Society of the unspectacular


I recently posted about wavering in my determination to vote for Corbyn. I’m not wavering any longer, although it seemed important to pause and to wonder, with the help of others, whether I was getting it wrong.

Corbyn’s been described as boring. Most astutely, Giles Fraser recently told us, ‘He’s a little bit dull. And that’s precisely why he is going to win. Because he feels trustworthy.’  He’s right, although this isn’t how I’d put it.

Guy Debord’s prescient analysis, Society of the Spectacle (1967), tells us that ‘the spectacle is a social relationship between people mediated by images’. It is not just advertising and media spin, rather, the spectacle is the ‘the heart of the unrealism of the real society’. It is ‘the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals.’

The affirmation of the choice already made… That’s all the spectacle will admit within its shimmering totality. That’s all it can accommodate, though it can offer pseudo-alternatives that exist as mere pacifiers – I give you Owen Smith.

There’s always a risk that Corbyn could be the same kind of pseudo-alternative, a hero for a moment of flag-waving and carnivalesque chanting. The thing is…this isn’t hero-worship or badge-wearing. It’s not even a new form of Trotskyism, whatever Tom Watson says (and I’ve had no time for him since he failed to spell ‘revolution’ correctly in his leadership publicity – it’s not about revelation, Tom, but change).

Corbynist Labour is not very dramatic and the man himself  lacks any engrossing backstory, because he is so consistent. He doesn’t have charisma, they tell us, not realising that that’s because this isn’t about charisma, which is just more of the spectacular. What’s hilarious is that Tom Watson thinks Corbyn supporters are making Labour party meetings boring on purpose to drive out moderates. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Theorist McKenzie Wark, who has written about the development and now the ‘disintegration of the spectacle‘ warns us that , ‘the trick is not to be distracted by the images but to inquire into the nature of this social relationship’.

That’s what Corbyn is about. Not the distraction of the images, but the nature of the relationship. That’s why he’s boring, because it’s repetitive, it’s a slog, and it’s about what we do next to change this social relationship.

Wark continues by asking ‘How can the critique of everyday life be expressed in acts? Acts which…become collaborations in new forms of life?’ We do need to keep an eye on the ever present attempt by the spectacle to absorb our momentum into an effusion over personality, and an abundance of gesture. We need to focus on the acts that are necessary, beginning with, but not confined to, insisting on retaining the leader and the strategy that we chose in the first place.

Because it’s not ‘politainment’; it’s politics.