Monday, March 14, 2011

Playing Nintendo's game

I hope by now we have established that when you read Volume 1 of Capital, we are talking about what happens to you at work; when we talk about something like Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, we are talking about what is experienced outside of work, generally speaking. Naturally there is is an important relation between these two realms, between production and consumption.

Last week I said that, for me anyway, many things are clarified when introduced to the crucible of work. It is easy to talk to people about what is happening to them. I am a patient person, and my method is only to supplement conclusions people have already drawn by filling them out with what I know. This way we accompany each other, with whatever primary experience or theoretical knowledge that we have. This opportunity presents itself regularly.

On the other hand, you might say that many more things are obscured when exposed to the light of the Spectacle. "Spectacle" is a very good name for it: it is a spectacle! The problem for, say, Nintendo is the same for social justice; as the company's president put it, you are competing "with anything that demands people's attention and energy." Within a consumer society, that means anything and everything!

In my experience, this means waiting much longer for opportunities to add anything to the conversation that could act as affirmation for people in difficult circumstances. Consumerism does a very good job of overcoming our long-term concerns with successive, short-term distractions. You have to account for this: everyone wants to talk about their brand new whatever it is, but almost nobody is happy. Yet that short-term high can be repeated indefinitely, for decades, in fact. There are often only short intervals when people can really have each other's attention in a meaningful way. A lot of times I find that even in conversations that are ostensibly heartfelt, there is a preference to console and retreat than to proceed through places of uncertainty, perhaps because we haven't developed those skills.

So operating within the spectacular is, for me, like undertaking guerrilla warfare where you hardly ever do anything. You have to wait long periods, accompanying people the best you can. The internet can be helpful in composing a piece like this, for example, and certainly lends to it the potential to reach a broad audience; nevertheless there remains the question of competing with anything that demands people's attention and energy. It may be that this is the most important consideration for anyone trying to produce on behalf of social justice: to invest in whatever you think is most deserving of people's limited attention and energy, because there is no moving forward without their consideration.

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