My Real Imaginary Friends:
iCarly and the Power of Hyperreality

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Spring 2011, Volume 10, Issue 1
http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2011/latouche.htm

 

Jason LaTouche
Tarleton State University


Television is an intimate media form. Viewers gather together weekly in their homes surrounded by friends and families to watch the unfolding storylines of their favorite shows. As they watch week after week, they feel increasingly close to the characters. This closeness can lead viewers into a false sense of intimacy. Viewers may come to believe that they know these characters. In this sense, viewers’ television "friends" can begin to feel almost real.
           
From its earliest beginnings, television producers have attempted to foster these feeling of intimacy by trading on elements of hyperreality. Directors have used camera production techniques to convince viewers of the verisimilitude of their creations. Television plotlines have been sowed with elements of real political and social issues to make them seem relevant and thus more real. Similarly, some shows have blended elements of their actors’ lived personal histories with fictional story elements to blur the boundary between the real and the fake.

However, with the rise of online interactivity the ability of television shows to create "fictional reality" has dramatically altered. For by harnessing the ability of the internet to foster intimate forms of connections between viewers and the television shows they consume, producers can magnify their ability to create hyperreal worlds. Over the past three years, the television show iCarly has been at the forefront of harnessing these new forms of interaction.

First airing on the Nickelodeon children’s network in 2007 and still in production in 2010, iCarly has grown in popularity to become the most popular live action children’s show on television (Keveney 8D; Levin). In fact, its popularity is such that iCarly has often been the most watched non-sports related live action show, children’s or adult’s, on all of cable television (Keveney 8D; Levin). All of which makes it only more relevant that iCarly is actively leading the way in creating a hyperreal fusion between television and online media.

As Baudrillaird defined it, hyperreality is “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” and the “substituting of the signs of the real for the real” (178). By this, he was indicating that in an increasingly postmodern world simulations of reality are coming to supersede the real things that they were or are echoes of. Living in a time of rapid change and overwhelming amounts of information, people turn to simulations because they are superior to the original in their presentation of a version of reality that is a better, more appealing world than actual reality (Bogard 4-5; Croissant 337; Wallace 38).
           
These hyperrealities are more appealing precisely because they are not attempting to become true reflections of reality. In other words, hyperrealites are not attempting to be placeholders for reality, nor are they attempting to copy reality (Baudrillaird 167-168; Bogard 4; Heyd 16). Rather, these hyperrealities become the end point of interaction themselves. As Umberto Eco noted, the logic of hyperreality is that it does not create a desire for the original model but instead supplants the original model, ultimately to remove “the need for the original” (19).

Indeed, consumers of hyperreality come to see hyperreal experiences as enjoyable and even authentic in their own right (Croissant 335-336). For in its construction of experience, hyperreality adopts a veneer of authenticity, echoing elements of the real to magnify its own internal legitimacy (Carson 232; Wallace 48-49). The effort of construction of the hyperreality becomes a marker of its authenticity. In other words, audiences embrace the hyperreal by seeking markers of legimitacy, signs that the hyperreal has been constructed upon an authentic framework. Yet these markers need not be objective edifices but rather gain their authenticity if they play to their audience’s subjective interpretations of reality (Bukatman 66; Carson 231; Wallace 35). Hence, individual experience rather than external authenticity becomes the defining characteristic of hyperreality (Carson 231).  The hyperreal experience becomes authentic by making its audience complicit in its simulation, by evoking echoes of "authentic" reality to trigger individual investment in the "authentic" hyperreal experience (Carson 23; Croissant 335-337; Wallace 35, 48-49).

In an increasingly complex world driven by visual stimulation and information overload, the hyperreal becomes a comfortable way to situate oneself. When the world provides “too much diversity and divergence of interaction rituals,” individuals lose the ability to become highly emotionally invested and, as a result, routinize their interactions (Allan and Turner 379). In such an environment, people do not seek experiences that require them to engage and decipher expectations and experiences as they are constantly overwhelmed with the need to do this in their overloaded world. Instead, people turn to "authentic" hyperreal experiences that are better than their everyday realities because they provide comfort from the everyday world’s pressures. Hyperreal experiences do this precisely by being less real. They require less cognitive work and promise to deliver more "experience" than the real world has to offer. Hyperreal interaction then becomes a heightened form of interaction in which individuals can live out versions of "reality" superior to the everyday world.

