Poster for "The Hunger Games" 2012
Poster for "The Hunger Games" 2012

Poster for "Battle Royale", 2000,
Poster for "Battle Royale", 2000,

Although Guy DeBord wrote his "Society of the Spectacle" in 1967, the work struck me as profoundly illustrative of contemporary life dominated by mass media and advertising. Obviously I'm not alone in this opinion - Best and Kellner do an excellent job of showing how the "New Stage of the Spectacle" applies to the news media cycle, alternating between fashion and film, politics and scandal, distraction upon distraction which entertain and simultaneously isolate us. DeBord's theories have become a rich breeding ground for speculative fiction, especially since the dawn of the new millennium. Specifically, war as spectacle. Kellner touches on this theme repeatedly in his articles, invoking the images of September 11th to show how the spectacle has become a key piece of the wartime tactic. In fiction, we have The Hunger Games in the US - a popular book series with a wildly hyped film adaptation coming out this week - and Battle Royale in Japan. The plots of the two properties are remarkably similar, enough for there to be some accusations that author Suzanne Collins plagiarized or ripped off the Japanese novel/film. I think it would be more fair to say that the two works are natural extensions of what DuBord already established.

Both films are dystopic stories about how the government decides to deal with food shortages and overpopulation in their various societies by having groups of teenagers fight to the death, with the final winner getting to continue living. The "results" are then broadcast - the theme of spectacle is more prominent in the Hunger Games. Its a large part of its promotion, and the tag line "the World Will Be Watching" refers to this theme. In both cases the participants are removed from society and forced to compete, with scarce resources alloted to each to imitate some kind of meritocracy. Especially in the case of the Hunger Games, spectators are expected to identify with the participants and consider victory a desirable outcome: "The more [the spectator] accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires" (DuBord, 1967, section 30). The trailer demonstrates the profound change between the Katniss who lives as an ordinary citizen and the glamorized, heavily promoted participant in spectacle.

There are also obvious differences in class between participant and spectator, and Battle Royale focuses in particular on the bloodthirsty hatred the older spectators feel at the expense of the teenage killers and victims; however, even the victims largely see the spectacle as a part of daily life and find it incredibly difficult to escape the pre-established roles they've been forced to play: "The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification" (DuBord, 1967, section 3).

The "game" (both properties refer to the life or death battle as a game) is forced on the participants by the government and privledged classes, who use the spectacle as a distraction to avoid conversations about the social problems that instigated the battles in the first place: "It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue." (DuBord, 1967, section 18).There is no place to debate the appropriateness or value of the spectacle in either story.

The winner is hailed, with the unspoken assumption that the losers did not deserve life. In addition the spectacle reminds the spectators that those in power have the authority to take away not only your freedom, but your life for no reason other than for their own amusement: "In the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the world and is superior to it. The spectacle is nothing more than the common language of this separation" (DuBord, 1967, section 29). In both properties theree are attempts to subvert the goals of the spectacle, with mixed results.

-Tracy Carlin

Thoughts for the week...
Three Essays by Baudrillard:
  • Part 1, "The Gulf War will not take place" was published in Liberation on January 4, 1991.
  • Part 2, "The Gulf War is not really taking place" was published in Liberation on February 6, 1991
  • Part 3 ..........


………………………..published in Liberation on March 29, 1991.

As a postmodernist, Baudriallard challenges our perceptions of reality and truth as do his counterparts Foucault and Barthes and poststructuralists like Derrida. “Contrary to the title, the author (Baudrillard) believes that the events and violence of the Gulf War actually took place, whereas the issue is one of interpretation: were the events that took place comparable to how they were presented, and could these events be called a war? The title is a reference to the play The Trojan war will not take place by Jean Giraudoux (in which characters attempt to prevent what the audience knows is inevitable).”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulf_War_Did_Not_Take_Place). Whose reality whose truth that contributed to the Gulf War? The issue of heavy death tolls on the Iraqi side relative to the fewer US deaths can be attributed to the advent of virtual warfare conducted through aerial bombings and other remote techniques that were extended practices from earlier US operations in Kosovo.

As the war culture became more sophisticated and remote, the media culture capitalized on the fact that journalists could capture images and stories with relatively little threat to their safety. The “CNN Effect” in which the use of a hyperreality and spectacles was born in which “Realist/liberalist” worldviews became embodied within a media system increasingly reflective of technocapitalism.Similarly, highly graphic and violent simulation war games sprouted during this time showing a technoculture in which the convergence of illusion and reality on hypermedia platforms perpetuated the desire to engage in violence and justify entering further wars under the impressions of low casualties, sophisticated remote attack systems, macho power, the other (l’Autre) being barbaric and dangerous etc. In the spirit of Baudriallard’s Simulacra and Simulation, armed forces increasingly began relying on creating environments that mimicked the types of places and people soldiers engaged in combat – arguably encouraging the creation of a reality in which the enemy was depicted within the parameters set by creators of the simulations, regardless of whether these were accurate in fact. Such simulations definitely were built upon in the later attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan in the 21st century.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7vUEDy_lfg Military Simulation in Mojave Desert

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xKltv8GaTo&feature=related Video Game Simulation

- Sarah

andy_warhol_marilyn_monroe04.jpeglife-is-beautiful-brainwash-4.jpeg pixelization_andy_warhol__s___marilyn___by_maggiemgill-d4p1dpi.jpeg


-Metasebia Yoseph

Before this week, I had only seen the Wachowski brothers “The Matrix” once, and that was 12 years ago when I was barely a teenager. After reading the essays assigned for this week, I wanted to watch the film again, refreshed by new knowledge and ideas. This time, however, I also viewed the movie ust a few months after having seen John Carpenter's, “They Live”. In this film, the earth has been taken over by aliens who look like normal people (often important or rich), who propagate the slavery of the human race to a mutant form of extreme capitalism in which everything we encounter is coded with slogans and messages to help us digest our subservience. Only with the use of magic sunglasses can we see how things actually are:

(a clip from "They Live" (1988)).

