Panem et Circenses [Nederlands]
"This world is naught but a puppet show for bored gods. The puppet masters 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 so-called "revolution" that has been made in the wake of its inspiring ideology was a passing convulsion of intense and extremely spectacular change, commotion and dynamics - spectacular turbulence, not a final alteration. No culture or ideology has ever succeeded in permanently founding its utopia. The past generations witnessed the struggle for their ideals and the spectacle of that struggle, today we are witnesses to the spectacle of spectacle in its pure and empty form.
"How do our so-called 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 Revolution might alter the course of history, but only its spectacle is truly sublime. And which do we prefer? As Rivarol said, "the people never truly desired 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 (italics added)
The drive to spectacle is so strong that a show 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, 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 - bread and circuses, now as consumption and spectacle. The show of the movie in the theater, the fleeting sensation of flavor at the fast food restaurant, the checking of the smartphone at every free interval, the whining of the radio during the ride home, and one more ice cream for dessert. This is how we live, from spectacle to spectacle, from screen to screen, from sweets to sweets; we are a nation of obese. Obesity, sociobesity, infobesity: pathologies of the overfull.
Spectacle for sale, spectacle for rent, spectacle for free and plastic surgery all over the place: our economy is a spectacle economy. 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 products, a public space full of ads and screens. 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 (cfr. Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy). Television series, cinemas, amusement parks, festivals, restaurants, magazines, video games: production of difference, fabrication of the event, engineering of the experience, technological extortion of the spectacle. Did you know that a team of stylists works two hours daily on Kim Kardashian's hair and make-up?
"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 not spectacle, but its worthlessness. The transparency of the event as spectacle can only lead to nihilism, because everything that appears, will disappear. And the more we consume, the more indifferent we become, 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 drank 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 fate: saturation, disaffection, fatigue, apathy, indifference. Indifference towards the event itself... Because when we've seen everything there is to see on this little planet, when we're tired of the earthly and human spectacle, when the magic and the fascination have subsided, when we can see through every seduction trick, when the amusement no longer amuses us... 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
The snobistic squaring, potentiation, raising to the n-th power of the spectacle. The omnipresent hyper-realization of the spectacular. It's simply pumped up, in the same way you magnify a font or turn open a volume knob. In the battle 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 magnificent and amazing to hilarious and shameful - and mankind has invented a broad gamut of artificial products which are able to multiply certain functions. Thus music is potentiated in hyper-stereo and High Fidelity (High Definition of sound, hyper-realism of sound); vision is potentiated with the aid of gigantic screens and tiny lenses, tele- and microscopy; flavor is enhanced in our food. The body aesthetic is potentiated in fashion; skin, hair and teeth are fanatically screened and spectacularized in commercials; motion is pushed to extremes in speed; sex in porn...
Paragraph censored. Topic: pornography.
Full version with mature content:
Panem et Circenses [Mature]
The same prostitution (pro-statuere: to put on display), the same extortion in contemporary cinema. Ultimate cynicism of the towering screen - the stories are cheap 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 by means of 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 and lucrative attempt to potentiate the broadly stretched-out magic of the effects even further.
Spectacle creep: the raising to the n-th power of the spectacle.
Just like the addition of a third, fourth, fifth 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 gigantic 4K screen when the movie is dumb sensationalized pulp? But the thirst for spectacle appears to be an urge that's getting more urgent every day. 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 meaning, no depth, no atmosphere, no credibility, no real substance. Only the cold and transparent concatenation of cold and transparent effects.
Monsters and magic and fairy tale worlds, robots and aliens and spaceships, superheroes with superpowers, exaggerated violence ("action"), stunts, explosions, et cetera. All topped off by a thick sauce of slimy sentiment as the umpteenth faked trickery.
Liberation of the imagination, or a puppet show on steroids? In any case the technological exaction of the spectacle: some movies literally cost hundreds of millions to produce - and actually rake in even more because the mass eats it all up, preferably with an oversized bucket of popcorn in one hand and a coke in the other. Ever more technology assumes 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 empty display of technology, dumbing down and sinking away into passive consumption. Is this truly what makes us happy, is this truly what we desire?
From the series 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, accompanied by 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 (didn't your mother ever teach you that staring is impolite), an intimidating and totalitarian hyper-visibility. This, we owe to our technology, that bets everything on the visual and on appearances. To the doubled-up visibility of the screen and of information; to the hyper-dimension of the (Ultra) High Definition detail; to the hyper-realism of the photo and of film, 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 must be filmed and photographed. Birth and death, operations, relationships, meals ("food porn"), houses, art, sports, politics, 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 and monstrous pornography of the social - a veritable orgy of visibility. And most notably an enormous increase in visibility in places where there's nothing to see (Baudrillard).
"If everything starts and ends with visibility (which, similar to the concept of heat in the theory of energy, is the most degraded form of existence), the point is still to make such a loss of symbolic space and such extreme disenchantment an object of contemplation, of sidereal observation and of perverse desire.
So why not propose a reverse hypothesis, opposed to voyeurism and collective stupidity? Why not suggest that what people want, that what we all want, is precisely to gain the sense [pressentir] that there is nothing to see, that we'll never get the final clue? The goal then would be to verify - by negation - 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