The rise of digital technology has facilitated this transition. Indeed, it has been noted that the "web is hyperreality" because on the web "the distinctions between representations and their physical referents becomes increasingly blurred" (Berthon, Pitt, and Watson 270-271).  Digital interaction removes us from "rea"’ relations even with ourselves. In the hyperreality of the digital world, identity becomes increasingly fragmented as people take on numerous competing identities and increasingly define themselves in terms of media rather than social relations (Allan and Turner 370; Berthon, Pitt, and Watson 269).

iCarly, taken together as a television show and as a web presence, plays directly with this blurring of the authentic and the stimulation of desire for the hyperreal. Of course, iCarly is not the first television show to trade on elements of hyperreality. However, iCarly is taking hyperreality to a mainstream audience in newer ways than its predecessors.

As early as the 1950s, I Love Lucy played with blending elements of the real and fake in ways that served to create a hyperreal space for viewers. Airing from 1951 to 1957, I Love Lucy was a situation comedy about the marriage of Lucy and Ricky. These two characters were played by real life married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This raised the question of whether or not the television show reflected the real life marriage of the actors on the show. In the show’s most famous blurring of reality, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz arranged to air an episode of the show in which the character of Lucy would be having a baby at the same time as the real life planned caesarean delivery of Lucille Ball’s baby (Radio). The show then made the unconventional choice to proceed to have Lucy and Ricky’s baby age naturally over the course of the series, keeping pace with the actual aging of Lucille and Desi’s real life son. Many viewers came to believe that the Little Ricky character on the show was Lucille and Desi’s real life son when, in fact, the part was played by an actor.

An even more stark example of hyperreality in early television occurred on the television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Originating as a radio show before airing as a television series from 1952 to 1966, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet followed the exploits of the Nelson Family, Ozzie, Harriett, and their two sons David and Ricky. While ostensibly a fictional comedy series, the "actors" on the show were played by a real life family. The show was filmed on a set designed to look like the Nelson’s actual house with exteriors shots of their real life house. Similarly, the lived interests and activities of the Nelson family were introduced into the sitcom plotlines of the show. As the two sons grew up and married in real life, their real life wives were then introduced as characters on the show (Nelson). In this way, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet consciously created a hyperreal space in which the boundary between the real and the fake becomes untenable.

We can see such examples of hyperreality in other later television genres as well. One particular realm in which these boundaries have often been blurred is the soap opera, collapsing actors into the fictional character they play, erasing the distinction between these two roles (Butler 77-78). To take one example, in 1986 the actor Don MacLaughlin, who played the role of Chris Hughes on the soap opera As The World Turns, died. The show handled his death by having his character die on the show. The episode with his character’s death concludes with a photo and video montage of the actor and his work on the soap opera. At the conclusion of this montage, the camera lingers on a framed picture on the set of the show as the graphic “Don MacLaughlin 1906-1986” appears on screen (Butler 75).  In so doing, the show elides the boundary between Don MacLaughlin the actor and Chris Hughes the character Don MacLaughlin played.

An even more pronounced example of such boundary blurring on soap operas occurred when Jeanne Cooper, an actress on The Young and the Restless, had cosmetic surgery. The surgery was filmed and then subsequently introduced as a plot line on the show, complete with the inclusion of footage from the actual surgery (Butler 78).

Hyperreality’s blurring of the real and the fake became even more central to television narratives with the rise of reality television. Tracing its most recent wave of popularity to the start of The Real World on MTV in 1992, reality television centrally deals with the issue of the real vs. the hyperreal with its construction of authentically hyperreal "reality." Indeed, the rise of reality television could serve as one marker of the increasing comfort with and appeal of hyperreality among the public. As just one measure of this growing familiarity, from 2000 until 2010 the number of reality television shows being broadcast each season in the United States has increased from four to 320 (Rodriquez 56).

