01) Brood en Spelen:
link naar de Nederlandstalige versie (opent in dit venster). Welcome to the show. You're watching Bread and Circuses. I'm your host, doolhoofd the disillusionist, and our special guest is the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard; give him a round of applause. The topic of this lamentation is resistance in the postmodern age, or more accurately, its absence. In retrospect, every revolution that was pushed through in the wake of its inspiring ideology was merely a passing convulsion of intense change and commotion, not a final alteration, and certainly not the end of history. No civilization has ever succeeded in permanently establishing its utopia. Past generations were witness to the spectacle of existence and of the struggle for their ideals; these days we westerners are mostly witness to spectacle in its pure and hollow form.
02) From Fatal Strategies by Jean Baudrillard: "How do our allegedly rational and programmed societies function? What moves the populations, what gets them going? Scientific progress, objective information, insight into the facts and causes, the punishment of those truly guilty or the growth of collective happiness? Absolutely not, nobody cares about that. What fascinates everyone is the debauchery of appearances, that reality is always and everywhere debauched by appearances. That's an interesting game, and it's played out in the media, in fashion, in advertizing - more generally in the spectacle of technology, of science, of politics; in any spectacle whatsoever. The veritable contemporary social bond is the concerted partaking in seduction. If the revolution wants to occur then it must first seduce us, and it can only do so with the signs. But while a revolution might alter the course of history, only its sight is truly sublime. And what do we choose? 'The people didn't really desire a revolution, they desired only its view,' said Rivarol. The spectaclist drive is stronger than the self-preservation instinct, you can count on that."
03) The craving for excitement is so powerful that a display is put on all around all the time. No matter what it is, it has to be eye-catching, instantly gripping, immediately dizzying. Hardly anybody takes the time to think things through anymore. The sad result is a superficial non-culture wherein our mental space is colonized by cheap thrills and freakshows, wherein our minds are polluted by lame jests and bland pop music. A universe of hedonism and narcissism, of hypes and gossip, of commercial garbage and braindead entertainment - of spectacle diarrhea. It's the age-old panem et circenses from Juvenal's Satire X: bread and circuses to pacify the masses, food and frivolities as opiates to keep the majority doped and duped. History repeats itself; nowadays we please ourselves with consumption and spectacle.
04) Bread and circuses, food and frivolities, consumption and spectacle: it keeps the greater part merry and content, occupied and distracted, oblivious and ignorant. It's the default option, especially in the hotchpotch of the urban jungle, that catastrophic capitalist carousel. Random buskers here and there, riff-raff and beggars and nutjobs and winos, the chaotic pinballing of signals, the deadly traffic and the noise and the sirens; the incessant chatter and the whining of the radio everywhere you go. The catwalk on the sidewalk, the compulsive fiddle-faddling with the smartphone during every free moment, fleeting flavor from the fast food fief, the sight of the celluloid in the cinema, and another ale or three afterwards. Caught in the rat race and mortally seduced, that's how we live in this fragile artificial paradise, hurtling from TV to PC, from sweets to salts, from bombast to balderdash, "ceaselessly striving to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which we glut our souls" (De Tocqueville, Democracy in America). Obesity, sociobesity, infobesity and tons of throwaway: these are epidemics of overload, the delirium of a mass society gone haywire.
05) Spectacle in all shapes, sizes and weights, for sale, for rent or for free, and cosmetic surgery high and low: you have to be quite blind not to see that our economy is one big showbiz. Libraries full of books, video halls full of movies, record stores full of music, boutiques full of clothes, perfumeries full of scents, jewelers full of trinkets, candy corners full of sugar. Supermarkets crammed with consumables, the world wide web stuffed with simulacra, and all public spaces chock-a-block with advertrash. A cornucopia, an excess, we're drowning in it. In this day and age every event becomes a spectacle, and for a beautiful experience people are prepared to pay a pretty penny (see Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy). In his master thesis Dries Van Robaeys locates the essence of circus in our insatiable hunger for happenings, and his theory can easily be generalized. Shops and restaurants, parties and festivals, theme parks and tourist traps, television and the internet, video games and virtual realities, comics and magazines, tattoos and body modification, designer products and luxury items. It all consists of a manipulation of appearances, a production of difference, a fabrication of the event, an engineering of the experience and a technical exaction of the spectacle (literature too, by the way). Many more examples may be mustered, because "the society based on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist" (Debord).
