"The destiny of the theory of the spectacle belongs to those (...) who will individually and collectively retrieve the ideas of anti-hierarchy, coherence [and] global contestation." -- Jean-Francois Martos.
"For it is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth. On the one hand, the friend who is familiar with every fact of the story, may think that some point has not been set forth with that fulness which he wishes and knows it to deserve; on the other, he who is a stranger to the matter may be led by envy to suspect exaggeration if he hears anything above his own nature [...] Although I shall perhaps be no better believed than others have been when I speak upon the reality of the expedition, and although I know that those who either make or repeat statements thought not worthy of belief not only gain no converts, but are thought fools for their pains, I shall certainly not be frightened into holding my tongue when the state is in danger, and when I am persuaded that I can speak with more authority on the matter than other persons." -- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War.
Spectacles have played a significant part of empires and public life throughout history. From the circuses of Rome to the Nuremberg rallies of Nazi Germany, the staging of public events for mass mobilization has served the interests of the ruling elite. However, in this era of the society of the spectacle where images dominate beyond just the media environment, the spectacle is even more integral to the functioning of society. While there are obviously efforts to manipulate spectacles for partisan purposes, spectacles become the primary vehicle through which popular discourse and opinion are channeled.
1) What is obsolete and can be dispensed with? First and foremost, work, that is to say, the necessity of having to work for a living. There is in fact so much accumulated wealth that, if it were evenly distributed, no one would ever need to work ever again (a certain amount of labor might be socially necessary, but the institution of work could be abolished.) By the same token, poverty, hunger and homelessness could be eradicated all over the world. And since the institution of work under capitalism involves or is limited to the production, distribution and sales of commodities, there is in fact no more need for the market, advertising and the commodity itself. Yes, people still need to eat, shelter and clothe themselves, but these needs do not have to be met through the production of commodities.
2) What can be destroyed and reinvented in complete freedom? Above all, everything that used to be done while not "at work": leisure activities, vacations, and entertainment. Rather than being pursued as ways of resting or refreshing oneself so to be able to return to work, all these activities -- indeed, the very time in which they were accomplished -- could be enjoyed freely and independently. People need not simply "have fun" all the time (although they could, if they wanted to): all of the forms that merely speculated on the possibility of utopia -- philosophy, art in all its forms, and religion -- could now be pursued directly and fully. One would not go to school to study to become a good worker or a good consumer, but a good person. All forms of morality and ethics could be completely reinvented.
3) Who prevents these radical changes (this social revolution) from taking place? The owners of this world, of course, but they have a great deal of help: the people who position themselves as "representatives" and thus arbiters of who gets what (the politicians and union bosses); the people who design and construct the buildings, modes of transportation and cities that use separation and isolation to prevent the vast majority of the population from forming general assemblies or enjoying unproductive expenditures (the architects, urbanists and "developers"); the people who use deadly force to prevent wealth from being reappropriated (the police, private security firms, and the military); the people who continue to propagate the general myth of scarcity (the mass media), who hinder or suppress distribution so that scarcity seems to continue to exist (the various mafias), or who invent and impose new scarcities (the people in the businesses of security and safety); the people who specialize in the controlled and very limited expenditure of surpluses (the spectacular entertainers, stars and performers); and, last but not least, the suppressors of dreams and utopias (the priests, social workers and psychiatrists).
4) What happens because social revolution is continually deferred? In the words of the situationists, the autonomous capitalist economy -- "one of those fragments of social power which claim to represent a coherent totality, and tend to impose themselves as a total explanation and organization" (Critique of Urbanism) -- becomes more and more totalitarian. The autonomous economy becomes "the totalitarian dictatorship of the fragment" (Basic Banalities). Not surprisingly, its products become more and more noxious, to the point of toxicity, which was clearly reached with the invention and widespread use of nuclear power plants. Precisely because an autonomous economy is an economy deprived of reason, the increasing toxicity of capitalism itself and its various products seem "natural" or impossible to understand, and (in either case) unavoidable. Note well: even if the economy had not become autonomous, the commodity would still be noxious. Indeed, there were plenty of toxic products put on the market before the 1917-1939 period. The toxicity of the commodity is not accidental nor even controllable: it is part of its very structure as "value," that is to say, its internal split into use-value, which is useful by definition, into exchange-value, which is essentially indifferent, if not openly hostile to usefulness. This is precisely why revolutionaries, if they wish to live in a society without alienation, cannot simply return to the days before either capitalism or industrial society existed: the very same structure of alienation exists in the "value" of money, which is the commodity that has no use-value in itself, except for its ability to be exchanged for any other commodity, indeed, all other commodities.