These shows play with hyperreality by making claims to be real while simultaneously constructing hyperreal environments, interactions, and experiences. Viewers accept the authencity of these hyperreal "fictions" because the shows gives them echoes of reality in which to create their authencity through editing, music cues, personal interviews, etc. Ironically, all of these explicit, intensive manipulations work to signal to the viewer that what they are seeing is unmanipulated and, hence, real. The hyperreality of these shows becomes the appeal; they are consumed and enjoyed precisely because they seem real enough to be real but better than reality enough to be desired (Carson 232; Eco 16). The hyperreality is derived from the tension in the show’s narrative over what is "real."

Indeed, the line between fiction and reality in narrative themes has been blurred in other ways as well. One of the best examples of this came in 2003 with the HBO series K Street, a show about political lobbyists in Washington, D.C. In order to lend reality to the show, real politicians and lobbyists appeared on each episode, and the plotlines of the show were derived from real world political issues. Indeed, in order to maximize its relevance, in an unusual move for a narrative television series, each episode of K Street was designed to be produced in the same week it was aired. So on a typical episode of the series, real world political figures would interact with fictional characters in fictional plotlines based on real world political issue occurring at that exact point it time. Its producer, Steven Soderbergh, noted that the intent was to leave viewers “asking whether it’s a documentary or fiction” (Abramson AR 1). Here again, as with the earlier examples, the hyperreality comes in blurring the boundary between "real" people and the "fictional" roles they occupy, obscuring the dividing line between these spheres to the viewer.
           
iCarly uses all these same techniques of hyperreality to create its own "real" fictional universe. However what makes iCarly unique is that the show is blending traditional television techniques of hyperreality with new forms of hyperreality. In other television shows, viewers receive the hyperreality of the show, and they consume it as a product. However, on iCarly a new hyperreality aesthetic is being created. By fusing the consumption ethos of television with the interactivity of the internet, iCarly is fashioning a revolutionary form of hyperreal television in which viewers do not just consume hyperreality, but rather they actively work to fashion it. In doing so, iCarly is creating a far more penetrating and persuasive realm of hyperreality.

iCarly is a family situation comedy about the exploits of a teenager named Carly and her two best friends, Sam and Freddy. While employing many common family situation comedy plotlines, the central theme of the television series is that Carly, Sam, and Freddy create and produce a weekly webshow they call iCarly. This central theme of the television show, the teens’ production of a webshow, becomes the foundation of iCarly’s hyperreality.

On the television show iCarly, the three teens’ production of their webshow is depicted in every episode of the series. After the initial airing of each episode of the television show, the scenes showing the teens’ webshow are then repurposed and embedded on an actual iCarly website. Hence, the "fictional" webshow of the television show becomes an actual webshow on the actual iCarly website, a website that is the "fictional" website of the characters on the show. In this way, to ask if the webshow is real or fake devolves into a fragmented inquiry – it is both real and fake. In fact, the webshow is an authentic simulacra of the real – a hyperreal space in which viewers enjoy the authentic fake of iCarly and do not desire some more real, more authentic original.

To this end, both the television show and the website work together to blend a seamless idea that iCarly is a real webshow made by the actual teens depicted on the television show. Hence after each episode of the iCarly television show airs, the iCarly website prominently displays on its homepage the newest installment of the iCarly webshow.

This online webshow makes use of the footage of the webshow produced for the television show but with two important revisions. First, the online webshow occasionally includes footage from the television show that was never aired due to length restrictions. This additional footage adds authenticity to the online webshow because it seems to indicate that the webshow is producing material independent of the television show’s depiction of the webshow. Second, and more importantly, iCarly manipulates the way it uses footage between the television show and the webshow to bolster its seeming authenticity as a real webshow produced by the characters on the television series.

On the television show, the webshow is depicted as being produced by three teens. Carly and Sam serve as the hosts of the webshow and are the main on-screen talent of the webshow. The webshow is produced by their friend Freddy who is depicted as filming the show with a variety of cameras and technical aids, such as green screen production work, computer graphics programs, etc. Freddy is primarily shown filming Carly and Sam using a hand held camera. On the television show, during the webshow segments of the show, the camera angle of the show switches back and forth between a standard multi-camera situation comedy omniscient viewpoint to a point-of-view perspective from Freddy’s camera.

