The likeability factor: it’s a true democratic black hole, sucking more and more of society into its vortex as it devours the entirety of culture, invisible but for when it enters as a blip on our radar just as it’s beginning to feed again.
So far Donald Trump’s rumoured bid for president of the United States in 2012 is based on his own coy suggestions of it, backed only by his recent public statements on abortion and his skepticism about the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate.
What’s actually compelling Donald Trump to allude to the fact that he might run for president in 2012? The answer probably falls somewhere along an almost indistinguishable line between publicity and a genuine desire to run the country. And while we can’t quite confirm the latter — aside from taking Trump at his word — we can quantify the former. That is, the ratings are good.
The ratings are good. It’s like an epitaph.
In the decade since September 11, 2001, the only thing we’ve been told to be sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything anymore.
That narrative of fear allows for solutions to plug holes that we never knew existed before. It forms the basis for pre-emptive solutions, for politics to act as an infomercial for democratic freedom — just a repetitive mantra encouraging the vapid masses to call in and sign up for new and improved safety, a problem masquerading as a solution.
Don’t get left behind. Don’t get left exposed. But behind who? Exposed to what?
There is an emptiness, too, of the public space, replaced with a democratic online world full of everybody, but that is simultaneously barren and quiet. Even Marx’s commodity fetishism has gone from tactile material goods to abstractions in a silent electronic void. Relationships once expressed via the transfer of objects are now transacted in a virtual emptiness. An accepted silence filled with only the ideas of something.
And as Slavoj Žižek suggested after the collapse of the World Trade Center, the attacks on September 11 were “the last spectacular cry of twentieth-century warfare.” On the other side — this one — we find the warfare of invisibility, of drone strikes, of cyber-terrorism. All of it antiseptic, clean, and largely unseen; a decaffeinated war: war that looks like war, tastes like war, but states that it is not a war. Something telling us it is nothing.
In this emptiness, we vote for a collective future.
What McLuhan recognized, wrote Lewis H. Lapham, was that “in place of an energetic politics, we substitute a frenzied spectacle.”
“The presidency undoubtedly constitutes a forceful test of a man’s capacities, but his capacities for what?” Lapham asked. “Even if the electorate understood or cared about something as tedious as the mechanics of government, how does it choose between the rivals for its fealty and esteem?”
Devoid of a substantive discussion or an engaged electorate, “the one attribute that can be known and seen comes to stand for all the other attributes that remain invisible, and so the test becomes one of finding out who can survive the stupidity an pitiless indifference of the television cameras.”
In his early political posturing, Trump has recounted not what could come, but what already is. He is a loud echo of tired debates, reborn in a different suit. He is replacing nothingness with nothing, and it is interpreted as something substantial, but it is merely a repetition of paranoia born again as valuable rhetoric by way of a TV salesman with a cure.
The ideology of television is not to prepare for the future, but to reflect the endless totality of the Now, an instant polling machine plugged into the gentle hum of the societal heart that has ceased to beat but remains in a state of constant electrified, soulless joy. It’s an ideology of perfection, of total capitalist democracy, a reinforcing agent for stability and security. It is a reassuring mirror vessel that projects our hopes and fears right back to us, and in so doing reinforces both our acceptance of the emptiness and our fear of it. And for that, we love it.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.