Venice Beach is California at its best: the diversity, irreverence, and playfulness of Venice Beach attracts millions of visitors every year. 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, then it became a rich portion of LA. The average house prices are above a million – it is not cheap to live in your dreams. In recent years, the slum is returning: homelessness is persistent, and growing.
One of the graffities says “history is myth.” If it is true, then the present is also a myth. California is a place where dreams sometimes become reality, and new mythologies are still getting created. LA has Hollywood, the Bay Area has Silicon Valley. People want dreams. From Star Trek to Facebook and Google, reality gets fabricated as a dream, rather than encountered in the challenges 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 on the beach, with eternal sunshine. Fiction and reality blend together, facilitated by a sophisticated drug culture. 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 primary reality. People get swallowed up into the entertainment machine, and the hyper-real world is more interesting and stimulating than the real physical and social world, with its transience, trash, drugs, crimes, and homelessness.
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 clearly fascinated by this 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)