When this footage is repurposed for the webshow, all of the omniscient perspective camera angles are removed. So the online webshow consists entirely of point-of-view footage. In other words, the television show uses point-of-view perspective to add to the viewer’s sense that they are seeing an actual webshow being produced and the online webshow removes the standard television camera format so that only "real" webshow camera work remains, thereby heightening the online webshow’s authenticity.

iCarly builds this authenticity in other ways as well. For example, whenever point-of-view camerawork is used, the show incorporates a wide range of symbolic prompts to heighten the "reality" that viewers are truly watching an actual webshow production. Such camera work is always shaky and unsteady, just like "real" hand held camerawork would be. Likewise, the screen is always filled with traditional camcorder visual aids such as white framing guides, a red REC symbol in the top left of the screen, and a battery indicator.

Importantly, all of these graphical prompts are removed for the online webshow. So the television show convinces viewers of the reality of the webshow’s production by symbolically showing "real" signs of its production. However, the online show builds this same reality by hiding these signs since a "real" webshow would not show such signs of production. The online webshow instead trades on its symbolic "reality" by filtering the camera angle used and retaining the shaky point-of-view camerawork "real" webshows use.

In this way, the television show and the webshow work together to complement each other. The television show points towards the reality of the construction of a webshow product and the online webshow product points towards its real authenticity as resulting from the work depicted on the television show. Hence, the television show and the online webshow use differing elements of the "real" to work in harmony to create a blended hyperreal space that connects these disparate constructions into a seamless unity.

The television series constantly reinforces this linkage by embedding innumerable images of characters watching the iCarly webshow on the iCarly website. Indeed, every time the television series shows the teens producing their webshow, it intercuts shots of the webshow’s production with shots of characters on the television series watching the webshow live on the iCarly website. In fact, in almost every episode of iCarly, viewers see Freddy examining the webshow’s live feed on the laptop computer from which he monitors the production of the webshow. Importantly, all of these television series shots of people watching the iCarly webshow on the iCarly website show a website that is patterned exactly after the real online iCarly website. The online website and the website shown on the television show are exact matches down to the placement of the webshow’s video on the home page. Again, this level of cross-penetration between the television series and the online website works to build a more penetrating hyperreality for viewers.

iCarly trades on viewer’s ideas of reality to create its hyperreality in other ways as well. It uses symbolic understandings and meanings that may not be objectively real but are understood as real in order to magnify its authenticity. In fact, the using of outmoded symbolic understandings lends its constructions greater hyperreal authenticity. For example, in several episodes of the series (“iKiss,” “iSpace Out,” “iWanna Stay With Spencer”), we see the camera dropped or knocked over. These actions are always depicted from the point-of-view perspective of the camera being dropped and never from the omniscient perspective. Yet these falling cameras never break, their footage never stops. So the viewer gets the "reality" of the camera falling, which heightens the feeling that real production is occurring without the reality of the consequences such actions would have. This image is better than the reality, in fact, because we get to see the continuation of the scene from the perspective of the camera on the floor, thereby extending our enjoyment of the drama that led to the camera’s collapse, something that would have been lost had the camera actually broken. The hyperreality of the falling camera lets us see the aftermath we would otherwise be deprived of. In this way, the hyperreal is better than the real.

This use of real-fakes to bolster authenticity comes through in other ways as well. On the television series, the iCarly webshow is depicted as frequently experiencing technical problems. These problems are again inevitably depicted from the point-of-view perspective. During these moments, viewers see the webshow footage break up into random static when the camerawork is interrupted (“iWant My Website Back,” “iStakeout,” “iSpace Out”). These static interruptions harken back to pre-digital television signals and the ways in which television sets would break up into static when they lost their signal. However, in a pure digital environment, loss of signal does not typically involve static but instead a switch to a plain black or blue screen. Hence, iCarly attempts to create a "real" digital signal interruption by inserting a pre-digital signal of interruption. However, given the ubiquity of meaning of pre-digital television static, its use as a signifier is actually a clearer and more "real" sign of signal interruption than the real digital signal of a black or blue screen would be.

In a similar way, the show also manipulates the depiction of film speed, grain, and quality to match the "reality" it is trying to depict. For example, on the very first episode of the series, “iPilot” when the teens are shown making their very first webshow, the footage of the webshow is depicted as grainy with persistent dropped frames and stuttering, typical problems of first time users navigating bandwith issues in streaming live media. Similary in a later episode, "iGot Detention," in which the teens use a low budget hidden camera to film footage for the show, this footage is depicted as being grainy and shaky in contrast to the steadier, higher quality footage of the webshow’s typical camerawork.

