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Democracy in the Age of New Media

The Politics of the Spectacle

Tauel Harper

In the age of the spectacle, democracy has never looked so bleak. Our world, saturated with media and marketing, endlessly confronts us with spectacles vying for our attention: from Apple and 9/11 to Facebook and the global financial crisis. Democratic politics, by comparison, remain far from engaging. A society obsessed with spectacles results in a complete misfiring of the democratic system.
This book uses critical democratic theory to outline the effects of consumer culture on citizenship. It highlights the importance that public space plays in creating the critical culture necessary for a healthy democracy, and outlines how contemporary ‘public’ spaces – shopping centres, the Internet, social networking sites and suburban communities – contribute to this culture. Terrorism, ecological destruction and the financial crisis are also outlined as symptoms of the politics of the spectacle. The book concludes with some basic principles and novel suggestions which could be employed to avoid the pitfalls inherent in our spectacular existence.

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Introduction: The Concept of Democracy 1

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• I N T R O D U C T I O N • The Concept of Democracy A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person. —James Madison emocracy is a deceptively simple concept—rule by the people. What “rule by the people” means is far more difficult to discern. Some believe that democracy means people should be actively engaged in the process of government, while others suggest it means that the people should act as a critical judge of the political process, entitled to vote out the government if it fails to do its job. Regardless of what you assume democracy to mean, it is hard to argue that people in advanced industrial economies are getting better at democracy unless you insist that democracy has little to do with politics. There are a number of reasons to suggest that the great democratic governments do not actually allow for rule by the people; that instead, representative democracy merely creates the illusion of choice and control, all the while further entrenching the interests of the already powerful. If “rule by the people” refers to individuals’ participation in decisions about what is shared and public, then contemporary political systems have only a tenuous claim to be democratic. Despite the widespread acceptance of representative democracy as the best political system, it is unusual to find anyone living in that system who feels like they have a personal role to play in the...

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