Wednesday, February 15, 2006

paradoxical confidences

(Whew.  Sucked back in Teh Valve, for a minute there; and speaking of being among the elite––God, how depressing.)   Things are looking worse and worse and worse for the Cheney Administration, or so it seems, not that seeming is necessarily all that matters when it comes to politics. It does sort of seem like all this Abu Ghraib stuff (not to mention all this illegal wiretapping stuff) might be more global and pressingly important, as in deeply not ok.

Following Baudrillard (bitch-slappings notwithstanding), we see that what is really at stake in this latest development, and far more than any millionaire's no doubt beautiful life, or any far-fetched criminal penalties against Dear Drinking Tame Bird Shooter, is more what the Baudrillard likes to refer to as "the avertising 'look.'" It's rather difficult to maintain this 'look,' needless to say, in the face of such a delightfully competing narrative as "I shot my friend..."

Actually, given the everyman comic frenzy that has mestastisized across this otherwise sleeping nation, that particular line may have been Cheney's own idea of somewhat high personal drama, who knows, but it's really pretty smart and deliberately bland, unspin-able and boring.

The feltness with which the hairspray people say it is of course especially uninteresting. Still funny, in its way, but obviously disappointing. Cheney's Oprah-style confessing act is sort of a pathetic anti-climax, in fact, and he's not likely to do the original fixate on the pheasant at the old man's expense thing again, or at least not real soon. Then again, the Vice President of the United States did shoot a man, you say. That's something. Isn't it? Eh, only a story if your heart's in it, I'm afraid.

In any case, dear Baudy, though already back in 1986, and in his typically self-infatuated, superficial and over-arching style, was of course here describing Reagan, but the bit about "paradoxical confidence" (no, it's not really a concept much, I grant you) applies just as well if not better to the undeserving Bush:
Americans are no keener than anyone else today to think about whether they believe in the merits of their leaders, or even in the reality of power. That would take them on to much too tricky ground. They prefer to act as though they believe in them, on condition that their belief is not taken too much for granted. Governing today means giving acceptable sings of credibility. It is like advertising and it is the same effect that is achieved – commitment to a scenario, whether it be political or an advertising scenario. Reagan's is both at once. It is also successful.

Everything is in the credits. Now that society has been definitively turned into an enterprise, everything is in the synopsis of performance and enterprise, and its leaders must produce all the signs of the advertising 'look'. The slightest failing becomes unpardonable, since the whole nation would be diminished by it. Even illness can become part of this 'look', as for example with Reagan's cancer. By contrast, political weaknesses or stupidity are of no importance. Image alone counts.

This consensus around simulation is much less fragile than is commonly thought, since it is far less exposed to any testing against political truth. All our modern governments owe a kind of meta-stability to the regulation of public opinion by advertising. Mistakes, scandals, and failures no longer signal catastrophe. The crucial thing is that they be made credible, and that the public be made aware of the efforts being expended in that direction. The 'marketing' immunity of governments is similar to that of the major brands of washing powder.

No one keeps count of the mistakes made by the world's political leaders any more. [...]

Reagan's popularity gives us all food for thought. But we should first establish what type of confidence he is accorded. It is almost too good to be true. How can it be that every defence has fallen before him? How can it be that no mistake or political reversal damages his standing and that, pardoxically, his failures even improve it (which infuriates our French leaders, for whom things are the other way round: the more initiative and goodwill they show, the less popular they become). But the point is precisely that the confidence placed in Reagan is a paradoxical confidence. Just as we distinguish between real and paradoxical sleep, we should also distinguish between real and paradoxical confidence. The former is granted to a man or a leader on the basis of his qualities and his success. Paradoxical confidence is the confidence we place in someone on the basis of their failure or their absence of qualities. The prototype of this confidence is the failure of prophecy – a process that is well-known from the history of messianic and millenarian movements – following which the group, instead of denying its leader and dispersing, closes ranks around him and creates religious, sectarian, or ecclesiastical institutions to preserve the faith. Institutions all the more solid for deriving their energy from the failure of the prophecy. This 'supplemental' confidence never wavers, because it derives from the disavowal of failure. such, making all due allowance, is the amazing aura that surrounds Reagan's credibility, and which necessarily makes one think that the American prophecy, the grand prospect of utopia on earth combined with world power, has suffered a setback; that something of that imaginary feat that was to crown the history of two centuries has precisely not been realized, and that Reagan is the product of the failure of that prophecy. In Reagan, a system of values that was formerly effective turns into something ideal and imaginary. The image of America becomes imaginary for Americans themselves, at a point when it is without doubt profoundly compromised. This transformation of spontaneous confidence into paradoxical confidence and an achieved utopia into an imaginary hyperbole seems to me to mark a decisive turning-point. But doubtless things are not this simple. For I am not saying that the image of America is deeply altered in the eyes of Americans themselves. I am not saying that this change of direction in the Reagan era is anything other than an incidental development. Who knows? You have the same difficulty today distinguishing between a process and its simulation...

Indeed, who knows? Maybe if you carefully peel away and remove your screen, a little bitty Baudrillard will leap out and tell you. Be careful, because you never know, he and Zizek may be back there together, using bloody pliers on Susan Sontag and pantomiming the text of David Lynch's next great magnum opus.

Christoph really says it better, in a response to the thing linked previously below but one that just as well suffices generally:
Baudrillard is teasing out some good points. But then sells them out in the rhetoric that is an aspect of the very problem he alludes to (without recourse, it must be noted). For irrespective of whether Baudrillard is standing behind the ideological counter of this little shop of conceptual horrors he presents, or not: He uses these concepts and makes these differentiations on reflex but without real reflexivity.

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