Even the television series’ overall aesthetic points the viewers towards the idea that it is depicting real teens making a real webshow. When the show moves from scene to scene instead of just cutting or using traditional televisual transitions, iCarly uses its own specialized transitions. The show has two graphical transition elements it uses for all of its cuts. For cuts between scenes that are separated by large gaps of time or place the show makes use of a transition that makes the entire viewing screen looking like a computer video editing software program. The screen is filled with editing controls with a main editing window and a series of small thumbnail scenes to the side of the main editing window. When a transition occurs, the current scene will shrink down to occupy the main editing window. A cursor then appears to click on one of the thumbnail scenes which then takes the place of the old scene in the main editing window and expands to fill the television screen. The viewer is left with the impression that the iCarly show is being digitally edited right before their eyes. This technique is not accidental as the show depicts the teens editing their webshow in exactly the same way. Hence, the transitions serve to echo the idea that the teens are constructing not just the webshow but the television show as well, lending the television show itself authenticity.

Smaller transitions are handled in a similar manner. For these transitions in which a scene is shifted slightly forward in time or place, a graphic appears on screen of a set of video controls complete with a progress bar showing where the video is in playback. Again a cursor appears, only this time it grabs the indicator on the progress bar and moves it forward, much as a viewer of an online video would skip forward in a video they were viewing. Once again, the viewer’s experience is framed from the perspective that the television show is being constructed in the same manner as the webshow.

In addition to these editing prompts, the series also uses verbal prompts to point towards its own authenticity. Carly, Sam, and Freddy reinforce the reality of their webshow by constantly referring to their website and its contents and imploring viewers to go to their website and participate in various online activities. Viewers who do go to the iCarly website are then greeted with the actual poll, video, or other item that was referenced on the show. Hence, the television show and the webshow work together seamlessly to present a whole, authentic experience.

All of this production work, however, is just laying the groundwork for iCarly’s most penetrating hyperreal experience. On the television series, the webshow is consistently depicted as having extensive fan input. Carly, Sam, and Freddy answer viewer questions, run viewer polls, chat with viewers on live video conferences, and both request and air viewer videos.  The television series, in addition to showing occasional fans through video conferences and in-person appearances, also regularly shows viewer-submitted videos. Carly and Sam always introduce these videos as sent in by a viewer to their website, being sure to name the viewer and their hometown. These viewer videos always begin with the viewer who submitted the video saying how much they like and admire Carly, Sam, and Freddy and their webshow and website.

The show becomes fully hyperreal in these interactions in that these viewer-videos freely blend the fake and the real. In fact, many (but not all) of these "viewer" submitted videos are indeed videos submitted to the iCarly website by actual fans not affiliated with the production of the television show, often in response to a request for viewer-videos by Carly, Sam, and Freddy on the webshow segments of the television series. iCarly plays with the reality of these clips by never making it clear which of these videos are external videos sent in by fans, which are videos acquired by the show’s producers online and repurposed to their own end, and which are videos that the show’s producers themselves produced.

These videos are a regular feature of the television series, the online webshow, and the website itself and serve to blur the boundaries between what is real and what is fake in the iCarly universe. Indeed, the television series even devoted an entire episode, “iCarly Awards” to giving awards to the best viewer videos the iCarly webshow had ever received. On this episode, Carly, Sam, and Freddy produce a special episode of their webshow where they introduce and give awards to the viewers who submitted the best videos to iCarly. Most (but not all) of these viewers receiving awards were actual viewers who had independently submitted self-generated videos to the iCarly website.

This leads into a very hyperreal experience. For in receiving their awards, these real viewers must enter into iCarly’s hyperreality. They must and do treat the iCarly characters as real and the webshow as a real space and not a television show. Indeed, as the episode progresses the difficulty of defining what is real becomes increasingly problematic.

