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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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Notes 159

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Notes Introduction 1 (Arendt 1970, p. 41) quoted in (Habermas 1983). 2 This was subsequently reprinted in his Philosophical-Political Profiles (Habermas 1983). 3 This shared understanding is the very opposite of that of Descartes, who isolated himself from the world in order to determine what was real. Chapter One: The Agonistic Public Realm 1 Arendt has been accused of being overly sympathetic to Eichmann, in not being able to see his demonic intention in constructing and designing death camps (Kristeva 2001a, p. 145). To her critics she seems to have a misplaced faith that Eichmann would not have been able to carry out these unconscionable acts had he engaged in an internal dialogue; that is, had he started actually thinking as opposed to knowing. Indeed it may appear that the line Arendt draws between banality and evil serves no other purpose than to stress her own faith in a particular type of non-instrumental thought. 2 The term “realised” highlights how the link between thought and reality, is mediated by public speech and action; to “realise” something is to make it real through consideration and reflection. 3 (Arendt 1958, p. 175) cited in (Kristeva 2001a, p. 171). 4 There is some debate about the accuracy of Arendt’s reading as there is some evidence to suggest that the Athenian polis was somewhat hostile to individualism—perhaps best exemplified by the trial of Socrates. However, Arendt certainly paints the polis as a forum for collaborative individualism; convinced by the heroism inspired by the...

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