06) But wait, it gets worse. Let's not forget the ubiquitous exponentiation of everything that was already spectacular. This phenomenon is called spectacle creep (or power creep). Alas, it has nothing to do with the Radiohead song, here the creeping denotes the gradual intensification of the spectacularity. A good example is the transition from videotapes to DVDs, then to Blu-ray, next to VR, and in the future undoubtedly to the holodeck as seen in Star Trek. It's about pumping up an experience, in the same way bodybuilders work on their figure, in the same way you crank open the volume of your stereo. It's the logic of the ever escalating dose: harder, better, faster, stronger, tighter, prettier. In the battle to attract and allure all possible stimuli are redoubled and reworked to become supernormal stimuli. The virus of extremization is creeping in everywhere. As we all no doubt have seen, people are willing to go to great lengths to seduce and be seduced, willing to go to enormous lengths to charm and be charmed. Indeed, it's always about the Other as seduction - or as disgust: so many dirty apes jumbled together on this rock, every single one firmly convinced it is the most brilliant, most important, most interesting, most beautiful and most wondrous thing to ever grace the Earth's face; "everybody's weird, and they all think they're God," Tom Barman sang. One might even claim that we perform all our feats for the sake of seduction, with results ranging from prodigious and sublime to hilarious and shameful. And humanity has contrived a broad panoply of techniques and products able to multiply certain functions, under the motto "to each his own, and may the strongest stimulus prevail."
07) Thus vision is magnified with the aid of screens and lenses, photo and video cameras, tele- and microscopes. Music is refined with the assistance of audio equipment, which gave birth to an extensive science of acoustics, including quadraphonics and High Fidelity (abbreviated to hi-fi), the HD of hearing (hyper-realism). Flavor is chemically enhanced in our food; the signal that reaches the brain upon tasting a candy bar used to be a sign of healthy nutrition but has now been hijacked and magnified by a synthetic, empty and downright harmful drug-like incentive. This is true for all oral superstimuli: ice cream, candy, soda, energy drinks, burgers, fries, chips (to name but a few). In any case, thanks to abundance, what we chew and chug has become a matter of seduction and pleasure, it is no longer a matter of survival and nutrition. Consumption as a show for the mouth: spectacle and spectacle! Skin and hair and teeth are peacockingly glamourized in commercials; the body esthetic is professionally manipulated and photoshopped in fashion while models and media moguls bank big bucks. Under a watchful eye bodily prowess is pushed to extremes in sports, motion is driven to the limits in speed, and sex is squeezed out in porn. Thanks to the orgy of liberation, what was once human intimacy henceforth exists in a state of total extraversion, of total demystification. All permutations exhausted: just like in Clarke's short story The Nine Billion Names of God. Both genders are naked, and everything is evident.
08) A similar surfeit takes place in contemporaneous cinema. Cynical prostitution of the towering silver screen (pro-statuere: to put on display) - in contemporary cynical cinema (cynema) it's all about the overwhelming impact of the medium itself. The stories are pulled out of thin air (flimsy fiction) and nothing new (originality degree xerox), it's all about a technical extortion of a tepid bewitchment through an attack on the senses with a staging of a series of "dazzling special effects" (which have long ceased to be dazzling, which have long ceased to be special, which have long ceased to be effectual). It's an infinite process of recycling during which countless sequels and prequels and reboots and remakes and spin-offs and crossovers have already been produced - yet these are not continuations of some ridiculous second-hand story arc but only even more spectacular clones. Most are merely overt attempts to milk out the wide-stretched hocus-pocus, the completely counterfeited Marvel of the effects even further. Overblown sensation: the visuals swell while the plot shrinks with each iteration. Perhaps the paradox of computer-generated imagery concocted to baffle the viewer is that it's becoming ever more realistic ànd incredible (amazing ànd unbelievable) at the same time.
