Radical media, politics and culture.

Eric Kluitenberg, "The Society of the Unspectacular"

"The Society of the Unspectacular"

Eric Kluitenberg, Nettime

[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."]

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

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 Goebbels 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.