Saturday, September 18, 2004

milking collective nostalgia for Clinton who is milking nostalgia for Kennedy: diatribe on "The West Wing" part II

Anecdotal, confessional, uncomfortable "experts," they flirt back and forth, these voices, between the technical and the personal. From indulging the projective imaginations of the viewer, to a certain numbness or detachment whose silence is uncomfortable - indifference? Something more and less than nausea. Fatigue?

This is not art. These commentaries destroy any such potential; even before they are voiced, they are implicit, and the show is destructed.

Bordering on the obvious, the banal, so often, their purpose seems pretty clear: self-flattery. Pampering a ready market of pathos and habitual cynicism, pandering to the pathetic level of analysis that passes for 'hope' today. Directors posing as philosophers, any novelty in their films smothered and overburdened immediately by their "theory," films saturated by commentary. Films deserving such thorough attention have no need for it. As Blanchot says, "perhaps the work is indifferent to what makes it great."

At the end, a hollowness deepened. TV shows are candy. Nothing truly political has taken place. Our collective mythologies have been made to parade and masturbate. Some questions have been rephrased without much risk. And the spectacle has gained a fresh level of immunity from critical thought. Who has the energy for real politics when something more real than reality itself is promised every evening, when catharsis is habitually promised and delivered. All this emotion climaxing in under an hour - that it was merely about the results of a banal, fictitious poll seems unimportant. We have been duped into feeling ourselves part of an idealized political machinery, living and breathing, for an hour at least, on their time, at their speed, communing with those who control the reigns of this great beast (they are victims, remember).

One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is itself divided. The spectacle which inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle while simultaneously absorbing the spectacular order, giving it positive cohesiveness. Objective reality is present on both sides. Every notion fixed this way has no other basis than its passage into the opposite: reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and the support of the existing society.
To describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must artificially distinguish certain inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle one speaks, to some extent, the language of the spectacular itself in the sense that one moves through the methodological terrain of the very society which expresses itself in the spectacle. But the spectacle is nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social-economic formation, its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we are caught.

The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “that which appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.

-Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)

There's a book written by Michael Parenti, called, Land of Idols: Political Mythology in America. Unfortunately, it's one that doesn't do much to live up to its title (incidentally, Parenti junior's book,Lockdown America, has, almost to a fault, more substance). But Parenti senior writes of the "Number One Syndrome" that afflicts my poor country. The truth is, of course, that we remain number one in only two things: wealth (increasingly disporportionate) and military might. Neither of these is enough to ensure any kind of respectable future for democracy. It's a subject, one may rightly suppose, hardly flattering enough to be given sustained critical attention by TV shows. Herein ends my gripe. The next post in this series will be titled: "Why the West Wing is the Best Show Ever."

"He summed it all up by saying to himself, 'What an actor.'" - Blanchot, The Most High

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