Thursday, 10 November 2011

Real food?

The food industry offers further examples of simulation. My favourite example of this is Chicken Tikka.
The perception of Chicken Tikka as foreign and exotic is in fact a misconception, as the dish was actually invented in the UK – most probably Glasgow (BBC, 2009). This was an attempt by Indian restaurants to provide for the milder British taste. 

As this is now thought of by most people in the UK as a traditional Indian dish, it becomes more real than the reality of actual traditional Indian dishes – Baudrillard’s ‘hyper-real’.

This trend is apparent across a huge number of food types, as food hyperreal is killing off the real. For example, there was a Jamie Oliver show on channel 4 where he showed children a range of processed (burgers, hot-dogs etc) and unprocessed meats (e.g. a chicken carcass). The children identified the burgers as cow, or sausages as pork – but couldn’t guess correctly what animal the unprocessed chicken was. 

This example is again apparent if we consider fruit. As genetic modification of fruit grows, we are beginning to view ‘real’ apples as weird looking or unappetising – instead wanting the ‘perfect’ hyperreal ones. I imagine a few hundred years ago there were no apples that looked like this:

And more that looked like this:
But let us think back further. Are braeburns, for example, real? In fact, they are the product of earlier methods of breeding that entirely changed apples. This is another key point from Baudrillard – sometimes what we think is real, when contrasted with new simulations, are in fact simulations themselves! The new simulations provide an alibi for the previous simulations. 

Baudrillard’s example of this is Disney Land. Disney Land acts as an alibi for the rest of America. The rest of America, too, ‘is Disney land’ he says – that is, the rest of America is also a fantasy world detached from the real – there is childish behaviour and fakery all over America. But because Disney Land is another layer on top of this, we start thinking America is the real. 

Simulation is not about what signs are real – not about: is Disney Land real? Are apples real? Is Chicken Tikka real? Instead, it is about masking the fact that the real is not real. 

I don’t want to get too far into the wider conclusions just yet – I’ll save them for a  final post on all this – now with examples from the adult entertainment industry, computer games industry and food industry I have plenty material to draw conclusions from.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Are computer games changing our reality?

Computer games often reflect real world activities with an added hint of fantasy – but how is this fantasy changing and becoming our reality?

The only games I’m really into are football (soccer) games, so we’ll start there. I know for starter’s that the player ratings in these games often influence my friends’ opinions on which players are good in real life. (It should be noted that this is especially true of those friend’s who prefer the game to watching real football).

So as an example, one of my mates is convinced that Fulham’s Moussa Dembele is God’s gift to football and has for too long been overlooked for the ballon d’or award. A bit of a reality check with some youtube videos, and I am still not convinced. 

This is perhaps even more true on games such as football manager. The game maker’s have a network of scouts that give player ratings across the world. These ultimately impact many fans’ opinions of the real life players (we are easily influenced creatures). 

More than just alter perceptions of reality, many computer games can totally change a person’s reality to something else. I’m thinking here of ‘Second Life’ type games, or equally World of Warcraft. I’ve got my fair share of friends who are obsessed with these types of games – and I enjoy hearing the horror stories of WoW players who live their ‘real’ lives just to facilitate them maximising their online lives. 

That is, they work just so they can pay their subscription – or more likely, still in their mom’s basement, they just get by on the bare nutrition scraped from toast and pop-tarts, just so they can get those few extra minutes on the game. They sacrifice everything but the ultimate basics in real life so they can maximise their lives in the game. In this way, the simulation is more important than reality, and so supersedes it. 

So in this sense these games may change our perception of the reality. Do they really change the ‘reality’ itself though? 

(All this is assuming there is something that is ‘real’ that is more than just people’s perceptions. What else is there?).  

I want to move away from these extreme examples for a moment and look at a very common one instead. Social media. Facebook brings our social interactions away from the face-to-face, and puts them online. We write messages, send links and instant message people instead of seeing them in real life. 

Our social relationships are increasingly being stripped of many elements that were present say a century ago. First, the percentage of relationships spent face to face has decreased. Furthermore, the percentage of time speaking, rather than typing, to each other is decreasing.

The logic behind this modern communication is that it is quicker and easier. We are told this so often that it often takes over our logic. For example, I increasingly catch myself tempted to text or IM a friend rather than calling them up – even though I know phoning them up would be quicker, easier and more effective really.
So again, having looked at a few examples of how computer games and computerised communication have simulated our real lives and social relationships, I return to ask what are the wider points we can draw from this. 

The football games and Second Life instances shows that simulations are a powerful force in forming our opinions of ‘reality’.  In fact, it becomes very unclear what ‘reality’ is, if not our perceptions. I don’t want to become bogged down in a ‘what is reality’ debate, (which I think mainly comes down to linguistics)– but these examples of simulations are powerful reminders that what we perceive as real is very readily influenced and transformed. 

Moreover, Facebook and WoW both exemplify how social relationships are increasingly simulated and imitated online. By putting them online, they are in a place that opens up capital opportunities – to subscribe to a service, or for advertising.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

How has porn changed sex?

N.B I have made a sincere effort to try and keep the innuendos to a minimum. I tried, I really did. 

In my last post, I outlined how certain simulations of real phenomena were overtaking those real phenomena as what we though of as real – imitations were now realer than real. I suggested that porn is an example of this – and now I want to explore in more detail if and exactly how porn has changed sex.  

First, I just want to get clear what I am talking about.The majority of research on this area seems to be exploring whether porn has changed our sexual drives – does it make us want more, or less, or does it make men more violent? These are not the questions I am looking to answer. I want to know if porn has changed our sexual behaviour in the way we have sex. 

