“The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.”
There exists you, me, and the third element. This third element is the mediation by images that forms our greater social reality. We are involuntarily plugged into this third element, enmeshed in the nonreal real. It has been called a ‘hyperreality’, a simulacrum that has not only replaced the original but the original ceases to exist altogether. The third element is composed of social media, news, consumerism, appearances, excessive signaling, global connection, the chaotic relations between entities that subsists solely of images. We become so enmeshed in the third element that the Real becomes irrelevant to us. According to our Subjective and collective consciousness, the Real ceases to be.
In the context of this entry I am using ‘meme’ in relation to its use in social media and other news media outlets. A sign (signifier -> signified) which spreads virally through the third element ie simulacra/media and affects the masses who consume it, directly or indirectly through others. This phenomena can be traced back to the earliest consumerist marketing by Bernays, and later taken to extreme theoretical limits by Debord then Baudrillard. The masses, society as a whole, is ruled by signs, and these signs have developed into a full simulacra, a spectacle, a hyperreality, a third element that minimizes the me and you, that has devoured us whole and leaves us swimming in a simulation without an original.
That being said, our ‘cultural wars’ fought today are merely that, a war of memes, symbolic gestures and attacking signs rather than substantial change. One could say it is ‘position taking’ on a grand scale, the appearance of change or possibility of change without actual change occurring.
A recent example; a young adult opened fired and killed nine innocent black individuals in a historical AME Church. The motive was purely racist, a vain attempt to incite a ‘race war’. The young adult wrote a brief ‘manifesto’ explaining his reasons and positions. Within days the attention shifted from the tragic event to targeting the Confederate Flag at the state capital. The shooter only briefly mentioned slavery, and had one awful quality photo with the flag. Days later a hysteria set in, the hardly noticed Confederate Flag became the national focus. From state capitals to monuments to businesses to video games, any hint of the Confederate Flag has been removed. In a wildfire fashion other brand names and images that could be construed as ‘racist’ or simply offensive is being targeted. In self-congratulating manner the liberal inquisitors bask in pompous moral superiority, proudly declaring this a victory for ‘progress’. In actuality it is merely attacking signs, empty signs at that, and has little to no effect on the actual racial tension that exists. The ‘culture war’ is fought in assaulting images and symbolic action, for the sole sake of feeling morally superior while accomplishing nothing substantial. Through social and news media the aggressive meme is released, targeting particular adversarial symbols, and only in this third element does the dynamic take place.
The madness of the crowd is certainly nothing new. Hysteria is nothing new. What makes it different presently is the hysteria has abandoned the you and me, and has solely infected the third element that collectively binds us all. The hysteria that was once contained can now be spread widely within minutes. A witch hunt, a meme with rabies, spreads as a virus across social media and news outlets. It has no long view, only its appetite at that moment adopted from the mass hysteria. The actual is irrelevant as demonstrated above, what matters most is the appearance of change and the smug self-gratification that comes with that. Whether the hysteria be manufactured or organic, the opportunity to further an agenda is never wasted. It is apparent to see what destruction this mass hysteria perpetuated through the collective third element can cause, it is akin to book burning and witch hunting. One fears it will destroy culture itself, or what remains of it; self-loathing to self-cannibalism. Swept up in the empty noise the actual issues go unaddressed, or insufficiently addressed. The you and me suffers while the ‘war’ takes place in the virtual. The hysteria that spreads through the virtual increasingly becomes totalitarian, not in the 20th century sense of the word, but in the postmodern-simulacrum-discourse use of the word.
There is no immediate solution. The societal discourse is made up of rabid madmen and endless vomiting. This third element, the virtual, will continue to develop until there is little left of the you and me. We may indeed become collectively insane, if we are not already there. Baudrillard was a prophet, and despite considering himself a pessimist, I believe he was far too optimistic. The further advanced society becomes, the more connected and intertwined we become, the more we are forced into one another’s mind, and like piranha we frenzy.