0) De Nederlandstalige versie is te vinden op www.doolhoofd.be - preview: Reality by EranFowler (used with permission)
1) Welcome to Bread and Circus. I am your host, King Doolhoofd the Disillusionist. Our special guest is Jean Baudrillard; give him a round of applause. The topic of discussion today is rebellion in the postmodern era. In retrospect, every revolution that was pushed through in the wake of its inspiring ideology was merely a passing spasm of intense change and commotion, but not a final alteration, and certainly not the end of history. No civilization has ever succeeded in permanently founding its utopia. Past generations have been witness to the spectacle of existence and of the struggle for their ideals, these days we are mostly witness to the spectacle of spectacle in its pure hollow form. Sing it, JB!
2) "How do our pretendedly rational and programmed societies function? What motivates the populations, what stirs them? The progress of science, objective information, insight into the facts and causes, the punishment of the truly guilty or the growth of collective happiness? Absolutely not: no one is interested in that. What fascinates everyone is the debauchery of appearances, that reality is always and everywhere debauched by appearances. That's 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 veritable contemporary social bond is the concerted 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 did not truly desire a revolution, they desired only its sight.' The spectaclist drive is more powerful than the self-preservation instinct, it is her one must count on." ~ Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies
3) The craving for excitement is so strong that a display is put on everywhere all the time. No matter what it is, it has to be eye-catching, instantly gripping and immediately dazzling; no one takes the time to think things through anymore. The sad result is a culture in which our mental space is colonized by cheap thrills and freakshows, in which our mind is polluted by lame jokes and soulless pop music. A universe of hypes and gossip, of hedonism and narcissism, of commercial garbage and brainless entertainment - of spectacle diarrhea.
4) It's the age-old panem et circenses (Juvenal, Satire X) - bread and circus to placate the masses. Nowadays we please ourselves with consumption and spectacle. It's the default option, especially in the city. The fleeting sensation of flavor at the fast food restaurant, the whining of the radio everywhere you go, the obsessive checking of the smartphone during every free moment, the view of the movie in the theater, and one more can or an ice cream for dessert. Trapped in the rat race and fatally seduced: this is how we live, from TV to laptop, from sweets to salts, from bombast to balderdash, "incessantly striving to procure the petty and vulgar pleasures with which we glut our soul" (De Tocqueville, Democracy in America). Obesity, sociobesity, infobesity: pathologies of the overfull.
5) Spectacle for sale, for rent or for free and cosmetic surgery all over: 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, jewelers full of trinkets. Supermarkets full of consumables, a public space full of ads, the world wide web full of simulacra. An excess, we're drowning in it, nobody can escape. In this day and age each event and every experience becomes a spectacle, and for a beautiful experience people are prepared to pay a pretty penny (cf. Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy). Television series, amusement parks, festivals, restaurants, magazines, comics, videogames. It's all a manipulation of appearances, a production of difference, a fabrication of the event, an engineering of the experience and a technical exaction of the spectacle. So is literature, by the way. There are many more examples to be found, because "the society based on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist" (Guy Debord).
6) But wait, it gets worse. Let's talk about the ubiquitous exponentiation of the spectacular: this phenomenon is called spectacle creep. Very funny but no, it has nothing to do with the Radiohead song. It's about the intensification of an experience, about pumping it up, in the same way you crank up the volume of your stereo, in the same way bodybuilders work on their figure. In the battle to attract and to allure all possible stimuli are doubled to become superstimuli. The virus of extremization is creeping in everywhere. As we all have seen, people are willing to go to great lengths for their seduction, with results ranging from amazing and sublime to hilarious and shameful; and humanity has invented a broad array of artificial products able to multiply certain functions.
7) Thus vision is magnified with the aid of huge screens and tiny lenses, tele- and microscopy. Music is refined with audio equipment, which gave birth to an entire science of sound, including but not limited to quadraphonics and High Fidelity (abbreviated to Hi-Fi), which is the HD of hearing (hyper-realism). Flavor is chemically enhanced in our food (eating has become a matter of seduction, it is no longer a matter of survival). The body aesthetic is professionally manipulated and photoshopped in fashion. Skin and hair and teeth are fanatically x-rayed and glamorized in commercials. Motion is driven to extremes in speed, bodily prowess in sports, and sex in porn; I'll come to that later (Jimmy Carr).
8) The same extortion takes place in contemporary cinema. Cynical prostitution of the towering silver screen - pro-statuere: to put on display. The story lines are ridiculous ass pulls (bad fiction) and nothing new (originality degree xerox). In contemporaneous cynical cinema - cynema, if you will - it's all about the overwhelming impact of the medium itself. About a technical extortion of a cold enchantment through a beleaguering of the senses with a staging of "dazzling special effects" - which have long ceased to be dazzling, which have long ceased to be special, which have long ceased to be effectful. The sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes are not continuations of some story but simply even more spectacular clones, overt attempts to milk out the stretched hocus-pocus, the Marvel of the effects even further.
9) Now they're even adding a third and fourth dimension to film, film is being converted into an UHD 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. Technological innovations to intensify the cinematic experience are piling up. Laser Ultra 3D: more clarity, more color, more realism, móre detail! The IMAX experience: twenty-six percent more image, enhanced stereophonics of the sound! OMNIMAX: your movie projected on a dome that covers your entire field of vision! 4DX: moving chairs, the added sensations of water and wind and scent and light! Or the Barco Escape project, "the best immersive cinema experience ever: by combining three digital projectors with three screens - one in front and one on each side - an impressive panoramic image is created that completely sucks the audience in." The trend is easy to detect: more medium, less content. What's the use of a colossal 8K screen when the picture is stupid pulp? But the hunger for simulations appears to be an urge that's getting more urgent every day.
