Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, August 04, 2014

Spectacle From Marx to Debord to Big Data

First being degraded into having, then having degraded into appearing, and now appearing degraded into targeting....

We have arrived at the "targeting" phase of Spectacle. In the specifically digital-networked Spectacle since the turn of the millennium -- after which mass-mediation is no longer defined by broadcast and press publication -- what Debord called the Opium War of "enhanced survival" (his condensation of the Benjaminian War Machine in the Epilogue of "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility" with the Adornian "manufactured needs" of the Culture Industry chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment) has given way to a micro-targeted marketing harassment promising to confer both legibility and individuation for consumer/partisan subjection, an operation absolutely continuous with at once the Big Data profiling framing every subject for eventual legal prosecution and the biometric profiling tagging every subject for ongoing medical experimentation (digital networked bioremediation by Big Pharma) and/or eventual effective targeting by drone (the drone is synecdochic for the range of collateral damaging demanded by disaster capitalism).

Quite relevant to this telling of the tale is Naomi Klein's latter day elaboration of the Debordian account back in No Logo, in which an advertizing practice originating in the false individuation of mass-produced consumer goods via the brands they bear eventuated in the global/digital moment in the false individuation of mass-consumers via the brands they buy. As in Debord, the degrading of already degraded having into "appearing" seduces spectator-subjects through something a bit like Althusserian interpellation, offering up social legibility, usually by means of subcultural signaling of identifications and dis-identifications, through the citation -- via conspicuous consumption -- of already-available scripts and stage-settings (the grownup living room on the glossy cover of a furniture catalog, the rebellion of a concert t-shirt, the romance of over-expensive coffee, the reassuring daydreams of futurological projections and displacements).

There is a threat inhering in the Althusserian hail -- yes, a threat to rather than resource for hegemonic management -- should just enough hails ring out (hey, you, hey, You, hey, YOU!) the subject turning and turning and turning to meet the would-be authority might be left more dizzy than docile -- might even make the reflective turn of thought-made-act to which Arendt looked for a last miraculous hope of redemption from  tyranny. But is this threat recontained (or rendered more efficient, in case the threat was never more than delusive anyway) in the targeted hail of the networked-data profile? Can we resist the authoritarian hail of the profile that authors you for you? The Big Data Hail scans the iris and the gait and the buying history and the message trail and the credit rating at once to collapse the indetermination of multiple readings depriving you -- in a privation yielding a last vestige of privacy -- of the singular selfhood that becomes the target, knows enough more than you about you do to aggregate the into the heavy hand of the Spectacle, a knowing so authoritative the transferential brute-force alone at hand might re-write you in the image of the profitably congenial profile before you know enough to know it?

1 comment:

Dale Carrico said...

In my present critical theory intensive I have lectured on the Benjamin, Adorno, Debord, Althusser, and Klein trotted out in this density -- this is the sort of red thread I pull hour after hour in my head as I try to get to sleep each night during the twelve weeks I teach in the summer. Hence, the not blogging much thing I mentioned in an earlier post.