Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Yes Men

They have not been arrested yet. Why is this? Surely "The Man" is not so willfully blind as to miss such explicit self-marketing, or to fall for the gig just like the sucker bureaucrats who are their targets/victims? But who/what is the real target here? The brilliant style of such groups resides in their ability to pre-empt the game of spectacle, to subvert it from within. The real victim remains, as it should, the entrenched assumptions and hegemonic passivity of a certain structure, of a discourse and its habits of self-legitimization. But even this is saying too much. Passivity itself is not to blame, as if something purely isolated, externalized. Rather a capacity for self-critique is exposed indirectly through parody. A disquiet from 'the outside' is made briefly present, but without securable presence--intangible, fragile, and disquieting. Maybe this is still saying too much. In any case, they provide refreshment. Surely the FBI is just waiting, for an incriminating moment when the benefits outweigh the risks? To arrest them on shallow charges would be to publicize martyrs for free. In presuming to announce the dissolution of the WTO in favor of a new organization beholden to a sincerely-funded, ballsy U.N., and even based in a Third-World country*, the Yes Men articulate what indeed appears to be the will of a majority of the world's people, not to mention that of the bureaucrats attending these bogus conferences themselves.

*Well hell, why not? Are the Neo-Con-Artists the only ones permitted to have radical ideas, crazy enough that they just might work? How about mandatory, Instant Run-off Voting for all U.S. citizens? How about radical campaign finance and election reform? Effective yesterday. As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that "bureaucrat" necessarily qualifies as a universal slander. "Simple-minded" might be more accurate.

In order to describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions, and the forces that work against it, it is necessary to make some artificial distinctions. In analyzing the spectacle we are obliged to a certain extent to use the spectacle’s own language, in the sense that we have to operate on the methodological terrain of the society that expresses itself in the spectacle. For the spectacle is both the meaning and the agenda of our particular socio-economic formation. It is the historical moment in which we are caught.

The spectacle presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned. Its sole message is: “What appears is good; what is good appears.” The passive acceptance it demands is already effectively imposed by its monopoly of appearances, its manner of appearing without allowing any reply.

The tautological character of the spectacle stems from the fact that its means and ends are identical. It is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the globe, endlessly basking in its own glory.


The agent of the spectacle who is put on stage as a star is the opposite of an individual; he is as clearly the enemy of his own individuality as of the individuality of others. Entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomous qualities in order to identify himself with the general law of obedience to the succession of things. The stars of consumption, though outwardly representing different personality types, actually show each of these types enjoying equal access to, and deriving equal happiness from, the entire realm of consumption. The stars of decisionmaking must possess the full range of admired human qualities: official differences between them are thus canceled out by the official similarity implied by their supposed excellence in every field of endeavor. As head of state, Khrushchev retrospectively became a general so as to take credit for the victory of the battle of Kursk twenty years after it happened. And Kennedy survived as an orator to the point of delivering his own funeral oration, since Theodore Sorenson continued to write speeches for his successor in the same style that had contributed so much toward the dead man’s public persona. The admirable people who personify the system are well known for not being what they seem; they attain greatness by stooping below the reality of the most insignificant individual life, and everyone knows it.

-Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Update: A link.

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