E PLURIBUS UNUM REDUX: The New Sincerity (Part Three)

III: SOCIAL-SPECTACULARISM AND STORM TROOPERS

“Good! Paint my portrait. I may possibly die soon. I have no children; but I do not wish to die completely, I wish to live. Can you paint a portrait that shall appear as though it were alive?”

We are subsumed in Social-Spectacularism, comrades. We consume our “Progressive Blockbusters” with relish. Even without stepping foot into a movie theater, we consume the “dialogue” generated from the mere existence of these monstrosities. The ironic spectacle invades our world through the conglomeration of social media- articles, rants, and posturing; all of which are cataloged and covered themselves. No possible hot-take has not been published somewhere, baiting clicks, inspiring the binary reactions of flame-warring and circle-jerking as it is retweeted, reblogged, and shared on myriad media aggregates. The ritual is repeated so frequently, and with such repetitious brutality- as if the Orwellian boot forever stamping on the face of humanity has evolved into an eternal .gif on an endless listicle in which NOT EVEN ONE POST will shock you! If I must, I note the cases that come to mind:

  • The recent entry in the Mad Max franchise, which generated a conflict between “Men’s Rights Activists” and the Bechdel-testing blogosphere, for having “Women Who Kick Ass!”
  • The feminist Ghostbusters saga, which began with a deluge of Youtube dislikes and climaxed with the twitter crucifixion and apotheosis of Leslie Jones, a now untouchable saint and martyr (and she is funny, I remind you, she is funny)  
  • The JJ-Abramsed Star Wars sequel, which racebaited the Shitlords of “White Supremacy” onto the memetic fields of comment-sections to battle the Humanitarian Jedi (JJ-Abramsed is my proposed neologism for Bawdlerization mixed with Nostalgia-porn; I wrote this prior to the premiere of the latest season of South Park with their “member-berries” making the same point; I am convinced that they are monitoring me…)
  • [update]: “ “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.” Gary Whitta, the original writer on the project, responded in kind, tweeting: “Opposed by a multi-cultural group led by brave women.” 
  • The Angry Birds movie, or should I say, the animated anti-immigration allegory at risk of indoctrinating YOUR KIDS! into deplorable counter-revolutionary thought forms!

You already got the idea.

What is everyone so mad about? The esteemed comedian qua intellectual Patton Oswalt has a partial clue:

“Oh, that’s depressing, Jesus Christ. Star Wars, half the movie is aliens and robots, and a black guy is what set people off? I love how they’re reacting as if this is a classic novel that’s being cast — ‘I can’t believe they booked James Earl Jones to play Holden Caulfield.’ But this is a script that no one has read, so what the fuck are they talking about? If everyone in the original Star Wars had been black, it still would have been a goddamn blockbuster because the movie would have still been awesome. If Star Wars had been Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson, people still would have gone, ‘This movie’s fucking great!’”

Come on y’all, what do you care about this fucking trash? We all know it’s trash! It’s the popcorn scraped from the bottom of the dispenser, coated in a plasticine sheen of chemical butter and salt- It’s not cinema for chrisake! It’s just Star Wars, it isn’t Shakespeare; and even if it was Shakespeare, we all know that what really matters is the script! You can put anyone of any race, gender, or ability into any role, and if the script is great, it’s still gonna be fucking great! Get a grip!

Is any of this important? Why don’t we just ignore it and concentrate on things that actually matter? Well comrades, that is easier said than done for reasons I inted to expound. My thesis is that our current foe is this televisual cultural hangover; this social-spectacularism; the synthesis of the Socialist Realism of the Stalin-era with the Western Post-Modernism of the 20th century elite. What’s key to remember is that “Blockbuster” was a reference to a bomb, before it denoted films that doubled as events. What’s key to think about is the Blockbuster mentality.

