The Magic Mirror to our Relationship with Reality

Critical History Studies Written Thesis, Royal College of Art, 2020
Awared distinction and published in the RCA files 

“All it takes is faith and trust.”
- Peter Pan

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Today, hyperreality is a familiar condition – whereby the ‘real’ is not reliant upon a physical origin2. Our lives seamlessly traverse through the physical and simulated realms – we exist through Zoom, Facebook, Google, Netflix – laptops, phones, and tablets. The development of media and technology continually transforms how we live – with these changes, our understanding of reality is challenged. Not bound to the elusive confines of philosophers, metaphysical questioning is part of the human condition –    to question, what is really there? Our understanding of metaphysics determines how we structure society – how we create a shared experience and work together. Consequently, shifts in our understanding of reality have profound, sprawling effects. This thesis will explore these changes arising from the phenomenon of hyperreality.

To study the implications of this shifting relationship, Disney3 is used as a mirror to contemporary culture. Disney’s content reveals both the evolution of media and technology, whilst documenting the impact, responses, and contradictions of these changes. As a magic mirror, Disney’s work is simultaneously cause and effect for the hyperreal condition. Spanning the past hundred years, Disney’s work has transformed in tandem with wider media development – ideologically flexible, Disney’s work can be seen as a reflection of the popular:

“its ability to adapt to changing audience concerns or interests… like a magic mirror that provides viewers the sort of reflections they desire.” 4

This enabled Disney to grow from the small animation studio in the 1920s to the media giant of today – consisting of production studios; theme parks; broadcast services; streaming services; theatre groups; music groups; cruises; towns - not to mention all of the companies Disney Parents: Marvel; Pixar; 21st Century Fox, to name but a few. Using Disney as a mirror recognises the significance of media in contemporary life – that media reflects (and, somewhat is) the zeitgeist of contemporary society.