09) It's not far-fetched to talk about the rise of techno cinema, as one can talk about the rise of techno music: no narrative worthy of the name, no message, no logic, no credibility; no real substance. All you get is a pellucid concatenation of effects, a useless puppet show devoid of deeper meaning, pre-programmed and served cold by a machine. Thus reducing the seduction of film to a parade of the extreme, extraordinary and supernatural, to megalomania and pure ostentation. Ghosts and vampires and werewolves and zombies; sharks and dinosaurs and dragons and monsters galore; witches and wizards and magic and fairy tale worlds; time travel and robots and aliens and spaceships; superheroes with superpowers off to save the world in their coquettish costumes. Lunkheaded exaggerated violence ("action"), hot pursuits, stunts, explosions, and so on, and so forth. All spiced up with simple humor and topped off with a syrupy sauce of cliché sentiment as the umpteenth faked trickery (hypokrites: actor). It's predictable and forgettable rubbish, generic dramatics pandering to the lowest common denominator, empty starefeed bereft of all emotional resonance. "To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material," Roger Ebert famously quipped. Michael Bay's fifth Transformers for example is just totally soulless dredge. The Power Rangers reboot: worthless trash with five sequels already planned. Fantastic Beasts: I walked out after fifteen minutes. The new Predator: what a disgrace. Why do so many people invest so much hope into two-hour sessions of infantile eye candy?
10) These days they're even adding a third, fourth and fifth dimension to the pellicule. Technological innovations to intensify the cinematic experience are piling up and film is being converted into an UHD virtual reality in an explicit drive for an ever heavier hit of the medium and an ever deeper submersion of the spectator into the nonsense. The sound tapes are already blasted through you in three hundred and sixty degrees Dolby Surround. 4DX: moving chairs, the added props of water and wind and scent and light! Laser Ultra 3D: more clarity, more color, more realism, móre detail! The Image Maximum a.k.a. IMAX experience: an even bigger screen and an even more advanced stereophonics of the sound! OMNIMAX: film on a dome that covers your entire field of vision! Or Barco Escape, "the best immersive cinema experience ever: by combining three projectors with three screens - one in front and one on each side - an impressive panoramic image is created that completely sucks the audience in." The trend is easy to detect: more medium, less content - and premium pricing! Much ado about nothing: what's the use of all those gaudy gimmicks and tawdry take-ins when the picture is pudding-brained pulp? But the thirst for simulations appears to be an urge that's becoming more urgent every day.
11) "If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights," Timothy Snyder remarked, and this is certainly the case here. Technological forcing of the farce: some movies literally cost hundreds of millions to produce - and rake in lots more as the masses devour it all, preferably with an oversized bucket of corn in one hand and a coke in the other. Junk food, junk film, junk fun. Baudrillard again: "seduction does not belong to the order of nature but to that of artifice; above all it supposes the beauty and perfection of an artifact. The object is always the feitiço, the sham, the lure. If you've ever lost your direction at the dash of a word or a look then you know what this perdition means, how you are delivered over to the total illusion of the signs, to the immediate influence of appearances, to go beyond falsehood, into the absolute abyss of artificiality. The deadly distraction one single sign can cause in the blink of an eye..." Then it should come as no surprise that our technology is increasingly assuming the role of an autonomous superstimulus, of a fetish and prosthesis for a doubled Other, worshipped by all. Electronic fun for everyone! Getting high on information is easy, becoming addicted to these new psychedelic devices is no disgrace to us, since at the moment all life is flowing towards our seduction machines, all energies are converging around our spectacle machines. You could even call them miracle machines, because as Clarke's third law states, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Virtualization is irresistible because it's lean and clean and appears to offer limitless possibilities; a simulated supersun always shines on TV and on the WWW; the data buffet is open twenty-four-seven and the formula is all-you-can-eat.
