and tourists. There is a back side, an older portion of town in the back alleys,  with small houses, and occasionally you find a corner where the homeless and poor young travelers congregate. Venice Beach was once a slum, but now it is a rich portion of LA. The average house prices are above a million – it is not cheap to participate in the dream.

One of the graffitis says “history is myth.” If it is true, then the present is also a myth. California is a place where dreams can come true, new myths are getting created, and this process almost incidentally generates close to infinite wealth. People want dreams. Hollywood and Silicon Valley, From Star Trek to Facebook and Google, reality gets fabricated as a dream rather than encountered as the challenge we face in our daily lives. Some postmodern European philosophers coined the term “hyper-reality” for it, and nowhere can this be studied more clearly than in Venice Beach. Here, life is a party. Fiction and reality blend together, and it becomes difficult to distinguish reality from its simulation. The show is real, and reality is nothing but a show. The spectators become a part of the performance. and virtual reality is the only reality left. People merge with the entertainment machine, and the hyper-real world is more interesting and stimulating than the physical real world.

In the lyrics of the American rock-band “Talking Heads”:

I’m looking and I’m dreaming for the first time
I’m inside and I’m outside at the same time
And everything is real
Do I like the way I feel? …
Television made me what I am …
(I’m a) television man.

And in the words of Baudrillard, who was undoubtedly fascinated by the new world: “Abstraction today is no longer the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory … it is the map that engenders the territory,” Baudrillard (1983a: 2)