|Situationist leaflet in Denmark.|
Back in the 1950's, following the insanity of WWII, and influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism, the French filmmaker and political theorist, Guy Debord, (Howls for Sade , and Society of the Spectacle ) initiated a movement called, Situationist International, which is outlined in wikipedia here.
Below, I excerpt some passages from that Wikipedia entry I think are relevant to current complaints against modern Western society enumerated by participants in the "occupy wall street" movement. (Go ahead, take a swipe at wikipedia, and me for using it, now -- let's get that out of the way).
I am certain the references to Marx will make the right wingers who stumble errantly on this page wither with rage. That's not my intention, but it can't be helped, reactionaries will be reactionary, after all.
Anyway, here are the excerpts:
With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.
They fought against the main obstacle to the fulfillment of such superior passionate living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked with the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May '68 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.
The Situationists played a preponderant role in the May 1968 (Paris) uprisings, and to some extent their political perspective and ideas fueled such crisis, providing a central theoretic foundation. While the SI's member count had been steadily falling for the preceding several years, the ones that remained were able to fill revolutionary roles for which they had patiently anticipated and prepared for. Incredible as it may seem, the active ideologists (“enragés” and Situationists) behind the revolutionary events in Strasbourg, Nanterre and Paris, numbered only about one or two dozen persons.
The situationist theory of the spectacle is a development and application of the Marxist concepts of commodification, reification and alienation.
The spectacle is the unified, ever-increasing mass of image-objects and commodified experience detached from every aspect of life, fused in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished.
To survive, the spectacle must maintain social control and effectively handle all threats to the social order. Recuperation, a concept first proposed by Guy Debord, is the process by which the spectacle intercepts socially and politically radical ideas and images, commodifies them, and safely incorporates them back within mainstream society. More broadly, it may refer to the appropriation or co-opting of any subversive works or ideas by mainstream media. It is the opposite of détournement, in which conventional ideas and images are commodified with radical intentions.
The situationists observed that the worker of advanced capitalism still only functions with the goal of survival. In a world where technological efficiency has increased production exponentially, by tenfold, the workers of society still dedicate the whole of their lives to survival, by way of production. The purpose for which advanced capitalism is organized isn't luxury, happiness, or freedom, but production. The production of commodities is an end to itself; and production by way of survival.
The theorists of the Situationist International regarded the current paradigm of work in advanced capitalist society as increasingly absurd. As technology progresses, and work becomes exponentially efficient, the work itself becomes exponentially more trivial. The spectacle’s social function is the concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion consists primarily of the expansion of this particular sector of industrial production. The “growth” generated by an economy developing for its own sake can be nothing other than a growth of the very alienation that was at its origin.
Debord argues that in advanced capitalism, life is reduced to an immense accumulation of spectacles, a triumph of mere appearance where "all that once was directly lived has become mere representation". The spectacle, which according to Debord is the core feature of the advanced capitalist societies, has its "most glaring superficial manifestation" in the advertising-mass media-marketing complex.
By 1972, Gianfranco Sanguinetti and Guy Debord were the only two remaining members of the SI. Working with Debord, in August 1975, Sanguinetti wrote a pamphlet titled Rapporto veridico sulle ultime opportunità di salvare il capitalismo in Italia (English: The Real Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy), which (inspired by Bruno Bauer) proported to be the cynical writing of "Censor", a powerful industrialist. The pamphlet argued that the ruling class of Italy supported the Piazza Fontana bombing and other covert, false flag mass slaughter for the higher goal of defending the capitalist status quo from communist influence. The pamphlet was mailed to 520 of Italy's most powerful individuals. It was received as genuine and powerful politicians, industrialists and journalists praised its content. After reprinting the tract as a small book, Sanguinetti revealed himself to be the true author. In the outcry that ensued  and under pressure from Italian authorities Sanguinetti left Italy in February 1976, and was denied entry to France.Worth a ponder, at least, right? I found out about this movement by chance while doing a little research for another endeavor related to contemporary art. I stumbled on a link to Situationist International in an entry that describes "Culture Jamming," which I arrived at via "Contemporary Art." A strange attractor kind of serendipity going on there I think.
It appears the Situationists had the whole media advertising, broadcast TV, disinformation funnel figured out. And they figured it out sixty years ago. Corporations in the US, and politicians owned by corporations for that matter, do take provocative, unsettling imagery, and wash away with money all of the negative impact -- think of mountaintop removal, deep ocean drilling, hydro-fracking, global warming, corporate campaign contributions, and religion trumping science in schools with creationism. And then think of how these topics are laundered for popular consumption: clean coal, energy independence, domestic jobs, natural climate change, First Amendment guaranteed free speech, an equally valid, competing scientific theory. Bullshit. Not one of these things bring any good at all. And the crazy Situationists saw it coming. We are being manipulated. And not for the better. Not for our better, anyway. We are being manipulated so we lie down and go to sleep while corporate thugs steal our money and futures, and destroy our planet.
Beware though, the Situationist International page has the word "Communism" on it, which pretty much rules it out as a contributor to modern US political dialectic. If you dare to mention Marxism, Communism, or even Socialism -- maybe especially Socialism -- the right-wing, reactionary, pseudo-libertarians will turn red, scream, and blow you down with gobs of spit sprayed at you along with their epithets, including parabolic references to Hitler and Fascism; references which the uninitiated will find baffling and unintelligible. You need a secret decoder ring to figure out what the hell these automatons are talking about. Their logic always tunnels through the disinformation sewer back to Nazi Germany, though...or Stalinism, or Castro's Cuba (all bad places and times). And when your eyes glaze over with confusion and dismay, your screeching interlocutor will insist you learn your history, Pal. They always throw in a patronizing diminutive like, "Pal," just to unnerve you a bit. Or, is that an unconscious tick of hot-tempered, Hitler-loving reactionaries everywhere? I am not sure. Maybe you can tell me. Learn your history, Pal.
For the record, I am too old and cynical to think Communism could ever deliver a fair and equitable society, but I do think Marx and Engels were pretty smart -- smarter than me, anyway. They had a lot of seemingly prescient ideas. Finally, I don't think Socialism is as bad as the US right-wing corporatists would have one believe, nor do I think it is executed flawlessly anywhere. But where Socialism is practiced, or more precisely, social democracy is practiced, I think it delivers a more socially just version of capitalism where people are not kicked to the curb and left to die if they are too old, sick, or mentally unraveled to earn a decent, living wage -- or, if economic conditions induced by the incompetence of corporate leadership precludes the possibility of earning a living wage. And social democracy, where it's been practiced so far at least, delivers societies where 99% of the wealth is not controlled by a corrupt 1% of the population.
So, you right-wing, reactionary, corporatist flunky, before you start calling me silly names like fascist, communist, socialist, Marxist, or even social democrat -- I'm not. Yet. I still believe fair and honest competition -- real capitalism -- works best for everyone. But take out the fair and honest, and you lose me, and a lot of other folks. The Situationists are back.
Peace & Love.
|Cover of film The Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord, 1973|