Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Society of the Spectacle: Notes Towards a Syllabus for a Class on Superheroes, Movies, Video Games, and Donald Trump

"But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence,...illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness."

--Ludwig Feuerbach, "Preface" to the Second Edition of The Essence of Christianity, and used as Epigraph for The Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord

On Super Tuesday, as votes are cast in presidential primaries in a dozen states and a territory--an event that may all but guarantee that the Republican party will nominate Donald Trump for the November election--I am thinking about how I might organize a college class of the sort that I taught for many years as Philosophy 105 / "Film and Politics," with the goal of exploring the ideological mechanisms that brought us to the brink of this result.

Film List:

Fritz Lang, Metropolis
Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will
Sidney Lumet, All the King's Men
Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd
Thomas Schlamme, Kingfish (TV)
Sidney Lumet, Network
Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
Ken Burns, Huey Long (TV documentary)
William Wellman, The Oxbow Incident
Frank Capra, Meet John Doe
Hal Ashby, Being There
Sidney Lumet, Twelve Angry Men
Michael Ritchie, The Candidate

Assigned Readings:

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Erving Goffman, Asylums
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
David Eggers, The Circle


Completion of all readings and viewings.  Voting responsibly.

Since I know nothing of the last 20 years of blockbuster film-making, super-hero comics, and movies, video games and other examples of the fantasy/sci-fi/super-power/super-villain genres, with their super-human protagonists and simplistic plots of good guys/bad guys myth-mongering, this course will have to be team taught with a person at least 50 years younger than I am, who has lived her/his entire life thinking that movies are special-effects-all-action-all-violence-all-explosions all the time--someone who can explain to me the attraction that such productions have for the producers, makers and viewers of current cinema and for video game addicts of every persuasion.

We may be witness to the first generations who find no clear distinction between Reality and Fantasy--who live out entire lives in imagined UNreality.  Reality has died, now replaced by a spectrum of Virtual/Reality of varying degrees of practical impact.  Of course, I'm overstating my case, but not by much. I imagine a class using my syllabus of  "old media" exploration of "new media" issues, and supplemented by the other half of the syllabus to be provided by someone who knows the terrain.

Perhaps my teaching partner can provide some arguments against my view that the constant barrage of this form of mass culture is very much involved in the success of the all-explosions, good guy/bad guy, spectacle-violence of the current Republican Party, and its current front-running candidate, The Donald?