is Debord’s work on the Spectacle really that important?


OKAY, we need to step back now, and think about where the foregoing critique and theory and image analysis comes from. this will take some time.

is Debord’s work on the Spectacle really that important? does it really offer what i’ve suggested that it offers? i think it does, though as i’ve also suggested, not without rethinking his theories. so far, i’ve suggested that Debord’s concept of détournement needs to be allied with Derrid’a concept of deconstruction – as deconstructive détournement. i’ve also suggested that both Debord and Derrida have a theoretical alliance with Brecht’s concept of the A-effect. and i then turned that analysis to our digital culture, suggesting that what we have to contend with, now, is the digital manifestation of Debord’s concept of the spectacle. to that end, i’ve so far posed a rudimentary theory of the webcamautomata. and i’ve offered a few possible techniques and strategies that the webcamautomata might offer for the analysis of the digital spectacle.

before i go further in that direction, it’s necessary to give a brief account of the web, what it is, where it came from, what it was meant to be, and where it has failed. and there can be no doubt that it is a massive failure. John Perry Barlow’s ‘foundational’ document – The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, published on February 8, 1996 – was the work, not only of the lyricist for the grateful dead – but also of his own personal political commitment to libertarianism, one of the worst forms of politics on the planet. historically speaking, the influence of Barlow’s Declaration was massive. negatively. in retrospect, there is no doubt that it will continue to be understood as the propaganda document par excellence that allowed critique of technology, by the ‘public’, to be vitiated. in the guise of rock and roll, in the guise of the grateful dead’s community spirited counter-culture ethos, in fact, it led the entire counter-culture to the guillotine. Barlow’s Declaration surfed on the wake of the Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog. Barlow and Brand were the Pied Pipers of the digital era. it’s fair to condemn them for eviscerating progressivism by transferring that ethos of rebellion against the violence of the state, to Apple, to Adobe, and eventually to Google and Facebook. Barlow and Brand are in part responsible for the counter-culturalal sytle of labour, t-shirts and jeans, long hair and trainers, to the colonization of San Francisco by the empires, that has destroyed one of the capitals of progressive, counter-cultural LIFE once so alive there. this is a harsh condemnation. since it’s an unpopular perspective, i must append this thought:

the ‘’historical moment is frozen in digital ice. even as, and because, the ice caps are melting. historical consciousness has the time span of a person with dementia. i have personal knowledge of that state of mindlessness; i lived with my mother, who had dementia, for 7 months on an island off the coast of maine during a rare, but particularly heavy winter. and i thought a lot about these issues there, with her. as the snow fell more heavily than it had for decades. every single morning when i got up, i’d find that she had packed her bags to leave. and every single morning, i’d convince her to stay, and help her unpack. and every single morning after unpacking her bags and making her comfortable again, i’d sit her at the table while i made her breakfast. and as we ate together, she asked me the same question every single morning: ‘oh! look at the birds. what are they?’ and there were the same birds that had swum before our cottage everyday for 7 months. they were the same 7 geese that had no need to fly off to canada.

the human population of the planet earth has a kind of cultural/historical dementia, quite similar to that of my mother, in effect. but its causes are very different, yet effects most of the inhabitants of earth, every hour of every day, through anmesia. most earthlings are demented in this way, are so, for often understandable reasons – they are healthy, or at least not organically impaired. they are poor and uneducated, and have no access to the debates about climate change, or the ‘virtualization’ of poltics, law, the economy, etc., that effects them. they live without the time and money to pay attention to the political machinations that control them. even so, many of these same people do know that something, environmentally, culturally, socially is drastically wrong. many of them even, know in far greater detail than scientists, not only that the environment is broken, but know far more about how that is so. the rain-deer herders, the arctic inhabitants, have known for decades what science is only now able to admit according to their data long after their data has been obvious. in the future, it will be clear that it was the scientists who failed most, caught up in their data sets, their reputations in academic journals, their funding mechanisms, and the like. because they don’t live in the worlds they study as the indigenous peoples of the worlds they attempt to quantify, do.

the ‘world’ has been absorbed into ‘virtual reality’, into the false reality of computers, cell phones, ‘social’ media, and the like. ‘reality’ is determined by text messaging and 135 character twitter messages, by facebook facelessness, and the like. the pided pippers have turned us into lemmings.

but it needn’t have been this way. not by a long shot. on top of barlow and brand, came berners-lee. and soon after came drones and the NSA and amazon and paypal, uber and airb&b. these developments are no accident. it has been purposeful. capital has driven things inevitably in this direction. and today, there is no stopping it. elephants and tigers and bears, whales and dolphins and sea urchins and coral, are being massively destroyed, and the planet is moving into a third era of species extinction.

is Debord’s work on the Spectacle really that important?

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