An entire edifice is held together by illusion – Debord’s spectacle – and it is the task of the (mass) culture industry and its flagship product, the celebrity, to assist in the illusion’s maintenance.
Celebrity, spectacle, and
A Pharaoh among the purveyors of illusion is visited by trouble. A bell tolled for one of News Corp’s British tabloids, it was laid to rest, and three million-odd readers have been forced to trawl the depths of the media–entertainment industry to find alternative amusement on empty Sundays. In this act we may have witnessed the beginning of the end of the Murdoch empire’s British dominion.
Some of us may also take heart in the likelihood that American investigations will in good time threaten the Pharaoh’s core concerns there. And, with due acknowledgment to the late Ronald Reagan, the mire in which the evil empire finds itself will soon be beckoning to other media concerns in Britain and, perhaps, elsewhere.
Dear reader, though I live in hope that at least one multinational illusion machine may suffer at least a partial dismantling over the coming months and years, I do not delude myself: the end of the culture of illusion is nowhere in sight.
Guy Debord had much to say about the culture of illusion; he called
it “the society of the spectacle”. He termed it thus in his 1967 book of that title. And, I might say, it provides a fitting point of reference for continuing the theme of my column in the previous issue of this magazine. Let me get the juices flowing; I quote from chapter three
of The Society of the Spectacle:
Behind the glitter of spectacular distractions, a tendency toward banalisation dominates modern society… Stars – spectacular representations of living human beings – project this general banality into images of permitted roles. As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented [lives] that they actually live… The agent of the spectacle who is put on stage as a star is the opposite of an individual…
Before I proceed further, I must clarify my position. In my last column I distanced myself from Marxism, satanism and Masonic plots; here I must insist that I am not a Situationist, nor even, particularly, an admirer of Debord. Debord may have been
an underrated cultural theorist (at least in his lifetime), and I respect his eccentricity, but, among other shortcomings, he was hardly a writer.
So, now I must bring Debord’s words down to earth and apply them to the prominent media events referenced above, and spell out the crisis that confronts us. It helps that key issues are of the moment and are, we may presume, in the eye of the more discerning elements of the public.
The tabloid press and its all-encompassing derivative, tabloid culture, is not only a purveyor of illusion and the transmitter of empty promises of fulfillment: it is an agent dedicated to the corrosion of individuality. How else are mass-produced commodities to be sold, if the mechanisms of illusion have not corroded and devalued individuality and created a homogenised mindset among those overtly referred to as consumers? The marketing and public relations industries join the media circus, and, along with a multitude of other industries devoted to the mass production and consumption of goods and services of dubious or of no real value, conspire to fill the chasm the great unwashed call life. Dear reader, this is what is known as a “mass market”, and within this mass market are multiplying numbers of niche markets to which manufactured identity and pseudo-individualism are packaged and sold.
The entire edifice is held together by illusion – Debord’s spectacle – and it is the task of the (mass) culture industry and its flagship product, the celebrity, to assist in the illusion’s maintenance. Thus does tabloid culture fulfill an important role within the broader mass-culture industry.
Tabloid culture simultaneously creates, caters to and engulfs its “consumers” by weaving a narrative of the world and of events that is almost fantastical, that is black-and-white and populated by villains and heroes: endlessly replicated versions of sickly, pre-packaged and pre-digested Hollywood candy, vehicles of almost infantile entertainment, escapism and distraction. Those unfortunate enough to be demonised by the tabloid media also become celebrities: negative celebrities. They are as necessary as the wholesome celebrities and heroes