Friday, February 19, 2010

Introducing the spectacular Sarah Palin

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle:

The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification.  As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges.

In its simplest sense, the "spectacle" might be described as the industrial production of information under capitalism. Like any industrial production of this sort, it assumes particular social implications of the Marxist variety -- a dictatorship within production, an ever-expanding scope of production, and the centralization of all production -- which alienate people both from the work they perform and from each other. When the commodity produced is information, however, reality itself is something we experience as it has been manufactured, only to be reinforced by our social manner of experiencing it.

"Populism" has entered the language of our of day, understood as a popular reaction against "elites." The class character of the language is appropriate, particularly in light of the portion of the US working class from which it is presently derived. For 30 years now, those workers closest to industrial production have experienced an unrelenting assault by capital which has put them in direct competition with the most desperate subjects of the so-called developing world. US workers, unable to approximate the lack of rights or the scale of impoverishment, have been punished by losing industrial capacity to their more "competitive" rivals. Whole communities have been upended, and it is safe to say that an entire way of life for these workers has been summarily destroyed. Capital has explained it as a way to reproduce itself for the benefit of a retooled, information-based economy; but it already has its eyes trained on new victims within the IT and professional-based sectors. "Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks,” in the words of Marx.

Sarah Palin has emerged from the wreckage carrying the banner of "populist" revolt. The "emergence" of Palin is instructive in itself: At the forefront of a movement against elites, the movement endeavors to enshrine "one of its own" in the very apparatus of elitism they claim to despise as the root of all their problems: big government. Within the tea party movement, class conflict informs this contradiction, as the working class elements are solicited by capital to endorse "populism" in its commodity form. Alienated from a genuine populism of self-directed action, the tea partiers consume populism as it is manufactured nationally; and distributed to them in their homes, cars, and workplaces.

Liberals, who live at a greater distance from the front lines of industrial destruction, have watched the regression of "blue-collar" social life as an uninterrupted series of spectacles produced for their benefit, as it also happens to be produced by their kind. Liberalism, which favors the ascendancy of an educated, technocratic elite, possesses no language of populism, for it has turned its back on the working classes in order to assume elite status through a renewed alliance with capital. What this has yielded for liberalism's social mission is plain to see in the administration of Barack Obama, which is more likely to suspend the tax-supported stipends on which many Americans depend than it is to ever suspend its murderous and self-defeating "national security" efforts abroad -- though the budgetary implications are clear. Still, the distributional advantages which liberals enjoy within the working class have enabled them to forestall the wholesale destruction of their lifestyle; though with the ongoing transfer of wealth from workers to capital, the process is certainly off and running.

The identification of the working class with competing elite groups divides and conquers any possibility of an authentic American populism emerging in the near future. Alienated from each other, we are all the more susceptible to "uniting" around "that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges." We can believe in "change" just so long as there is a public relations extravaganza which supports our impressions of it, and so long as those impressions are corroborated by others experiencing it at the same time. We believe in it insofar as it is a product, not of our own activity, but of accumulated capital pursuing its own ends.

1 comment:

zencomix said...

This is an excellent summation of the process by which the Sarah Palin Product is delivered to eager consumers.

If Ron Paul had tits, a wink, and a smile (and a catchphrase! gotta have a catchphrase, you betcha!), they would have ramped up production of his "Populist" product line, with all the necessary Product Placements.