A few weeks ago we covered this idea of spectacle as a show of power. This theme could date back to Roman and Greek spectacles, who displayed public spectacles to entertain the masses. The idea is that the spectacle keeps the masses sated, by drawing their attention towards the trivial (e.g. celebrities) and turning their attention away from the real issues at hand.
Bloodlust – The power of wanting destruction and getting enjoyment in watching it. Now technologically advanced enough to fake violence instead of doing it for real, is this notion still relevant today?
It isn’t hard to apply this theory to modern day – things like the Mass Election Debates in the UK when David Cameron was elected was tapping into the theme of spectacle – although we don’t have the amphitheaters of Rome, we do have The X Factor. The public debates were presented in a similar way, making them feel almost like a game show, and keeping the public in that state of mine where they are unaware that their actions are influencing such important future developments within the country.
The real spectacle I’ll analyse here, however, is that of 30 Millbank, now over a year ago. Just a few days ago I went down to London to film the ‘protest march sequel’. The numbers averaged around 6000 protestors to 4000 riots police. The mark almost got dangerously close to one riot policeman for every protester. Why? Because the government are afraid of Millbank happening again.
I asked a member of the SWP recently why she liked the idea of destroying buildings. She said that hurting people was bad, but destroying an empty building is better because it is symbolic. Some would say that that doesn’t change anything because damaging private property is still illegal – however, when things get so out of hand that this sort of action is understandably needed to be taken, then if a building is going to get destroyed, it’s best to make it one of the most important buildings you can reach.
The Power Of Numbers – If the whole country demands change, the government has no choice but to change. But we don’t demand it, only a minority do. Are things going really well in this country then, or did all of us above miss something?
Of course, why would the government not want another 30 Millbank incident? Not because people get hurt or injured – not that many people did. However, it caused a spectacle – it showed power to the people. Indeed, if 50,000 decide to attack a building, there is little the forces of the government can do to stop them. I is simply our respect for the law, our fear of the state, and our ethic and moral codes that stop us doing so. Psychoanalysis will also state that to destroy things would be to cater for your repressed animalistic side, which is deemed undesirable by respectable society (in other words, if you behave like that, society will reject you).
However, these are all social norms. If you’ve broken away from all that, then there would be nothing stopping you from taking those sorts of actions against the government. That 50,000 attacked in one group showed that the government had got it wrong. It was symbolic – 50,000 people couldn’t be wrong, so therefore the government was. They lost power, because the spectacle was not in their favour. Also previously mentioned – RATM taking The X Factor winner of the Christmas Number One spot, also a spectacle to the public.
Again, I refer to the internet being the reason – connectivity vastly accelerating word of mouth. No need to take my word for it – if my hypothesis is true, then actions against social norms will become more and more. People will be able to communicate with revolutionaries, and access academic literature that explains everything that I’ve learned here a university (heck, I’m not sure university education will be going much longer – it will perhaps become more of a niche… but that’s another topic). The ending question is: if 50,000 people destroying a building isn’t symbolic, what amount of destruction will it take to change a country?
The idea works both ways also. One spectacle of our time was the events of 9/11 and the World Trade Centre bombings. It made the government look powerless to stop and much more powerful foreign force – however, it also (arguably) justified the invasion of Iraq. It told the people of America that they needed their government – they needed protection from suicide bombers and WMDs. In the spectacle of 9/11, the government played the field to their advantage and became more powerful because of it (cue a hundred conspiracy theories).
If your enemy looks stronger than you, you look EVEN stronger when you beat them. It makes sense to represent your opponents as tougher than they really are – then you just have to be absolutely sure that that second part goes to according to plan…
What did 30 Millbank do? It showed the people of Britain that the country was going to hell. Rioters were dangerous, the law was falling apart, and we need the government to restore order, or else we will have total anarchy in the UK. For every effort we make to create a spectacle that makes the government look weak, the government will use the media institutions a their disposal to play the field in their favour.
Of course, one frequently mentioned film in these posts would claim that destroying Big Ben is the symbol needed to totally break capitalism and make the society think for itself. As the old saying goes – ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. The iron is is that us – as final year university students – have now had all our eyes open to this. It’s like the final joke – a joke that you need to be able to handle and cope with (particularly since this idea effectively refers to the brainwashing of entire continents). We now have the power in each of us, to defend capitalism and keep things as they are, or to challenge social norms and join the resistance. Can one world wide web change the way things happen in the future? I – for one – certainly hope so… and without too much carnage either. (World peace for the win! 🙂 )
A Fantasy – Would the 9/11 bombings have been okay if nobody had been inside the towers when they collapsed, or inside the planes when they hit? That often recited movie V For Vendetta climaxes with the destruction of an empty Houses Of Parliament, purely to signify change and symbolize rebirth. Pure fantasy for most. A dream for some. Too much?