 I know! Big fancy college words attached to meaningless, frivolous pustular expulsions of the pop-culture zit- I am no better than those blog-mongers I’ve already castigated. When do I start sniffeling, quoting Hegel, and show on? My autoparodic pantomime must go on, despite my awareness of my complicity in performing it. (This is the heart of the New Sincerity.) The truth of the matter is that “I already am eating from the trash can all of the time. The name of this trash can is ideology” and the name of landfill is the Spectacle. So let us go then, you and I. Let us take a dumpster dive.

Now, to unpack those big ol’ college words with some thick meaty money-quotes lifted from Boris Groys’s The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond. He shall elucidate what Socialist Realism entailed (if you wish to skim, note my italics):

Socialist realism was not created by the masses, but was formulated in their name by well educated and experienced elites who had assimilated the experience of the avant-garde and been brought to socialist realism by the internal logic of the avant-garde method itself, which had nothing to do with the actual tastes and demands of the masses. The basic tenets: of the socialist realist method were developed in extremely’ involved and highly intellectual discussions whose participants very often paid with their lives for an infelicitous or inopportune formulation, and this of course increased even more their responsibility for each word they uttered.”

Analogously, our Social-Spectacularism is manufactured by big-budget corporate conglomerates, the media-elite, who are internally policed for going against the narrative. We no longer reside in the Puritanical days of Hollywood, when illicit conduct, sex and drug scandals could spell the end of a career if publicized. Our contemporary media elites get away with murder, but not with saying “Faggot.” To offend the unspoken partyline is to be made an un-person, a fate worse than death for a celebrity. These “offenses” are themselves a part of the social-spectacularism, as articles will be written decrying the initial offense, the offender will be hunted and made to stand and supplicate before the jury of public opinion, and we shall all forgive him his trespasses with more clickable content. This ritual has surpassed the capitalist necessity of making money. A market failure is less likely to blacklist a member of the media cadre than an offensive and unapologetic tweet.

Socialist realism…  markets not things but ideology. Socialist realism, moreover, feels free and independent of the potential consumer, since marketing conditions rule out the possibility that the ideology will not be bought. The art of socialist realism has already bridged the gap between elitism and kitsch by making visual kitsch the vehicle of etitist ideas, a combination that many in the West even today regard as the ideal union of “seriousness” and “accessibility.” (Groys)

The aforementioned Ghostbusters reboot was a net loss of at least $70 million! Yet none of the cast, nor the director Paul Feig, are having any trouble finding work. The ostensible meritocracy of monetary profits has been replaced with a “managed meritocracy” of memetics. It’s not even hiding anymore. A loyal soldier of the good-think dogma can weather a cataclysmic box-office failure. And in a way, we all “bought” the film, without even turning up to see it. It was given real-estate in our collective consciousness. It is not only the monetary power of the immense system of advertisement that funds the dispersal of social-spectacularist memes that we are up against. The way that these flicks sneak twixt our ears is via vivisecting the pop-culture of yesteryear. We care about these icons of pop culture, as shallow and dull as they may be. We grow up with media that make ample reference to them, often before we are ever exposed to the artifacts themselves. These franchises have more, and stronger, adherents than any religion in the Western world (unfortunately or not). Thus, they have been the ideal vector for the memetic tyranny of televisual irony.

“The turn toward socialist realism was moreover part of the overall evolution of the European avant-garde in those years. It has parallels not only in the art of Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, but also in French neoclassicism, in the painting of American regionalism, in the traditional and politically committed English, American, and French prose of the period, historicism in architecture, the political and commercial poster, the Hollywood film, and so on… [Socialist Realism] regards historical time as ended and therefore occupies no particular place in it, looks upon history as the arena of struggle between active, demiurgic, creative, progressive art aspiring to build a new world in the interests of the oppressed classes and passive, and contemplative art that does not believe in or desire change but accepts things as they are or dreams of the past. Socialist realism canonizes the former and dispatches the latter to a second, mystical death in the hell of historical oblivion. According to Stalinist aesthetics, everything is new in the new posthistorical reality- even the classics are new, and these it has indeed reworked beyond recognition.” (Groys)

