Dec 18, 2013
The Phantom Left
Posted on Nov 1, 2010
By Chris Hedges
The liberal class wants to inhabit a political center to remain morally and politically disengaged. As long as there is a phantom left, one that is as ridiculous and stunted as the right wing, the liberal class can remain uncommitted. If the liberal class concedes that power has been wrested from us it will be forced, if it wants to act, to build movements outside the political system. This would require the liberal class to demand acts of resistance, including civil disobedience, to attempt to salvage what is left of our anemic democratic state. But this type of political activity, as costly as it is difficult, is too unpalatable to a bankrupt liberal establishment that has sold its soul to corporate interests. And so the phantom left will be with us for a long time.
Politics in America has become spectacle. It is another form of show business. The crowd in Washington, well trained by television, was conditioned to play its role before the cameras. The signs —“The Rant is Too Damn High,” “Real Patriots Can Handle a Difference of Opinion” or “I Masturbate and I Vote”—reflected the hollowness of current political discourse and television’s perverse epistemology. The rally spoke exclusively in the impoverished iconography and language of television. It was filled with meaningless political pieties, music and jokes. It was like any television variety program. Personalities were being sold, not political platforms. And this is what the society of spectacle is about.
The modern spectacle, as the theorist Guy Debord pointed out, is a potent tool for pacification and depoliticization. It is a “permanent opium war” which stupefies its viewers and disconnects them from the forces that control their lives. The spectacle diverts anger toward phantoms and away from the perpetrators of exploitation and injustice. It manufactures feelings of euphoria. It allows participants to confuse the spectacle itself with political action.
The celebrities from Comedy Central and the trash talk show hosts on Fox are in the same business. They are entertainers. They provide the empty, emotionally laden material that propels endless chatter back and forth on supposed left- and right-wing television programs. It is a national Punch and Judy show. But don’t be fooled. It is not politics. It is entertainment. It is spectacle. All national debate on the airwaves is driven by the same empty gossip, the same absurd trivia, the same celebrity meltdowns and the same ridiculous posturing. It is presented with a different spin. But none of it is about ideas or truth. None of it is about being informed. It caters to emotions. It makes us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge. And in the end, for those who serve up this drivel, the game is about money in the form of ratings and advertising. Beck, Colbert and Stewart all serve the same masters. And it is not us.
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