12) So this is what we have now: the diaphanous diorama of technology, brainless entertainment and meaningless amusement, dumbing down and fattening up, bunkering in and sinking away into passive consumption. Bread and circuses for the herd, escapist esthetics for postmodern thrill seekers, shallow sensation for a superficial nation; a dripfeed of fool's gold for a populace of spoiled vidiots. If you've ever seen the folly and the greed at a comic con, the conformist horde and the dopey cosplay and the stalls full of swill, then you should know: the whole world is being Hollywoodized. High tide of (self-)deception: mundus vult decipi! The people clearly prefer beautiful fictions (seduction without reality) over the ugly facts (over a reality destitute of seduction), and are content just looking on from afar (the etymology of tele-vision). Bingeing Netflix increasingly replaces real adventure, social media increasingly replace real contact, digital files increasingly replace real things, porn increasingly replaces real sex, et cetera. Future posthumans will undoubtedly be plunged even deeper into VR. It is the world we pull over our eyes to evade reality: that's The Matrix paraphrased. "If you look at its evolution and extrapolate that into the future, then eventually VR will become indistinguishable from real life," Elon Musk prophesied. Alternatively, Manuel Castells remarked that we are already in real virtuality, "because the internet and the images are a fundamental part of our existence and we can no longer live outside of our own constructions in the networks," because our shared fictions form our culture and create our reality.
13) Everything I've said here, all of the above, only makes sense if you assume beauty to be civilization's supreme value. However, now that countless spectacular and seductive phenomena are blooming and blossoming, it feels like it's time for an agonizing reappraisal of the whole scene. Because except for sharing purposes, there's not a lot of progress to be made by consuming "bread and circuses." You can occupy yourself with it until you kick the proverbial bucket, but it won't change anything and it won't help you, it's simply a bottomless pit of eternal diversion. What we are facing is nothing less than infinite (self-)seduction (yes, we have self-service for seduction too). But glutting up the vacuum of your leisure time and the chasm in your soul with a large pizza and the next stupid series will neither improve your situation nor give it meaning. Escape of illusion, illusion of escape. Dr. Phil already pointed out that life isn't a sprint but a marathon, while Giorgio Agamben pointed out the irremediably episodic character of every enjoyment, so let it be said that no amount of food and drink or image and sound will ever bring us permanent happiness. Sooner or later everything that appears is doomed to disappear and to pass; or else to reappear endlessly, which is even sadder (hell is repetition). What inevitably dawns is the futility of all the display we are wallowing in on a daily basis. The limpidity of our current experiences, reduced to their own impotent spectacles, can only give rise to nihilism. This manifests itself clearly in our mental well-being: the more we guzzle up, the more we dim down. Which is logical somehow, since the more we see, the more we've seen, the less there's left to see.
14) The whole world is inhabited and all nooks have been explored; information is total and true originality, true alterity is missing. The exhaustion of difference leads straight to indifference, to a homogeneous globalized hell of the same: we've browsed each bazaar, we've tested each product; we've tasted each dish, we've drunk each potion; we've heard each genre, we've tried each position. We're slowly but surely getting tired of our own little marionette theater - but: there is nothing else here. Accomplishment might ultimately be the worst possible fate: to pass beyond seduction, towards saturation, disaffection and desensitization. It's a neutralization of the events themselves, due to their virtualization, their tautology, the transpicuousness of their charm: Americans are already talking about blockbuster fatigue, perhaps the time is ripe to introduce a broader concept of spectacle spoliation. Because we are so horribly overfed that nothing truly impresses us anymore. And then, when we've finally seen enough, when we've realized that it's all just seduction, when we're sick of the affectation and the carnival, when the bubble gum of entertainment has lost its flavor, when the excitement and the enchantment have ebbed away, what will be left? Endless monotony? Boundless boredom? An existential void: the blackout of transparency which awaits us. When you can stare straight through all seductive schemes and sidetracks, only the dark and negative side of life remains.
