Friday, April 13, 2012

Following the Yellow Brick Road (off a cliff)

Anarchy A to Z:
a guide to understanding our history unfolding for the anesthetized and apathetic

J is for Jesters

   We are consumptive little monsters, individuals suffice existing within our own minds for our own time. We want to control. Yet, because the system is designed and perpetuated through the dichotomy of Haves and Have Nots, we find ourselves as almost wholly powerless. To cope, we embrace the spectacle. Now, I can complain all day about the cult of celebrity and the reality TV show that is the Republican primary election, a spectacle bordering on blood sport replete with hissing Romans. The world is a fucked up place. We need an escape from reality, from time to time, so the history of Depression Era cinema tells. But why spend eighteen bucks on an apropos escape and a box of popcorn when our entire civilization is an illusory spectacle?

   I read, somewhere, that Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle is the Communist Manifesto of the 20th century because of its contribution to the social sciences. I wouldn’t be able to confirm it, though, because the book itself is a spectacle so complex that I need pages of written notes to decipher a two sentence passage. (I came to the conclusion that reading it is as close to dropping acid as one can get in sobriety). The idea of the spectacle is simple, and thus, expectedly powerful. Everything in the post-industrial society is a series of images meant to evoke emotion, to enslave us to power, to confirm our fears of otherness and to pacify the revolutionary impulse of freedom. Look no further than the land of OZ.

   Dorothy was a selfish girl, wanting to wander around all day, justifying the crass behavior of that little rat, Toto. She meets the Fortune Teller, whose entire economy is based on selling spectacle. Dorothy proceeds to escape reality to a land where “little people” are happy, jesters dancing around with their monstrous lollipops—a spectacle, no doubt--neither wage slaves on MGM’s payroll, nor victims of the robber barons of the Gilded Age. She meets the characters of a depressed society. The Wizard says, “Slay this evil other and I will give you what you desire.” And so Dorothy and her motley crew proceed to dispatch the one symbol of hope, the one voice that says we should not be wearing Ruby Slippers.

   Upon their triumphant return, our protagonists demand reparations. They even expose the wizard behind the curtain, but he is a sly fucker, just as the machinations of an unjust system tend to be. “Don’t be ignorant, capitalism can serve you too!” He hands over a diploma, as if departing the halls of academe improves our lot in life. “Don’t be cold, we’re just like you!” And he bestows a watch, because time is linear and we’d do best to not forget that time is also money. “Be not afraid, you will have yours soon!” And he hands a gold coin hanging on a silk ribbon, and calls it employee “appreciation”. Dorothy wakes up, but the spectacle continues. She has learned a life lesson, according to the masters of illusion. The problem is that she did not learn anything revolutionary on her psychedelic quest. She still opened her eyes on the dismal farm in the Dust Bowl Midwest; she was still wearing Ruby Slippers. The land of OZ was a nothing but a spectacular distraction, and meaningless in every way.

   Spectacles paralyze us and keep us wanting shitty-looking shoes, probably made in China by some indentured rice farmer’s daughter who will die early of breast cancer because of carcinogens in the smoke of the glue she used to attach all the pretty sequins. The shoes are an illusion of prosperity and normalcy. Our college degrees, our paychecks and awards systems all bind us to the society in which we are born. These spectacles define what is normal. If we feel like we fit into the system, we will bind it to our feet. We’ll skip down a big golden road toward the emerald towers of the American Dream. But that Dream is a spectacle. It is an illusion that does not exist.

   The “market” will recover. Home prices are on the up. Jobless claims are down. Our “leaders” just instituted new protections against mercury in coal power plant emissions. Are these a reason to be optimistic? I don’t think so. I think they are exactly the empty promises a society of the spectacle expects to be fed.

   Reality is pretty clear beyond the façade of spectacle. Even when we expose the wizard behind the curtain, he does not abandon his post. He buys us off, biding time until we sink again into submission. Hope for the future is, in itself, an escape. If hope is a spectacle too, what lies beyond the curtain is not going to be pretty.


  1. Oh, boy. This is dire. If we all blind ourselves, we've fallen for the false image. Who knows what would happen if we abandon the facade? Would anarchy be any better? I think I'll cling to the dream.

  2. A thought provoking post!
    Happy A-Zing!