"This world is naught but a puppet show for bored gods. The puppetmasters have done everything in their power to deceive the marionettes. They convince the puppets that there is no puppet show and that there are no spectators. They call the puppet theater world, the puppets are called people, and the show is called life."
- Arnon Grunberg, Praise Of Folly 2001
Every revolution that has been made in the wake of its inspiring ideology was a passing convulsion of intense commotion, change and dynamics: spectacular turbulence, not a final alteration. No culture has ever succeeded in permanently founding its utopia. Past generations witnessed the spectacle of existence and of the struggle for their ideals; these days we are mostly witnesses to the spectacle of spectacle in its pure and empty form.
"How do our pretendedly rational and programmed societies function? What puts the populations in motion, what moves them? The progress of science, "objective" information, the increase in collective happiness, insight into the facts and causes, the punishment of those truly guilty or the quality of life? Absolutely not: no one is interested in that. What fascinates everyone is the debauchery of the signs, that reality is always and everywhere debauched by the signs. That is an interesting game, and it's played out in the media, in fashion, in advertising - more generally in the spectacle of politics, of technology, of science - in any spectacle whatsoever. The true actual social bond is the collective partaking in seduction. A revolution might alter the course of history, but only its spectacle is truly sublime. And which do we prefer? As Rivarol said, "the people didn't truly desire a revolution, they desired only its spectacle." The drive to spectacle is more powerful than the instinct for self-preservation, it is her one must count on."
- Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies
The drive to spectacle is so strong that a display must be put on all the time, everywhere. The result is a culture in which our mental space is colonized by cheap thrills and freak shows, in which our mind is polluted by lame jokes and mediocre music. A universe of hedonism and narcissism, of hypes and gossip and commercial garbage, of tepid brainless "entertainment" - of spectacle diarrhea (Facebook!).
It's the age-old panem et circenses (Juvenal, Satire X) - bread and circuses, now as consumption and spectacle. The fleeting sensation of flavor at the fast food restaurant, the incessant whining of the radio everywhere you go, the checking of the smartphone during every free moment, the sight of the movie in the theater, and one more can or an ice cream for dessert. This is how we live, from screen to screen, from sweets to sweets, from spectacle to spectacle. Obesity, sociobesity, infobesity: pathologies of the overfull. "It's not about the obesity of a few individuals, it's about the obscenity of an entire culture," Baudrillard wrote in his Fatal Strategies.
Spectacle for sale, for rent or for free, and cosmetic surgery all over the place: our economy is all showbiz. Libraries full of books, video stores full of movies, record shops full of music, boutiques full of clothes, perfumeries full of scents, supermarkets full of consumables, a public space full of ads, the world wide web full of simulacra. An abundance, an excess, we're drowning in it, nobody can escape. These days every experience and every event is a spectacle - and for a beautiful experience people are prepared to pay a pretty penny (cf. Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy). Television series, cinemas, shopping malls, amusement parks, festivals, restaurants, magazines, graphic novels, video games: production of difference, fabrication of the event, engineering of the experience, technical exaction of the spectacle.
"The society based on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist."
- Guy Debord, Spectacle Society, par. 14
The problem, however, is the worthlessness of it all, and the dire lack of quality. Sadly, the limpidity of the event as spectacle can only lead to nihilism. Not in the least because everything that appears, is doomed to disappear - or else to reappear endlessly, which is even worse; hell is repetition. But also because, as opposed to the accumulation of knowledge or wealth, there is little progress to be made by consuming "bread and circuses" (except perhaps to share and thus to seduce). The reverse even seems to be true today: the more we consume, the more indifferent we become. Which is logical, because the more we see, the more we've seen, the less there's left to see. Blasé: no matter which supermarket we enter, we've tasted every dish, we've drunk every potion; we've listened to all genres, we've tried every position... We're slowly but certainly getting tired of our own puppet show - but: there is nothing else. That might ultimately be the worst possible fate: saturation, disaffection, apathy, indifference. Indifference towards the event itself, due to the transpicuousness of charm itself. Spectacle fatigue... Because when we've seen everything there is to see on this little planet, when we're tired of the affectation and the carnival, when we're sick of ExtravaganzaLand, when the magic and the fascination have ebbed, when we can peep through every seduction trick... what's left? Endless repetition? Boundless boredom? A silent deadness? A void: the blackout of transparency which awaits us.
"Even those that have died a cot death have made a useful and important contribution to the spectacle. A small role perhaps, barely noticed by the audience, but no less useful. And no less magnificent."
- Arnon Grunberg, Praise Of Folly 2001
Spectacle creep: the doubling, squaring, potentiation, raising to the n-th power of the spectacle. The omnipresent, snobbish hyper-realization of the spectacular. It's simply pumped up, in the same way you magnify a typeface or turn open a volume button. In the struggle to seduce, all possible stimuli are doubled up to become superstimuli. As we all have seen, people will go to great lengths for seduction - with results ranging from amazing and sublime to hilarious and shameful - and mankind has invented a broad gamut of artificial products which are able to multiply certain functions. Thus music is refined in hyper-stereo and High Fidelity (High Definition of sound, hyper-realism of sound); vision is magnified with the aid of huge screens and tiny lenses, tele- and microscopy. Flavor is enhanced in our food; the body aesthetic is professionally manipulated and photoshopped in fashion; skin and hair and teeth are fanatically X-rayed and spectacularized in commercials. Motion is driven to extremes in speed, bodily prowess in sports, and sex in porn.
