An early description of the way contemporary culture is now full of re-creations and themed environments was provided by Umberto Eco. In a brilliant essay, Eco saw that we create these realistic fabrications in an effort to come up with something that is better than real — a description that is true of virtually all fiction and culture, which gives us things that are more exciting, more beautiful, more inspiring, more terrifying, and generally more interesting than what we encounter in everyday life. In his description of Disney, Eco also saw that behind the facades lurks a sales pitch. Put these ideas together and you have a succinct characterization of the age, which is forever offering us something that seems better than real in order to sell us something. That makes Umberto Eco one of the forerunners of contemporary thinking on this subject.
Over the past two decades, human ingenuity has made it possible to create all kinds of fakes and simulations that are so realistic it is getting hard to distinguish many of them from what they imitate. The process is already so far advanced that, today, a substantial part of our surroundings are made up of objects and images and people that appear to be something other than what they are. There are sugar substitutes and Elvis look alikes; Sy Sperling hairpieces and replicas of great art; soy burgers and false teeth; female impersonators and artificially colored food; lip-sync artists who pretend to be vocalists and television commercials that are disguised to look like talk shows.Continue reading