Compare this to how Neo enters the “Real” in “The Matrix” (1999):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6q51Htw5gY (embedding disabled, please click link)

As I watched “The Matrix”, after reading the works by Baudrillard and Debord, I started thinking about definitions of the Real and the Virtual, and how these spaces are represented in the two films, as well as in the readings. In “They Live”, for example, the protagonist – the nameless man, nicked “Nada” - can only access the real through the mechanical process of putting on sunglasses. In “The Matrix”, Neo must undergo a laborious and heavily technological process to free himself from the Matrix.

In both of these movies, however, the Real exists in opposition to the existing world, or matrix. As Seyda Ozturk writes, the version of the Real in “The Matrix” is more of a Deleuzian take than a Baudrillardian one. In “Simulacra and Simulations”, Baudrillard does not posit a Real that exists in opposition, or resemblance, to the world we find ourselves in, but instead writes of “a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal”. For Baudrillard, the “territory no longer precedes the map”. Neo's rebirth and entrance into the Desert of the Real presupposes that there is indeed a true real and we're just on the wrong side or in the wrong body. The Baudrillardian Real, however, would not presuppose that any true real exists, but instead find itself located in endless simulacra in which there exists no referent to an actual real

- Jen Feldman

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I write a lot of Jackson Pollock because discovering his work and especially seeing it in person was such a watershed moment in my life as a culture consumer. Today, he seems like a cliché figure in the art world canon, up there with Picasso, Ansel Adams, or Warhol. Artists who seem almost too obvious to reference. But when I was 14 and on that school field trip and I stumbled apon “Autumn Rhythm” (seen above), I didn’t know any of that. It was a pretty great moment.

Reading this weeks readings and coupling them with my own museum experiences, I am brought to a few interesting thoughts. Firstly, before my in the flesh encounter with the above piece, I was most certainly aware of it. Like most “masterpieces”, it was always already mediated through images I saw in books and magazines before ever witnessing the real deal. I have sadly never seen the Mona Lisa in front of me, but I know what she looks like, I know her history, and I have an already formed concept of the object in my mind. I am no longer able to feel the shock and awe of discovering her as a tangible object, free of historical context. The images in books have done all the work for me.

However, when I discovered “Autumn Rhythym” in that side room at the Met, I received a similar shock and awe, albeit slightly mediated already. Of course, I had seen the images before and could recognize what it was. But seeing it in the flesh, absolutely massive and taking over my entire field of vision, really knocked me on my ass. As Malraux points out, works of art reproduced in books lose their general proportions. We see them all as relatively the same size, at least small enough to fit in a book. Thus, when I saw it off the page, it was a reveltion. But this seems to be the exception that proves Malraux’s and Benjamin’s rule. If I had never experienced in person, I would never have known its true power. And even that power, that “aura”, of course, is diminished via its mediation and reproduction in pictures.

It’s also interesting to thing about art and art history in terms of Bahktin’s dialogism. We do no speak in a vacuum, we speak with the assumption of a response. “The utterance is constructed while taking into account possible responsive reactions,” says Bahktin. Art and works in museums are much the same way, in some respects. If we look at the work in museums today, we can see an arc in the dialogism. Much of the older art serves a utility function and was never intended to sit on a white museum wall. “A Romanesque crucifix was not regarded by its contemporaries as a work of sculpture...[museums] have tended to to estange the works they bring together from their original functions and to transform even portraits into ‘pictures’” Malraux explains. Later, we see formal portraits painted for nobility, meant for consumption as a cultural, artistic product, but never intended to be seen in the current setting, with other paintings by other contemporaries, grouped together in the museum setting. Even more challenges arise when we see works of art that actually were created with the intention that they should be experienced inside of a museum. With such intent in mind, how does the art change? If it is always mediated through the dialog between artist and gallery or museum, what does this say about the “aura” of the art? Finally, we have art created with the expected audience not to be in a museum, but looking at a book or a computer screen. The digitization of the art is a built in component from the outset. What does this do to the “aura” of a work? Does it have a lessened one when compared to works of art created with different audiences, different dialogic frameworks in place?

“Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which the sense of touch was for other epochs” (Debord, 18). Guy Debord argues in the Society of Spectacle that mass media has changed our world into a spectacle society. In the spectacle society, visual media is the most important media. People care less about the truth, but receive information by talking pictures. Debord thinks that in this kind of society, truth doesn’t exist and people are superficial.

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This argument reminds me the KONY 2012 campaign, which is so popular on many social media websites. Kony 2012 is a film made by the Invisible Children, Inc. that tries to call up the attention to the ‘Stop Kony’ movement and the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony. While this video was published on YouTube, it gained 50 million clicks for the first week and was spread via social media websites all over the world rapidly. In a very short time, it I fist time watched this video on the most famous Chinese social media website, weibo.com and it was highlighted by “Please use 30 minutes to finish this video and share it”. I watched more than half of it and shared it. Couple days later, a video named “What Kony 2012 Doesn't Tell You” started to spread on social media websites. Opposite voices appeared. A Ugandan journalist, Rosebell Kagumire said, “This paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible.” Then I realized that the movie KNOY 2012 was a soft news that was packed in a Hollywood way to mislead our minds. However, we live in a world that shaped by visual images, so we are cheated by the superficial images.
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On the social network websites, what we are doing is mechanical reproduction. We mechanically share and forward visual images and never think about a deeper meaning. Most people play a role as a superficial copier without any other actions in those simulacra.

--- Xindi Guo