When is too good, actually too good to be true. In suburban life, patrons of the idealistic concept construct their realities of what is successful by their neighbors. The Joneses (2009), directed by Derrick Borte and based off a story by Randy T. Dinzer, challenges how success is determined by the consumerism culture created by capitalists in United States society. (This post contains spoilers). The opening scenes are ambiguous and seemingly normal; a quintessential family move into an affluent upper-middle class neighborhood. The family wave politely to noisy neighbors, full of smiles, talk with quick wit, and seem to have everything, which they do. They are the perfect family. That all changes in the next scene, however, when the “Mother” scolds and dominates with her matrimony prowess over the daughter who snuck out of her own bed and into her “fathers”.
Why they have all these riches and why the seemingly incest scene is not dealt with harsher measures, is clarified soon when Steve (played by Californication’s David Duchovney) the “Dad” of the “Family” struggles with his new identity.
The “Family” you soon find out, is in fact a corporate marketing team that are provided with the latest gear, the highest fashion, the nicest appliances, the fastest cars, beautiful wife and perfect life. Steve begins assimilating into the high snobbery around him and his only job is to advertise the golf clubs, lawnmowers and the sports cars, while his wife holds day parties for the stay at home mothers, and their “son” and “daughter” goes to the local high school to promote the brands that support their seemingly perfect life. Tagline for the movie: “They’re not just living the American Dream; they’re selling it.”
As I had mentioned before, Steve begins to struggle with the persona of the perfect family. This movie is an excellent example of the hyperreal and how it can be detrimental. While the neighbors were all well-to-do, had fancy houses and were following what they had been led to believe was an ideal ‘American Dream’, it wasn’t good enough. Another tagline: “Can you Keep up?”
Steve’s selling record skyrocketed, throwing himself into his job at the advice of the “mother” (aka his in-house boss). An ominous future became apparent when he was rewarded for his tremendous effort with an Audi R8. His neighbor Larry (played by Gary Cole), had just purchased a different color of his previous car, another fancy Audi convertible, because he idolized Steve and his perfect “family”. A look of pure sorrow crossed his face, Steve had one-upped him as he had done the entire movie. You soon find out that Larry is behind on his mortgage and maxed out all his credit cards to be more like Steve, the perfect specimen of a man in terms of the construction of the American Dream. Steve, along with the rest of the family, define hyperreality.
This is how we can understand the detrimental factors of the hyperreal and possibly comment on the consumerism culture the United States embodies. Steve asks his “wife” who he has fallen in “real” love (whatever that means in cinema or real life who knows) that she should “Join him in the real world” to which she replies “this is my real world”. These orders of simulacra are interwoven into the plot on multiple levels. The neighbors in the perfect suburban setting are simply copying what they believe is the American Dream from its manifestation in culture becoming a the second order of simulacra. The Joneses, however, are the hyperreality of the American Dream, or Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra. They had become iconistic of the “Real” and the neighbors who have already lead a life to the perfection they envisioned, became envious of Steve and the “perfect” family. The hyperreality is unattainable to the unknowing neighbors. They would never be backed by huge corporate sponsors and eventually fail. Larry (Steve’s next door neighbor) was the one that finally did, committing suicide by driving the lawnmower that Steve had sold him on into his pool. Another tagline: “Some families are too good to be true.”
Steve eventually comes to terms with his hyperrealistic existence. Announcing the families intentions of moving into the neighborhood as his “family” evacuates the area as Larry is loaded into the back of an ambulance in a body bag. Their notion of what the American Dream is as well as it’s morality, had become construed by consumerism and it leads to their downfall. Steve portrayed an image that Larry would not be able to sustain. This brings up some questions about the hyperreal? Can anyone transcend an/their identity of an order of simulacra? Or are they watermarked to be defined by the images around them for eternity?
This video pretty much sums it all up. Enjoy.