Furthermore, many will point out that porn has liberalised our views on sex. By making the subject more widely available, it has made it more open. To give an example: my research tells me that anal sex is now more popular than ever. This might suit explanations such as a) porn has made men more violent, and anal sex is seen as a power trip or b) porn has liberalised our views on sex so couples are more open to experimentation/ trying out new things. So if either of these explanations have some truth in them, then yes, porn has changed sex. 

What I really want to know is, has porn as the simulation of sex changed the reality of sex. That is, has sex been changed in ways that are solely down to porn being a simulation. A strong answer to this means I’ll have to separate the effects of porn as simulator from porn as liberator or porn as power manifestation.
There happens to be quite a straightforward way of establishing this. Because it is by definition the visual portrayal of sex, we know that porn emphasises the visual over the sensual/ tactile/ feeling. So porn is closer than sex to visual; sex is closer than porn to tactile. 

So my guess, at this point, would be: we can establish the effects of the porn simulation by seeing whether an overemphasis on visual aspects has increased relative to the tactile aspects in sex. The first example that springs to mind is plastic surgery.  

A little more research, and I’ve come up with a list of ways porn has changed sex, some logic behind each, and some studies to back them up:

·         Plastic Surgery: With fake boobs, the emphasis is on appearance, not touch. (There will be some argument that they don’t look good anyway, but I think most would agree at least that porn emphasises the visual over the tactile to a greater degree than exists in ‘reality’). Are women now having more cosmetic surgery? Yes. 

·         Brazilians:  Naomi Wolf, who I’m going to talk about later, gives this fascinating insight from behind enemy lines: ‘(In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.)’
·         If this is not evidence enough, these above two trends are backed up by research from the German Society for Social Scientific Sexuality Research which suggests porn is behind these fashions.
·         The above two points are the ones I feel more sure asserting, and the ones for which I have ‘hard evidence’. 

·         Girl on girl: This is visually arousing for men, as the porn industry seems to have discovered. Women tend to be depicted as voraciously bisexual in porn. As a result, girls apparently feel pressure to participate in girl on girl kissing and threesomes.  

·         Money-shots: Can argue its based on showing the ejaculation more clearly. It doesn’t seem like something that gives much tactile enjoyment to the woman. I am led to believe that this is a newer phenomenon....though that may just be a strong attempt to believe that my grandparents were not doing this kind of stuff!

It’s easy to see how this process has happened. This all happens because porn is now the primary source of sex education for young men. Monkey see, monkey do – and it becomes typical sexual practice.
So what are the big themes of modern living we can pull out from this? One is an emphasis on the visual, the way things look, over the way things really are (if it still makes sense to say that, given that the way they ‘are’ changes). 

Another is the overwhelming power of fashion – I mean, money shots are just ridiculous, with real life people replicating them, just makes me laugh. But more than that, that fashions can drive couples to doing ridiculous acts to imitate porn is quite scary at the same time. 

Another point to consider is whether porn is changing our relationship with sex. Naomi Wolf’s article, here, is an interesting one – she believes the prevalence of porn has reduced men’s libido, as they replace sex to an extent with porn. As a result, women suffer and feel pressure to change their behaviour to compete with porn stars (in the ways I suggested above, for example). 

I’m not sure I agree entirely with Wolf’s argument – I don’t think she provides much evidence that this is the case other than talking to a few university students. (I don’t blame her – I suppose much of this article is similarly inspired). But porn does represent a new development in our sexual behaviour – and one that happens to be a multi-billion dollar industry. 

It so happens that this simulation of sex has led to a huge industry, which did not exist previously (the prostitution industry does not compare).  This ties into a big theme of this realer than real stuff: simulations change the reality to create capital opportunities. In modern society, social relationships have been simulated in order to create capital opportunities. 

This is going to be a big theme of my next posts, on computer games and processed food – which I hope will help develop this point further. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Realer than real?

The idea I want to look at for my first few blog posts is this: we now live in an age where simulations of reality have overtaken the reality itself. The imitations of real things are now seen as more ‘real’ than the original objects we began with. Losing your attention with this technical stuff?

To give an example which makes things clearer: pornography. Got your attention now. Porn simulates the real act of having sex. But it is not an exact copy – there are certain different things. These are mainly based on sacrificing the tactile and over-emphasising the visual. Porn has changed our sex lives; a simulation has changed the reality of our lives – so it is now more real than the real. 

In my second blog post, I’m going to do some...research...into if and how porn has changed the reality of sex. After that, I’m going to look at a couple more instances in modern life that are now realer than real: computer games and processed food. Then I’m gonna reflect on these three topics and think about what all this ‘realer than real’ stuff means. 

These questions will include: if things aren’t real now, were they ever real? Is this then part of some bigger process about the way things change? Is this a good or bad thing? What does it mean for us?

Another note: In this blog, I’m going to try and steer clear of technical, academic style writing. I want to talk about everyday things in everyday language – even if I am applying complex concepts to them. Instead, I’ll leave a footnote on where some of these ideas come from, and where are the best places to read more about them.  
So, in this case, these ideas come from the work of Jean Baudrillard. He talks about simulations in far more depth (read: a lot more confusingly) – if you want to read more of Baudrillard, I recommend The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Also,’ Simulacra and Simulation’ is more on topic for what I’m talking about, but I found that a lot less readable.

Test post

Here's just a test post. This blog is going to be an introspective look at subjects that interest me - sport, travel, food, and music for starters - with an economics style approach.