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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 Seven: Constructing a Critical Democratic Theory 131


• C H A P T E R S E V E N • Constructing a Critical Democratic Theory Shell smashed, juices flowing wings twitch, legs are going, don't get sentimental, it always ends up drivel. One day, I am gonna grow wings —Radiohead ‘Let Down’ (1997) f course it is possible for humanity to avoid its spectacular democratic failure. This chapter suggests what can be done to reinvigorate democratic practices. By its very nature, critical theory must be a theory of change. While the theories discussed so far portray what has gone wrong with late industrial democracies, what I am interested in is how we can use these understandings to reinstate personal political action as a hallmark of democratic societies. One of the central aims of this book is to present an elaboration of the ways in which it is possible to read agonistic and deliberative theories as complementary when thinking about how democracy might be redesigned. While I have suggested that synthesising Habermas’s and Arendt’s theories presents a pessimistic picture for democracy, I believe it is also possible to identify the potential of constructing a new form of spectacular politics. In this chapter I shall briefly summarise how deliberative and agonistic theories can be understood to be positive about the democratic potentials of homo spectaculum. The deliberative view that communication is the basis of social progress and the agonistic understanding of the benefits of plural interpretations of reality lead us to the conclusion that while homo spectaculum may not be...

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