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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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Conclusion: What Can Be Done? 151

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• C O N C L U S I O N • What Can Be Done? This is my world And I am the world leader pretend This is my life And this is my time I have been given the freedom To do as I see fit It's high time I've razed the walls That I've constructed —REM ‘World Leader Pretend’ (1989) he hallmark of a successful democracy lies in its ability to provide its citizens with the opportunity to partake in meaningful public engagement over shared resources and decisions. This book has sought to outline how far away from this engagement the democracies of late capitalism are and to highlight how this shortcoming is affecting public action. This outline of the myopic development of contemporary public spaces is not intended to imply that there is no hope for humanity, but to generate awareness of this situation so that these issues can be considered when constructing new democratic institutions. Habermas’s and Arendt’s theories can be useful in this context. A combination of their theories enables a characterisation of liberal democracies as inherently flawed in the way they reflect individual sovereignty. In highlighting how contemporary conditions restrain emancipative development I hope to encourage readers to act—to utilise the expressive action of one’s own, which, according to Habermas and Arendt, is really the only hope for recapturing a sense of self-rule. My method has thus been in the realm of traditional critical theory—to create an awareness of what is wrong in...

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