"It is the law as in art, so in politics, that improvements ever prevail; and though fixed usages may be best for undisturbed communities, constant necessities of action must be accompanied by the constant improvement of methods." -- Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War.
Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. This is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in its form as in its content [...] In its very style, the exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination according to the rules of the dominant language and for the tastes of those that it has educated because, in the positive use of existing concepts, this exposition includes both the intelligence of their retrieved fluidity and their necessary destruction [...] Detournement is the contrary of the quotation, of theoretical authority that is always falsified due to the sole fact that it has become quotation; a fragment torn from its context, its movement and finally from its era as a global reference and from the precise option that was inside this reference, exactly or erroneously recognized. Detournement is the fluid language of anti-ideology. It appears in communication that knows that it cannot claim to hold any guarantee in itself and definitively [...] What presents itself as detourned in its theoretical formulation -- by denying all durable autonomy to the sphere of what is theoretically expressed, that is, by (through this violence) bringing about the intervention of the action that disturbs and carries off the existing order -- recalls that the existence of the theoretical is nothing in itself and can only know historical action and the historical correction that is its real fidelity.
This misfortune of the times thus compels me, once again, to write in a new way. Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear. Readers will encounter certain decoys, like the very hallmark of the era. As long as other pages are interpolated here and there, the overall meaning may appear just as secret clauses have very often been added to whatever treaties may openly stipulate, just as some chemical agents only reveal their hidden properties when they are combined with others.
What closely tied Marx's theory to scientific thought was the rational comprehension of the forces that were really active in society. But Marx's theory is fundamentally beyond scientific thought, which is only conserved by being surpassed: it is a comprehension of the struggle, and not at all the law. "We only know a single science: the science of history," says The German Ideology.
Generalised secrecy stands behind the spectacle, as the decisive complement of all it displays and, in the last analysis, as its most important operation.The simple fact of being without reply has given to the false an entirely new quality. At a stroke it is truth which has almost everywhere ceased to exist or, at best, has been reduced to the status of pure hypothesis that can never be demonstrated. The false without reply has succeeded in making public opinion disappear: first it found itself incapable of making itself heard and then very quickly dissolved altogether. This evidently has significant consequences for politics, the applied sciences, the justice system and artistic knowledge.The construction of a present where fashion itself, from clothes to music, has come to a halt, which wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in a future, is achieved by the ceaseless circular passage of information, always returning to the same short list of trivialities, passionately proclaimed as major discoveries. Meanwhile news of what is genuinely important, of what is actually changing, comes rarely, and then in fits and starts. It always concerns this world's apparent condemnation of its own existence, the stages in its programmed self-destruction.
When, for example, the new conditions of the society of the integrated spectacular have forced its critique to remain really clandestine, not because it hides itself but because it is hidden by the heavy stage-management of the thought of diversion, those who are nonetheless charged with surveilling this critique and, if necessary, for denying it, can now employ traditional methods in the milieu of clandestinity: provocation, infiltrations, and various forms of elimination of authentic critique to the profit of a false one which will have been put in place for this purpose.
The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life involved in the definition of all human realization an obvious degradation of being into having. The current phase of the total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a general slide from having into appearing, from which all real "having" must draw its immediate prestige and final function.
Replacing Palestinian news and other programming with such material also increases the stress and frustration of the populace. Remember, Ramallah's residents were unable to leave their homes, even to buy groceries. Their need for information was intense. Israeli forces had the option of taking the TV stations off the air entirely. Instead, they left them operating, but broadcasting "replacement" imagery. The pornography may well have been even more demoralizing than no programming at all.
"I might, it is true, have written to you something different and more agreeable than this, but nothing certainly more useful, if it is desirable for you to know the real state of things here before taking your measures. Besides I know that it is your nature to love to be told the best side of things, and then to blame the teller if the expectations which he has raised in your minds are not answered by the result; and I therefore thought it safest to declare to you the truth." -- Thucydides.
"Citizens who carry out some undertaking in republics either in favor of liberty or of tyranny should, then, consider the basic material of their society and should judge by that the difficulty of their undertakings, because it is as difficult and as dangerous to try to liberate a people that wishes to live in slavery as it is to try to enslave a people that wishes to live in freedom [...] Those cities used to living in servitude think nothing of changing their master frequently, indeed, many times they desire to do so." (Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy).
We must conclude that a change is imminent and ineluctable in the co-opted cast who manage the domination and, notably, those who direct the protection of that domination. In such an affair, the novelty of course will never be displayed on the stage of the spectacle. It will only appear like lightning, which we know only when it strikes. This change, which will decisively complete the work of these spectacular times, will occur discreetly and, although it concerns those already installed in the sphere of power, conspiratorially. It will select those who will take part in it on this central requirement: that they clearly know what obstacles they have overcome, and of what they are capable.