Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Okay- I admit it

I am obsessed with Stump Lane and the spectacle idea. I think it's the perfect explanation of one of my other favorite philosophers- Gramsci. It explains something that Marx missed, why capitalism is so very very seductive..

Yep- this is another of those rambly posts that no one will comment on cause it's thinky instead of ranty. But right now you either get thinky or you get despondent and hopeless from me. Thinky is my attempt to subvert depression.

I've written before about Gramsci's cultural hegemony and common sense. I only know about it because of an obscure reference in poly sci text book that was brushed off by my conservative poly sci proff. So of course- rabbit hole and books are bought and there ya go.(Dear old poly sci proff- this is why you had to use my papers to lecture from when it came to progressive philosophies).

So common sense, (not to be confused with Cartesian common sense- I think therefore I am) says things like women should be careful to avoid rape. That is an example of "common sense" reinforcing the values of the dominant class. Rapists aren't responsible for rape, women are. Common sense says that hard work will get you the American dream, but hard work really just gets cheap labor from the non-elites to provide the elites with more wealth. It's "common sense" that women want to be thin and attractive to men that keeps women too focused on food and starvation to realize that they are paid less and do more actual work (including unpaid labor) than men do (and totes ignores the women who don't want to sleep with men).

These examples are mostly from a feminist perpsective, but you can find similar examples of "common sense" for any marginalized group.

So where does the idea of spectacle come in? Think about those three examples, single woman walking alone at night, the American dream, the thin, attractive woman. I bet that just those examples brought pretty specific images into your head. Those images don't come from the ether, they are culturally reinforced ideas that we are shown images of over and over and over. Some of them are positive (you can have this, be this, if you just believe in it hard enough) and some are negative (if you don't follow the approved narrative- you will be this).

Let's look at the American dream, because the image of that is so generic that jokes are made about white picket fences. It starts with the house. Now as a homeless person, lemme tell you that the idea of a safe, secure place that is all you own is better than any sex fantasy. Shit, since I was a little kid I've been drawing house plans when I am stressed. I can, with no trouble at all, call up the exact images of my dream home in my head, right down to the baseboards and the window styles. Now everyone has different tastes when it comes to home, but the idea of owning a place that can never be taken from you is a huge one.

So what else goes with that American dream? Oh yeah, a car or two. Again, people have different tastes (if I won the lottery tomorrow I'd own a Volvo c70 hardtop convertible) but cars mean freedom, the ability to go where you want, when you want. That's why access to transportation is a reoccurring problem in domestic violence. I owned 4 cars before I was ever "allowed" to drive one regularly.

Oh yeah, and the American dream comes complete with spouse (of the opposite sex) and children. Love, sex, procreation. Women are taught from childhood to dream of marshmallow dresses and Ken doll husbands and trained to see childcare and housework as fun with dolls and toy kitchens. Any grown woman with a hubby and/or kids will tell you that reality is hard work. Dolls don't projectile vomit red Gatorade on you and you never worry about hunger in a toy kitchen. Men always have jobs that pay at least living wage for a family of 4. Etc, etc, etc.

So the American dream tells us that if we work hard enough at following the dominant narrative we will get security, freedom, love, sex. We will banish hunger and fear and loneliness. The American dream is about the ending of worry and fear.

But it doesn't just tell us, it shows us. This is where the images are so important. You can see the dream house, dream car, dream kitchen, dream spouse, wedding dress, wedding cake etc. If I posted a picture of a man carrying a woman in a white dress over the threshold of a house with a picket fence, you'd know I was referencing the American dream.

This is where that whole snow globe thing comes into play. We see this ideal life in perfect clarity. It's probably easier for you to right now imagine and describe your dream kitchen than it is to describe your actual kitchen. (Perhaps the poverty gourmand in me is projecting the idea that everyone has a dream kitchen. If so, pick your dream house vs. actual home, or dream car vs. actual car).

This ideal is fake, and impossible, for all but the already elite. You can't get it. You can buy parts of it (and that's what they are counting on- buy buy buy), but the dream house doesn't have toilets that need scrubbing or gutters that need cleaning or a mortgage that needs paying. Dream kitchens never have dirty dishes in the sink or coffee rings on the counter or stinky garbage that needs to be taken out.

That is the magic of the spectacle. We are shown that we can eliminate the very real feelings of fear and hunger and loneliness if we follow the spectacle's rules of produce and consume. Work work work, buy buy buy. We become horrible mindless blobs eating our way through our own shit (produce! consume!) spurred on by shiny flashing pictures in front of our eyes.

And we don't even know we are eating our own shit because production is so distant and specialized. A lot of us spend our lives "making copies", pushing pieces of paper around that sell or buy (produce! consume!) pieces of things that make other things.

So what happens when you can't or won't follow that dominant narrative? What happens if you can't produce because you are sick or injured? What happens if you don't have or want a husband but you already have kids? What happens if your dream spouse is the same gender as you? Or if you're not the same color as the happy (white)couple on top of the wedding cake? You might be able to make up for it (if you work twice as hard and are willing to sell out others), but mostly not following the dominant narrative leads to poverty, fear, lack of security, hunger, incarceration, violence. You know, all the things those images are supposed to replace.

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