For while most of the viewers and their submitted videos were real, in that they were not affiliated with the iCarly production, not all were. For example, one video featured on the show was a pre-existing video already popular on the internet that the producers of iCarly decided to repurpose for the episode, adding voiceovers to the video. On the episode, Carly and Sam aired the video and then brought out the "viewer" who created the clip – actually an actor (Schneider). However, this actor was treated as being just as real as another viewer receiving an award, a girl who submitted a video of herself singing clearly with a closed mouth. Just like the actor from the previous video, when introduced by Carly and Sam, this girl, who was not an actor but an actual fan who had submitted a self-generated video of herself, came out to receive her award, thanked Carly, Sam, and Freddy and praised their webshow. The real girl and fake actor both reacted to the situation similarly. However, the real girl was not participating in the show in the same manner as the actor. She had, in fact, treated the website as real and was now experiencing the real consequences of those actions. Her award was indeed a real award as she was on the show being presented for all to see as a winner, a person of exception. The real and the fake in this situation is almost hopelessly conflated. Indeed, even the girl’s "real" video of her closed mouth singing presented a problem. This video was so unusual that it seemed to be more fake than the manipulated and constructed video presented by the actor. In response to this issue, the producer of the show in his blog about the episode felt the need to stress repeatedly that the girl’s video was “NOT fake…It’s not a trick we did. It’s 100% real” (Schneider).

This defense falls flat in that in the hyperreal space iCarly is constructing the real is irrelevant. The girl made a real video that she sent to the real website and it was really aired on a webshow that was shown on both the television show and the website. In order to do this, the girl went along with the fiction that Carly, Sam, and Freddy were not actors, that the website and show were actual real entities and not fake signifiers. Most importantly, the consequences of these actions had actual results. By choosing to participate in hyperreality, no matter how "fake," the girl, and viewers like her, produce authentic, satisfying, real experiences.

The website bolsters this participation by giving viewers numerous opportunities to participate in the hyperreality of iCarly. The webshow segments in the television series frequently exhort viewers to participate in the various activities on the iCarly website. The real website then provides these exact activities. However, the website filters viewer participation so that it bolsters the hyperreality of the iCarly universe.

Hence, the viewer videos iCarly airs only make reference to Carly, Sam, and Freddy and their webshow, never to the actors or the television series. Likewise, the comment boards on the website are moderated to ensure that comments reinforce the "reality" that Carly, Sam, and Freddy are real people, producing a real webshow, that is hosted on the real website the commentators are on.

The website bolsters this hyperreality in other ways as well. Carly, Sam, and Freddy have news feeds, blogs, photo albums, and numerous other forms of content on the website. All of this content is done in character. Even behind the scenes photos from the television show are screened to filter out such non-"real" items as the television production’s lights, cameras, and microphones. The photos are then labeled as behind the scenes photos of Carly, Sam, and Freddy’s webshow production and described in character rather than as behind the scenes photos of the actors working on the production of the television series.

In an even more curious example, the website contains streaming music files of the music the iCarly teens like. Included in these files are songs off the iCarly soundtrack album recorderd by Miranda Cosgrove, the actress who plays Carly. These songs are not identified as being by the actress playing Carly or indeed as directly related to iCarly because doing so would undermine the hyperreality being constructed. Even the imperatives of commerce, the ability to sell iCarly albums, is subverted to the hyperreality that the iCarly teens are real and that the webshow and website are authentic productions by the teens.

The website contains other investments in maintaining hyperreality as well, such as dozens of continuously updated videos produced exclusively for the website. These videos take the form of skits, pranks, and behind the scenes footage and use the same sets and actors as the television show. Importantly, these videos are always done in character and never reveal any information that could break the hyperreality that Carly, Sam, and Freddy are real teens and that iCarly is their real, self-created website. To this end, these videos are not shown on the television series but are aired exclusively on the website. This technique lends the website a greater authenticity as the production of these "extra" materials beyond the television series points to the fact that the website is run by real teens making a real webshow and website.

The videos show the characters interacting in all manner of settings but most importantly some of the videos show the characters interacting in "real," non-soundstage, locations such as the drive-thru lines of fast food restaurants. As the television series is produced completely on soundstages, these naturalistic videos again lend greater authenticity to the hyperreality of the iCarly world, making the reality of its existence more believable and immersive.

By creating this immersive, believable world, iCarly is modeling a new way of interaction for its audience. Given that its audience is primarily children and teens, this fact raises important questions about how new forms of hyperreality in media are shaping social experiences and consciousness. For iCarly does not just offer up a hyperreal world to viewers, it invites its viewers to join in on creating its hyperreality through direct participation in its construction.