15) From The Big Bang Theory, season five episode nine: Penny: 'What are you and professor fussyface up to tonight?' Leonard: "Star Wars on Blu-ray." Penny: 'Haven’t you seen that movie like a thousand times?' Leonard: "Not on Blu-ray. Only twice on Blu-ray." Penny: 'Oh, Leonard...' Leonard: "I know. It’s high-resolution sadness." Our future is: high-resolution sadness. Perhaps we can even note the emergence of a new disorder, a new nausea: not seasickness but see-sickness, viewing sickness. Spectare: to watch - spectacle means visibility, extreme spectacle means extreme visibility. A pushy, totalitarian and intimidating hyper-visibility; Baudrillard even called it terrorist. Which we owe to our omnipresent technology, that bets everything on the optical. To the clinical precision of the bright rectangle we keep gawking at under hedonistic hypnosis and narcissistic narcosis, like moths at a flame - because that's where the light is shining, that's where most events are played out today: the screen is the scene, the medium the message. We owe it to the hyper-realism of the photo and of film and to the superlative dimension of the UHD detail. To the unblinking stare of the camera; of zooming in, focusing and sharpening; of the close-up, the freeze-frame, the still image. What we're dealing with - admittedly blotted with a broad brush - is a monstrous hyper-exact pornography of the social; to put it even more bluntly: it is the breakthrough of generalized social porn in all its garishness. Not so much in the sense of some circulating sexuality, which is certainly present, but in the sense of the dominant obsession with the visual which has become so characteristic of our culture, the demented spectaclist fixation which has long transgressed all bounds of reason, sense and decency.
16) Pornographic fascination of radical superficiality, pornographic terror of microscopic perfection. Everything must be laundered, polished and purified, right down to the very last letter, pixel and pore. Every individual must be scrutinized, every face pampered, every figure styled, every business logofied, every space sanitized, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The cameras are everywhere, smaller than ever and present in every device; everyone must act out his/her existence in real time and in broad daylight under the pressure of the lens; even the most banal tableau must be captured for eternity and shared with the entire world. "What Orwell failed to predict is that we would buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody is watching" (Keith Lowell Jensen). Cancerous wild growth of appearances, unrestrained proliferation of images, ice-cold debauchery of information; nonstop newsfeeds, shoreless drivel, completely continuous copulation of the sign system with itself. Births and deaths, operations, relationships, weddings, meals (food porn), houses, politics, sports, drawings and paintings, concerts and performances, nature and the animals, the body and sex of course, and all kinds of crazy crap and wayward weirdness. Everything is cryogenically solidified into its own appearance and broadcast out into the public void, all of life is turned into a spectacle and ogled, in a gigantic cavalcade of exhibitionistic excess, in a hallucinating deluge of visibility. An extravaganza which is far from its finale, for there is no doubt that we will persist in our insanity until the bitter end.
17) From Dust Breeding and Fatal Strategies by Jean Baudrillard: "Together with the demise of the secret, this hyper-visibility is our fatal condition. If everything starts and ends with the visual, which is the most degraded form of existence, the point remains to make such extreme disenchantment an object of sideration and perverse desire. So why not propose a reversed hypothesis, opposed to voyeurism and collective stupidity? Why not suggest that what we all want is just to gain the sense that there is nothing to see, that we'll never get the final clue? And this only to verify a contrario the ultimate power of seduction, tracked down unto death in the succession of lifted veils. There is no reality principle or pleasure principle. There is only a finite principle of reconciliation and an infinite principle of Evil and Seduction."