10) It's 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, no meaning, no depth, no logic, no credibility; no real substance. All you get is the pellucid concatenation of effects, served cold. Thus reducing film to megalomania and pure ostentation. Ghosts and vampires and werewolves and zombies; sharks and dinosaurs and dragons and monsters galore; witches and wizards and magic and fairy tale worlds; robots and aliens and spaceships; superheroes with superpowers. Lunkheaded 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. It's forgettable rubbish pandering to the lowest common denominator; "to call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material" (Roger Ebert). Michael Bay's fifth Transformers for example is honestly one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
11) Technological forcing of the charade: some movies literally cost hundreds of millions to produce - and actually rake in even more as the plebs scarfs it all down, preferably with an oversized bucket of popcorn in one hand and a coke in the other. Junk food, junk film. Baudrillard: "seduction does not belong to the order of nature but to that of artifice; above all it supposes the beauty of an artifact. The object is always the feitiço, the false, the lure." Then it should come as no surprise that technology is increasingly assuming the role of an independent object of temptation, of a fetish and prosthesis for a doubled-up Other - worshiped by just about everybody. Participating is logical, getting hooked is easy, since at the moment all data flows towards the spectacle machines, all energies currently converge around the miracle machines. As Clarke's third law states, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Sun always shines on TV and on the internet.
12) So this is what we have now: meaningless amusement, the diaphanous display of technology, dumbing down and fattening up, bunkering in and sinking away into passive consumption. Bread and circus for the herd, escapist aesthetics for postmodern thrill seekers, shallow sensation for a superficial nation; fool's gold for a populace of idiots. Mundus vult decipi - the people clearly prefer a beautiful illusion over ugly facts. Social media increasingly replace real contact, Netflix increasingly replaces real adventure, digital files increasingly replace real things, porn increasingly replaces real sex, and so on. Future posthumans will undoubtedly be submerged even deeper in VR. It is the world we pull over our eyes to evade reality - that's The Matrix paraphrased.
13) But what inevitably starts to dawn on you is the futility of all this display we are wallowing in daily. The limpidity of the current event, reduced to its own spectacle, can only give rise to nihilism. Not least because everything that appears is doomed to disappear and to pass - or else is doomed to reappear endlessly, which is even worse; hell is repetition. But also because, as opposed to the accumulation of knowledge or wealth, there isn't a lot of progress to be made by consuming "bread and circus." It's simply a bottomless abyss of endless distraction. Filling up the vacuum of the screen of leisure time doesn't change anything, it's merely turbulence (escape of illusion: illusion of escape). As Dr. Phil pointed out, life's a marathon, not a sprint, and while it might provide a moment of enjoyment, no amount of food and drink or image and sound will ever provide a lasting happiness. Presently the reverse even seems to be true: the more we consume, the more indifferent we become. Which is logical, considering that the more we see, the more we've seen, the less there's left to see.
14) 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, numbness, apathy. Indifference towards the event itself, due to the transpicuousness of its charm. Americans are already talking about blockbuster fatigue, perhaps the time is ripe to introduce a more general concept of spectacle fatigue. Because when we've seen enough, when we're sick of the affectation and the carnival, when the enchantment and the fascination have ebbed, what's left? Endless repetition? Boundless boredom? An existential void: the blackout of transparency which awaits us. When you stare straight through all seductive schemes and sidetracks, only the dark side of life remains.
15) Dialogue taken from The Big Bang Theory, S05 E09:
Penny: "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."
16) The future is high-resolution sadness. Perhaps we can even note the emergence of a new disease, a new nausea: not sea sickness but see sickness, watching sickness. Spectare: to watch - spectacle means visibility, extreme spectacle means extreme visibility. A pushy and indecent, totalitarian and even downright terroristic hyper-visibility. Which we owe to our technology, that bets everything on the visual and on appearances. To the multiplied discernibility of the screen - the medium is the message (McLuhan), so the bigger, the better. To the hyper-realism of the photo and of film and the superlative dimension of the UHD-detail. To the unblinking gaze of the camera; of zooming in, of focusing and sharpening, of the close-up, the freeze-frame, the still image. What we're dealing with, painted with a broad brush, is a monstrous hyper-exact pornography of the social - in short, it's the breakthrough of generalized social porn in all its gaudiness.
17) 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 visuality. The cameras are everywhere, micro-cameras in every mobile phone - even the most banal scene must be filmed and photographed. Cancerous wild growth of appearances, continuous copulation of the sign system with itself. Births and deaths, operations, relationships, meals (food porn), houses, politics, art, sports, nature and the animals and of course sex: everything is rendered visible, turned into a spectacle and ogled in a gigantic melting pot of informative excess, in a hallucinating orgy of visibility. An extravaganza which is far from its conclusion, for there is no doubt that we will persist in our madness until the bitter end. Come on Jean, a small encore, please!
18) "Together with the end of the secret, this hyper-visibility is our fatal condition. If everything starts and ends with the visual - which is the most degraded form of existence - the point remains to make such extreme disenchantment 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 finite principle of reconciliation and an infinite principle of Evil and Seduction." ~ Baudrillard, Dust Breeding & Fatal Strategies