When politicians succumb to the temptation of turning policy into spectacle—even if it is good policy—it makes the show more important than the policy…
It has become trendy to call everything fake. This is helped by the fact that so many things are fake. The world is awash in “fake news.” So much of what is reported is dominated by hype, hyperbole, and hysteria.
Thus, what passes for news is often just theater. Every nomination becomes an intense drama. Every gesture is endlessly scrutinized. Conspiracy theories thrive. Media turn everything into spectacle and scandal. There is a kind of frenetic intemperance that feeds upon itself with each side upping the ante and responding in-kind. The political scene involves much more choreography than statecraft.
After the no-holds-barred election extravaganza of 2016, there has been a major shift in the popular culture. The spectacle of the fake has taken hold. The drudgery of serious discourse was swept away by living inside the present reality-show setting.
There is a real danger in living inside this theater of the fake—even if merely responding to it in kind. Once the show starts, it is hard to get off the stage. Once pulled into the fake fight, it is hard to get out of the ring.
Turning Policy into Spectacle
And that is what is happening. When politicians succumb to the temptation of turning policy into spectacle—even if it is good policy—it makes the show more important than the policy. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “the medium becomes the message.” Political discourse is hollowed out. It is no longer the idea that counts but the social media entry that contains it. It is no longer the logic of the argument that carries the day, but the hype with which the message is delivered.
When spectacle rules, everything must be sensational. It must be intense and short as the tweet life of news becomes ever shorter. Spectacle easily generates unfounded fears that rapidly appear and disappear, thus creating anxieties and uncertainties. Spectacle polarizes since it challenges all sides to retreat to what few certainties they might have in the face of a whirlwind of sensational happenings that rarely make sense.
Flight from the Real World
All this amounts to a flight from the real world because the only way to sustain the spectacle is by making things ever more spectacular, and thus ever more fake. That is how so many absurd things have entered into the national discourse. Indeed, what can be more fake than self-identifying to be something one isn’t? What could be phonier than the ever-expanding lists of “genders” that find their ways onto government forums and Facebook pages?
However, this surreal world follows the vision of the postmodernists of the sixties. They called for the “deconstruction” of all the great western “meta-narratives.” That is to say, the erosion of certainties would lead to a time when all the nation’s stories, hierarchies, and myths would lose their logical coherence. Everything shatters into subjectivity and spectacle. There are no longer definitions, only descriptions, “simulacra,” and intense experiences. That postmodern world, which no one took seriously back then, now appears on the horizon.
The postmodern rejection of the real world does not make it any less real. The outer veneer of the fake may create the grand spectacle of unlimited freedom and unrestraint. However, it leaves people exhausted, stressed, and unhappy, especially when misfortune calls. When the present spectacle of fake comes crashing down, as it inevitably will, it will leave behind a society devastated and without structure.
That is why it is not enough to just answer the fake discourse. One must abandon and refuse to engage in the whole dialectic. The only way to fight against the theater of fake is to declare the show to be over. Someone needs to say the characters are fictional. The plot is pure fantasy. Everything on stage is choreographed, not reality. It is time to turn off the lights and go home—to return to order.
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