A post written since the death of Jade Goody can be found here.
The term hyperreality is one that is used to characterise our inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Those such as Jean Baudrillard identify hyperreality as a means of viewing ‘reality by proxy’, one where the viewer of ‘reality tv’ for instance begins to live in the non-existent world of the Big Brother house or other constructed reality even though it is not an accurate depiction of life or living. For him, ‘reality’ becomes something that is therefore non-existent.
No more true is the non-existence of reality than in the unfolding tragedy that is Jade Goody. Goody’s ‘reality’ is that she’s been diagnosed with cancer and – so far – any treatment for it has failed to respond. If reports are to be believed, her chances of survival are slender. Undeniably for Goody her cancer is real, despite the need for publicist Max Clifford to distribute a press release confirming that it was not a ‘publicity stunt’. For the viewer, her cancer is probably far more hyperreal given that she was told of it in front of the cameras while she was taking part in the Indian version of Big Brother.
If there is such a thing, the ‘reality’ of Goody is that she is a construct for populist entertainment and delication: a mere common, village idiot or empowered role model and bad-girl-turned-good, depending upon your particular opinion. Either way, it is highly unlikely that since her first appearance in Big Brother 3 some eight or so years ago, many have failed to garner some entertainment from her ‘reality’.
Yet now, with the realisation of her increasingly serious cancer, there is little entertainment to be had: whether that be from hearing about how the cameras should continue to run through the most intimate of details being splashed across garish tabloid headlines to how the slow and tragic death of a young mother will be framed for an ever more voyeuristic audience. Whist in reality there would appear to be no fun left in Goody’s constructed persona, Team Goody are probably at this moment brainstorming new ways in which to exploit the situation Goody currently finds herself in. No more entertainment but that doesn’t necessarily curtail opportunities to further commodify Goody or to make more money.
In the same way that Jim Carrey’s character in the award winning film ‘The Truman Show’ was trapped in a hyperreal world, so it seems that Jade Goody is a victim of much the same. Whether her status of victim is a ‘reality’ however is open to question, given that she has on many, many occasions presented herself – or been presented? – as the ultimate ‘survivor’ also: overcoming adversity time and again. Unlike Truman however, it doesn’t appear that Goody’s life has been so controlled. As Deborah Orr noted in the Independent last week, the ‘reality’ of Goody just seemed to spontaneously occur out of a desperate and confusing cultural milieu.
The saddest part of this entire episode is the grotesqueness of it all. Having been bought and sold as a living soap opera, it seems that Goody now has no way out of what is without doubt being shown to be a badly written script. Despite this, many millions continue to tune in, their insatiable appetite seemingly never-ending. A reflection on the reality of the distasteful society we currently live in or merely a window into a even more distasteful world of celebrity culture where being famous can be a reality for those that are only hyperreally famous? That question remains unanswerable but if as Umberto Eco defines hyperreality as the ‘authentic fake’ is correct, then there are few that would disagree that the unfolding tragic comedy that is Goody isn’t just that.
At the climax of ‘The Truman Show’, Carrey’s character says to a watching audience of millions:
“In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”
He bows and steps into the real world through the door that takes him into normality and anonymity. Surely it is time now for Goody to step into that world too. The tragedy for her though is that not only is it unclear what the ‘real world’ is for her but that death – despite its finality and unquestionable reality – will also come to her in such a way that any sense of ‘reality’ will be non-existent.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.