Where “Socialist realism [was] oriented toward that which has not yet come into being but which should be created”; Social-Spectacularism is oriented toward “that which exists and how it should be depicted and understood.” Ironically, the art of Socialist Realism screams of Traditionalism from this side of the 20th century; it looks like Norman Rockwell! Without the transcendent vision of an aesthetic reorgianization of society (which is now recognized nearly universally as “dangerous”), we are left with the totalitarian attempt at the aesthetic reinterpretation of society. Rather than an attempt to build a new world, Social-Spectacularism seeks to reorient the interpretation and depiction of the current world. Perhaps there is an underlying desire for change, but it is only a change of facade and not of superstructure.

“Western postmodernism was a reaction to the defeat of modernism, which could not overcome commercial, entertaining kitsch, but after World War II was, on the contrary, increasingly integrated into the single stream of commercial art controlled by the demands of the market. It was this circumstance that prompted many artists to undertake a skeptical revaluation of values and renounce the modernists’ totalitarian claims that they represented a chosen elite and new priesthood. These pretensions have now been succeeded by others, as individual creation is repudiated in favor of quotation and ironical play with the extant forms of commercial culture.

I ask you to scroll through the Marvel rollout plan, and also consider the DC rollout plan, and also consider the Star Wars rollout plan … We are being bludgeoned to death, systematically, on the astral plane. We cannot doubt the effectiveness of this strategy.

Look at the depth of this man’s ideological adherence to the social-spectacle.  

“Just some general thoughts. Your political affiliation is as vapid as your inability to closely examine nefarious entities within films.”

“Or at least, you would be an individual whose real life actions and political leanings would make you antagonistic to your fav superhero.” 

Alan Moore, who is the Kubrick of the comic book, and particularly, the super-hero medium, has this to say about our predicament.

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

What-Would-Jesus-Do has transmogrified into What-Would-Dumbledore-Do.

And I demand that you look through that site.

You thought I was joking? 


“I’m going nowhere! Little known fact about filthy bourgeois neoliberal centrists – we’re tougher than you’d think ;)” – JK Rowling

(She actually said this)

Alan Moore may have been onto something when he depicted Harry Potter as the Antichrist.

The current issue unfolding in the mythos of the social-spectacularist news-cycle is Mike Pence being booed and lectured to, at the broadway musical Hamilton, which has become somewhat representative of this battle on a metasymbolic level. Hamilton is a hip-hop social-spectacularist recasting of the American Foundational Historical mythos of the Founding Fathers (“What-Would-George-Washington-Do?”) with Alexander Hamilton symbolizing the “Immigrant With a Dream.” Of course, I haven’t listened to the damn thing. I can’t bring myself to do it, even out of some sort of “cultural literacy.” This is merely what I’ve gleaned from the ridiculous amount of coverage that it has received for what feels like years. I believe that the video of the cast of Hamilton lecturing Pence makes my basic premise clear.

“We hope this show has inspired you to uphold OUR American values, and work on behalf of ALL of us.” 

Not only is this a tacit admission that Hamilton is a part of the social-spectacularist program didactically, but that it was intended to depict and extend a vision of america; a sense of american-ness; which is itself a relic of the second half of the 20th century.

“It has liberated a lot of people who might feel ambivalent about the American experiment to feel patriotic,” Eustis said. “I can feel it in myself—it makes me cheer to be reminded of everything great about America and to have the story reappropriated for the immigrant population.” 

To have the story reappropriated

Ain’t that what it gets down to?

I proffer this advertisement for Black Mirror on Netflix. Watch it.

This dystopic world is already here. Pop-cultural artifacts render us into zombies, carrying around and replaying this entertainment, this virtual reality, & using it to escape the pressing matters of life.
“And those present long remained in a state of surprise, not knowing whether they had really seen those remarkable eyes, or whether it was simply a dream which had floated for an instant before their eyesight, strained with long gazing at old pictures.”

 

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