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<nettime> The Society of the Unspectacular
Eric Kluitenberg on Sun, 10 Jun 2007 19:00:31 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Society of the Unspectacular


dear nettimers,

The short text below was given as a fast talk in the closing program  
of the INFOWARROOM series on media criticism and visual cultures at  
De Balie Centre for Culture and Politics in Amsterdam, June 8 & 9  
2007. After three seasons the INFOWARROOM series came to a close this  
weekend with an extensive two-day lecture program devoted to the  
theme "At the end of the era of mass media", including presentations  
by Arthur Kroker (Ctheory.net), David Garcia, Richard Wright  
(Mediashed.org  / Mongrel), Patricia Pisters and many others. The  
recordings of the live streams will soon be placed on-line.

The archive of the INFOWARROOM series can be found here:
http://www.infowarroom.org

and at the Balie website:
http://www.debalie.nl/dossierpagina.jsp?dossierid=45611

Much of the material is in Dutch, but some of it is either entirely  
visual or English spoken - enjoy!

bests,
eric

--------------------------

The Society of the Unspectacular

It is time to leave the theories of Debord about the Society of the  
Spectacle behind us. If today we witness the hyper-spectacular in the  
mass-media, this should not fool us. It is not the apotheosis of the  
spectacle, but much rather the eclipse of the spectacle - the final  
moment of tragic sublimity, of hyper-violence, before it fades out....

In many ways the fate of the spectacle society mirrors (and is  
mirrored in) the culture of the spectacle par excellence, that of the  
mass-mediated United States of America. If today the USA projects its  
power as super-state throughout the world with an unprecedented hyper- 
violence, then this tragic spectacle should not fool us. The USA has  
long shed it status as the sole superpower in the world. Silently  
financed by China, economically eclipsed by the EU, again China, and  
soon even India, unable to procure for its own wasteful energy needs  
(hence its dependence on countries like Russia, Venezuela, Saudi  
Arabia), culturally and intellectually unsettled - it has become a  
crash waiting to happen...

The mass-media are about to dissolve into a sea of hypermedial  
fragments, transforming into a multitude of hybrids and singularities  
(does anybody still know what television actually is these days?).  
This inevitably invites a radical fragmentation of 'the public'. This  
is a process that has at long taken hold of the informational  
societies. The current explosion of self-publication in countless  
weblogs, on community websites, self-video portals, in on-line  
diaries, web fora and a plethora of individual websites is only the  
visible sign of an undercurrent that was already for many years  
transforming 'the public' into an amalgamation of increasingly  
unrelated  subjectivities and singular interest groups.

What can be witnessed today is the rise of swarm publics - highly  
unstable constellations of temporary alliance, creating a public  
sphere in constant flux - globally mediated flash mobs that never  
meet- fuelled by sentiment and affect - escaping fixed capture.

The face of "radical mediocrity"

Rather than tending towards the expression of hyper-individuality,  
these swarm publics, by lack of common frame of reference, tend  
towards the lowest common denominator; the absolutely unparticular -  
mediated in excess to find confirmation of its own averageness. This  
is what we could perhaps call the face of "radical mediocrity"  (as  
philosopher Henk Oosterling would probably call it, though I'm not  
sure he understands the same thing with this as what I'm getting at  
here).

Mass Media then become Generic Media: What we can see on YouTube is  
first and foremost the eternal return of the same, the absolutely  
average, the radically unparticular, the excessive practice of  
everyday life.

The media space of Generic Media is a quotidian space: It is the  
space of the everyday. It is inherently unspectacular. Generic Media  
is never in any sense an anti-spectacle, it is simply the denial of  
spectacle altogether.

What can be witnessed in the universe of self-media is the  
nominalisation of the mediated image - and what is so striking about  
it is that the image (on average) is so exceedingly boring. It is the  
grand testimony to the human spirit's inability to move beyond  
itself. We can witness it day in and day out trapped in its own  
circularity. The media image in the universe of self-publication  
tends towards that negative horizon where it looses all its  
articulation and becomes 'vernacular', something that is impossible  
to capture.

The current excess of self-mediation was already prefigured in the  
early experimental internet cultures of the 1990s. When I was asked  
to reflect on the Liverpool variation of the Superchannel project,  a  
do-it-yourself web-tv platform facilitated by the Superflex  
collective from Copenhagen, called Tenant Spin. I couldn't help but  
noticing while going through the archive of this web-tv project in  
the UK's oldest tower-block during reconstruction how incredibly  
boring and unspecific, 'normal' these webcasts were. In no way did  
they reflect the spectacles of mass media. I called it "Aesthetics of  
the Unspectacular", and of course these were media without an  
audience par excellence!

The dark face of "YOU"

The productive moment of self-media is quite evidently its escape of  
authoritarian indoctrination. However, this certainly does not mean  
that it constitutes a space without conflict. Much rather conflict  
flourishes in the space of generic media. In a sense the system of  
self-mediation is the ultimate expression of Chantal Mouffe's idea of  
antagonistic pluralism. The space in fact has a double face, at the  
same time the face of radical mediocrity and a much more darker face:

The dark-face of "YOU" - is constituted by the exponential  
proliferation of do-it-yourself xenophobia, racism, hatred and  
paranoia ("don't trust anyone - not even yourself!"). No theory to  
account for social reality can be trusted anymore. Every argument is  
immediately overturned, reversed, subverted, distrusted. Discourse is  
tribalised, fragmented and ultimately atomised. The unceasing on-line  
debate about the conspiracy theories of 9/11 are the clearest case in  
point - the excess of do-it-yourself paranoia has resulted in a space  
of complete disinformation, in which all public discourse breakdown  
(and decision making removes itself entirely from the public sphere).

The state apparatus - no longer assured of mediated mass-mind-control  
has to respond to the radical fragmentation of its publics with new  
systems of control, and adopts the swarm-model of radically  
distributed surveillance (rfid, smart dust, etc.) and the integration  
of the biological body of its underlings in a technologically induced  
system of control (biometrics). If Joseph Goebbles still believed  
that the true base of political power was "to capture the heart of a  
people and keep it", today the complete visibility of hyper- 
surveillance strives for the complete traceability and scrutiny of  
all people.

Power today is vested not in the ability to connect and become  
visible, but much rather in the ability to disconnect, to become  
invisible and thus untraceable, at will. This is the paradox: under  
conditions of complete media transparency, decision making retreats  
from the public sphere altogether.  Agency today is located outside  
the domain of visibility.

Eric Kluitenberg,
Amsterdam June 2007.


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