[Three paragraphs omitted. Full version: Bread and Circuses]
The same extortion in contemporary cinema. Cynical prostitution of the towering silver screen (pro-statuere: to put on display) - the stories are ridiculous rip-offs and ass pulls (bad fiction) and absolutely nothing new (originality degree xerox). It's all about the overwhelming impact of the medium itself, about a technical coercion of a cold ecstasy through an attack on the senses with a staging of "dazzling special effects" - which have long ceased to be dazzling or special, which have long lost their effect. The sequel or the reboot is not a continuation of the story but simply an even more spectacular clone, an overt attempt to potentiate the stretched-out magic of the effects even further.
So too with the addition of a third and fourth dimension to film, the realization and hyper-realization of film into an Ultra High Definition virtual reality, in an explicit drive for an even heavier impact of the medium and an even deeper immersion of the spectator into the nonsense. The sound tapes are already blasted through you in three hundred and sixty degrees Dolby Surround. More medium, less content - what good is a colossal 8K screen when the movie is retarded sensationalized pulp? But the thirst for spectacle, the hunger for simulacra, appears to be an urge that's getting more urgent every day. Laser Ultra 3D: more clarity, more color, more realism, more detail! The IMAX experience: twenty-six percent more image, enhanced stereophonics of the sound! Or the Barco Escape project, "the best immersive cinema experience ever: by combining three digital cinema projectors with three screens - one in the front and one on each side - an impressive panoramic image is created that completely sucks the audience in." It is not far-fetched to speak of the rise of techno cinema, as one can speak of the rise of techno music: no story worthy of the name, no message or meaning, no depth, no logic, no credibility; no real substance. All you get is the cold and pellucid concatenation of cold and pellucid effects. Thus reducing film to pure ostentation, megalomania and spectacle for the sake of spectacle.
Ghosts and vampires and werewolves and zombies; sharks and dinosaurs and dragons and all kinds of monsters; witches and wizards and magic and fairy tale worlds; robots and aliens and spaceships; superheroes with superpowers; exaggerated violence ("action"), stunts, explosions; et cetera. All spiced up with simple humor and topped off with a syrupy sauce of cliché sentiment as the umpteenth faked trickery.
Liberation of the imagination, or a shallow puppet show on steroids? In any case the technological forcing of the spectacle: some movies literally cost hundreds of millions to produce - and actually rake in even more because the mass scarfs it all down, preferably with an oversized bucket of popcorn in one hand and a coke in the other. In Seduction Baudrillard wrote: "seduction does not belong to the order of nature, but to that of artificiality; above all it supposes the beauty of an artifice." Therefore it should come as no surprise that technology is increasingly assuming the role of a spectacle on its own, of an independent object of seduction, of a fetish and prosthesis for a doubled-up otherness - revered by nerds, gamers, internauts, iPhone junkies, car lovers, music freaks, television addicts; the proverbial man/woman in the street. A new religion, with spectacles instead of miracles - today all energies converge around the spectacle machines. Meaningless amusement, simulated sensation, the diaphanous display of technology, dumbing down and sinking away into passive consumption. Bread and circuses for the masses; escapist media illusions for postmodern thrill seekers; fool's gold for a population of idiots.
From The Big Bang Theory, S.05 E.09:
Penny: "So what are you and Professor Fussyface up to tonight?"
Leonard: "Star Wars on Blu-ray."
Penny: "Haven’t you seen that movie, like, a thousand times?"
Leonard: "Not on Blu-ray. Only twice on Blu-ray."
Penny: "Oh, Leonard..."
Leonard: "I know. It’s high-resolution sadness."
The future is high-resolution sadness. Perhaps we can even note the emergence of a new disease, a new kind of nausea: not sea sickness, but see sickness, watching sickness. Spectare: to watch - spectacle means visibility, hyper-spectacle means hyper-visibility. A pushy and indecent hyper-visibility (staring is impolite); a totalitarian and intimidating hyper-visibility. This, we owe to our technology, that bets everything on the visual and on appearances. To the multiplied visibility of the screen - the medium is the message (McLuhan), so the bigger, the better. To the hyper-dimension of the (Ultra) High Definition detail; to the hyper-realism of the photo and of film; to the hyper-gaze of the camera; of zooming in, of focusing and sharpening, of the close-up, of the still image... In short, it's the hyper-visibility of generalized pornography.
Pornographic fascination of radical superficiality, pornographic terror of microscopic perfection. Everyone must be watched, every body must be styled, every face must be pampered in its extreme and superfluous visualness. The cameras are everywhere, micro-cameras in every mobile phone - even the most banal scene has to be filmed and photographed. Births and deaths, operations, relationships, meals ("food porn"), houses, politics, art, sports, nature and the animals and of course sex: everything is rendered visible, everything is turned into a spectacle, everything gets stared at. Gigantic, excessive, hallucinatory pornography of the social - a veritable orgy of visibility. And most of all an enormous increase in visibility in places where there's nothing to see.
"Together with the end of the secret, this hyper-visibility is our fatal condition. If everything starts and ends with visibility - which is the most degraded form of existence - the point remains to make such a total loss of symbolic space an object of sidereal contemplation and of perverse desire. So why not propose a reverse hypothesis, opposed to voyeurism and collective retardation? Why not suggest that what we all want is just to gain the sense that there is nothing to see, that we'll never get the final clue? And this only to verify a contrario the ultimate power of seduction, tracked down unto death in the succession of lifted veils. There is no principle of reality nor of pleasure. There is only a final principle of reconciliation and an infinite principle of Evil and Seduction."
- Jean Baudrillard, Dust Breeding & Fatal Strategies