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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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Chapter Five: The “Public” Realms of Spectacular Society 85


• C H A P T E R F I V E • The “Public” Realms of Spectacular Society …As I was walking, I saw a sign there And on that sign said, NO TRESPASSING But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing Now, that side was made for you and me. In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple By the relief office - I see my people And some are grumbling and some are wondering If this land's still made for you and me. —Woody Guthrie ‘This Land is Your Land’ (1940) here is no better way to understand the emergence of homo spectaculum than to look at what has happened to public space and those social institutions that seek to provide meaning in late industrial democracies. In this chapter I intend to outline the conditions of the public sphere in the age of the spectacle, and also to highlight how the detachment of systems from the lifeworld has led to a perversion of the public realm beyond that produced by instrumental rationality. In order to approach the issue of how agonism is usurped in late capitalist societies, I will indicate how the control of steering media translates to the control of discursive spaces, which in turn leads to political power. I hope to outline what I mean by suggesting that the public realm of homo faber has become further corrupted by the whims of homo spectaculum; detailing how the loss of a shared...

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