Living in the age of the unreal: Exploring Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality in the graphic narrative

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Renowned French cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard, became known for his radical ways of seeing the world–not in the real, but rather in the hyperreal. For Baudrillard, hyperreality occurs because society lives in a technologically rich society where media largely shape and filter what we see and the authentic reality is replaced by the mediated real, the hyperreal. Although not always accepted in academic circles, his work has influenced ways in which scholars look at and understand the reach of the mediated image, both static and dynamic. One popular form of static imagery is comics art. Comics are a rich and unique form of symbolic expression: mediated discourse with the potential to shape and frame a reader’s point of view on subjects that range from the fantastical to the real. As such, this dissertation explores the relationship between comics art (e.g., comic books, strips, graphic novels, etc.), Baudrillard’s theory of the hyperreal, rhetoric, and the impact this relationship has on targeted audiences like technical communicators and scholars of visual rhetoric. Using discourse analysis, I first analyze scholarly and professional writing about the hyperreal. With this data, I then created a conceptualization comprised of nine descriptive statements that further describes complexities of hyperreality. Next, I survey both producers and consumers of comics art to gather their opinions about the role of reality and believability in comics art. With this data, I create a second conceptualization with five descriptive statements that provide insight into more effective production techniques for developing believable texts. Finally, I offer suggestions on the way in which hyperreality can be utilized to improve professional communications, through both theory and practice.

Comics art, Comics, Comic books, Graphic novel, Graphic narrative, Rhetoric, Hyperreality, Believability, Communication, Technical communication