This method of production invests the viewer much more heavily into the hyperreal experience. Indeed, it allows the viewers to immerse themselves into progressively deeper levels of hyperreality. Viewers watch the show and receive its attempts at verisimilitude. Intrigued by these appeals, viewers can choose to navigate to the iCarly website which will both extend the hyperreal space being created by the show and augment it through the use of symbolically infused content. Those desiring even greater degrees of immersion can then choose to participate directly in fashioning the hyperreal space of iCarly through progressive levels of interactivity from posting comments on the website to the actual creation of video material that will potentially be displayed on the website or the television show itself. Each step in this process carries the inherent seduction of hyperreality. The more the hyperreal space is consumed, the greater its penetration and the more desirous it then becomes.

Hence, iCarly is modelling a new way of building not just viewer investment in a set of characters, but the idea that viewers themselves are a character with a part to play. As viewers watch iCarly unfold its "reality," they become a shadow character, their presence always sitting just off-stage ready for enactment. Importantly, this idea seemingly inverts elements of the typical relationship of the televisual form. For instead of waiting to receive media from producers, viewers can now actually create the media themselves. However, in true hyperreal fashion, this viewer control is actually an illusion. For viewers do not have free range to shape the iCarly universe; indeed, all viewer interaction with the hyperreal space of iCarly is actually highly monitored, filtered, and controlled by its producers.

For viewers, however, this distinction is meaningless. Those viewers who are immersing themselves in the hyperreal spaces of iCarly actually desire this moderating. They want the filtered reality of iCarly in which all viewer participation is censored to ensure that it fulfills the goal of bolstering the hyperreal space. Indeed, the viewers who desire this goal do not even need such monitoring as they will consciously frame their interactions to accord with the elements of the hyperreal space.

In this way, iCarly does not just change the way in which viewers receive its media, it changes the way in which viewers consume its media as well. To maximize their rewards from the iCarly hyperreal universe requires that viewers maximize their alignment with the hyperreal space not just as consumers of media but as producers of media in this space as well.

How such persuasive spaces and immersive environments affect viewers will become an increasingly important question as more television shows follow iCarly’s model and seek ways to incorporate viewers into their hyperreal spaces. It is perhaps no accident that iCarly is targeted at children and teens. As a generation that has grown up in a world in which online interactions have come to pre-dominate and digital hyperreal realms have proliferated, children and teens would seem uniquely suited to be early adopters of this new hyperreal forms of interaction.


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Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. New York: Harcourt Brace. 1986: 19.

Heyd, Thomas. “The Real and the Hyperreal: Dance and Simulacra.” Journal of Aethetic Education 34.2 (2000): 15-26.

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“iKiss.” iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1. Nickelodeon, 2010. DVD.

“iPilot.” iCarly: Season 1, Volume 1. Nickelodeon, 2008. DVD.

“iSpace Out.” iCarly. Nickelodeon. 5 March 2010. Television.

“iStakeout.” iCarly: Season 1, Volume 2. Nickelodeon, 2009. DVD.

 “iWanna Stay With Spencer.” iCarly: Season 1, Volume 1. Nickelodeon, 2008. DVD.

“iWant My Website Back.” iCarly: Season 2, Volume 1. Nickelodeon, 2010. DVD.

Keveny, Bill. “Nick Builds a Dynamic Teen Duo.” USA Today 4 June 2010: 8D.

Levin, Gary. “Nielsens: Football Hikes Fox’s Ratings; ‘iCarly’ in a Series High.” USA Today 27 January 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/news/ 2010-01-27-nielchatter27_ST_N.htm

“Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=nelsonozzie

“Radio: Birth of a Memo.” Time 26 January 1953. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,817789,00.html

Rodriquez, Naveli E. “Exactly How Much are the Times A-Changing?” Newsweek 26 July 2010: 56.
           
Schneider, Dan. “Fun Facts About ‘iCarly Awards.’” DanWarp 3 October 2009. http://danwarp.blogspot.com/2009/10/fun-facts-about-icarly-awards.html

Wallace, Dickie. “Hyperrealizing ‘Borat’ with the Map of the European ‘Other’.” Slavic Review 67.1 (2008): 35-49.

 
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