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Spectacle

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Edited By Jennifer Creech and Thomas O. Haakenson

How does the visual nature of spectacle inform the citizenry, destabilize the political, challenge aesthetic convention and celebrate cultural creativity? What are the limits – aesthetic, political, social, cultural, economic – of spectacle? How do we explain the inherently exclusionary, revolutionary, dehumanizing and utopian elements of spectacle?
In this book, authors from the fields of cultural studies, cinema studies, history and art history examine the concept of spectacle in the German context across various media forms, historical periods and institutional divides. Drawing on theoretical models of spectacle by Guy Debord, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Jonathan Crary and Michel Foucault, the contributors to this volume suggest that a decidedly German concept of spectacle can be gleaned from critical interventions into exhibitions, architectural milestones, audiovisual materials and cinematic and photographic images emerging out of German culture from the Baroque to the contemporary.
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Live on the Air, Live on the Ground: The “Chamberlin Flight” as Spectacular Event, June 1927

Extract



Here is the apparatus! Climb in!

— BERTOLT BRECHT, The Flight of the Lindberghs

Introduction

In spite of the word’s etymology, any narrow link between modern social “spectacle” and visuality is deeply problematic. This essay, in place of a narrowly visual conception of spectacle, focuses on the history of liveness, and specifically, on a crucial, coalescent moment in the history of broadcast liveness in Germany, taking place in the early summer of 1927.1 Seen ← 75 | 76 → in historical terms, “spectacle” might be taken to refer to the ideological functions – hegemonic, distractive or subject-constitutive – of mass culture in capitalist or state-capitalist modernity, or used more loosely to refer to the various forms and delivery methods of the entertainment and culture industries of the last two centuries. In neither case, however, can spectacular structures or effects be seen as strictly visual, whether we take spectacle to be a series or set of discrete events which draw and fascinate a public audience, or, more generally, as a pervasive mode of organized social experience.

“Liveness” is a central concept – albeit an unstable one – in theories of media and performance, perhaps above all in theorizing the nature and impact of broadcast media.2 The concept is a complex one, not least since the apparent immediacy of liveness – including “live broadcasting” – is, of course, not immediate at all, but organized, in any given media-historical situation, through complex and never quite stable arrangements of technologies, protocols, institutions and aesthetic...

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