Down the Rabbit Hole
Unverifiable, unchecked, unlikely and untenable...
Sounds about right regarding the daily dose of “news” we’re fed by mainstream media. The only thing more imbecilic than the stories themselves is the proclivity to believe them based not on evidence, but on how well these tales support carefully constructed worldviews and/or resonate with the mass hysteria du jour. Who can forget this doozy:
No evidence necessary! Just non-stop, coordinated messaging to sell war in the same way one sells insurance or soap.
Lacking a genuine internal narrative and the critical thinking skills necessary to give meaning to endless bombardments of information, those transfixed by the spectacle’s “remote and fabulous realm” are apt to believe almost anything—or at least not disbelieve even the most absurd notions pitched by the experts, pundits, and political saviors on their side of the aisle or their clique in the culture wars.
Your Topic Today Is...
But perhaps even more important than telling us what to think, the spectacle tell us what to think about, and when. One news cycle it’s Assad and Syria, the next it’s Russia and Hacking. The cycle after that we’re told to fear and fixate on North Korean Nukes, followed by a round of Nazis and Statues. The week after that it’ll be... God knows what.
That’s not to say that these issues are unimportant. But to think and argue about them on command, and only within the confines of acceptable parameters, traps us in what Daniel Boorstin called “the prison of the present” and creates what Gore Vidal dubbed....
The United States of Amnesia
With history reduced to whatever the spectacle says it is, and attention spans shortened to minutes and even seconds, our world becomes a never-ending stream of unrelated immediacies. The “eternal present” thus created blots out the past, obscures the present, and diminishes our capacity to imagine a different future. This state of historical suspended animation provides an enormous advantage to the ruling class: It implies that this is how it’s always been, and this is how it will always be. An eerie parallel can be found in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining:
History and Democracy
Half a century of hardcore psychic abuse has rendered Americans numb not only with outrage fatigue but also outrage equivalence: a condition marked by the inability to rank in magnitude the rushing events of the media maelstrom. As we follow the script and perform our chosen roles in the daily debates, some extremely important issues get lost in the shuffle. Amidst the cavalcade of trending topics, who has the time, energy, or emotional fortitude to get especially worked up over the far-off (so we think...) torture chambers of Guantánamo; or the off-hand dismissal of the 800-year-old principle of habeas corpus courtesy of the patriotic-sounding National Defense Authorization Act; or the legalization of bought elections thanks to the delightfully Orwellian Citizens United?
The prison of the present ensures that these topics, and others like them that significantly impact our lives, remain largely absent from public discourse. This, by virtue of spectacle logic, renders them non-existent. We may enjoy our collective out-of-history experience, floating in the surreal world of an eternal present, imagining our tweets, comments, and diatribes play an active role in the direction of the country. But actual participatory democracy is impossible in an ahistorical context in which most people have no means—and little desire—to comprehend the realities of the past amidst the distractions of the present.
Guy Debord noted that history and democracy entered the world together. With the spectacle’s conquest of public consciousness, they’re now on the verge of exiting together as well.
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Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle
Eric Goodman, WMD Blues
Daniel Boorstin, Democracy and its Discontents
Stephen King, The Shining (novel, 1977)
Stanley Kubrick, The Shining (film, 1980)