Monday, 22 March 2010

Dead Peasants Dream of Pluto.

Classless and Free?
"You think you're so clever and classless and free, but you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see." - John Lennon

Those of you unconvinced of the nature of our politico-economic system, as skewed to the needs and wants of the wealthy few, should watch Michael Moore's new documentary Capitalism: a Love Story. In the documentary, many aspects of late capitalism are explored, including the phenomenon of "dead peasant" insurance. This is the kind of insurance corporations put on their employees, so that when a worker dies the corporation can profit from it. To "Corporate America" young women are particularly valuable, when dead. It's difficult to comprehend how this practice could ever be legal in any society. But it is also hard to comprehend why corporations are considered "legal persons" today. Lawyers seem to be responsible for it, the most cunning and ruthless that money can buy. This form of insurance is often referred to as "dead peasant" insurance, which says a lot about how the elites view the workforce. Companies that insure their workers in this way include: Avon Products, Coca-Cola Company, Wal-Mart, Woolworths and Nestle. Though, there are many more that are less well known.

Also featured  in Michael Moore's documentary Capitalism: a Love Story, were two very eye-opening reports, that coined and explained a new concept. The concept of plutonomy, which is a society in which economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few. The reports claim that the US, Canada and the UK are plutonomous states. The reports single out Japan, Scandinavia, France and Germany as belonging to an "egalitarian bloc". Though, the writers predict greater inequality in the current plutonomies while speculating that many other countries may turn to "plutonomics" in the future. These claims are reminiscent of arguments from the Left, that capitalist states like Britain and America are not democratic and many models have been proposed to explain what such states actually are - polyarchy, plutocracy, corporatocracy etc. But what is so astonishing about these two reports is that they did not come from the Left at all. These reports were written by Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod and Narendra Singh, who are members of the research team for Citigroup. These reports were written in 2005 and 2006, they were leaked on the internet around 2008, before being featured in Capitalism: a Love Story.

The dissidents who claim that the Western capitalist states are not truly democratic, are often shot down and labelled "conspiracy theorists". John Perkins, a former "economic hit man", argues that the US is a corporatocracy, which is composed of multinational corporations who exercise power through the media and by funding political campaigns. At the tip of the corporatocracy, it's difficult to tell who is working for private companies or the government as they often move from one to the other and then back again. Perkins emphasises that the corporatocracy is not a formal and organised conspiracy, as they all work under the assumption that they must maximise profits regardless of the social and environmental costs. The implication being that the self-interest of corporations and the government converge. However, the theory taken by Robert Dahl, and later Noam Chomsky, that the US is a polyarchy is much more believable. A polyarchy is a system which is dominated by a few political parties, that are almost totally identical as they are dependent on the different sectors of private power for their own power. But all of this still sounds a bit too "conspiratorial" and "paranoid". So let's get back to those Citigroup reports.

There are many interesting lines early on in the reports, take this one for instance: "The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats, like it, or not." The style in which the reports were written is one of smug effrontery, as the details of massive inequality are disgorged for their readers - probably less than 1% of Americans. Details like 1% of the American population account for 20% of overall US income, 33% of net worth and 40% of financial net worth. While the combined income and financial net worth of over 90% of Americans does not even come close. In the second report, it becomes apparent that the richest 10% of the populace own 57% of the wealth and the richest 20%  have a 68% share of the income. What is made clear in the first report, from October 2005, that in the US the richest 0.1% drives the fortunes of the richest 5% to 10% of Americans. So the "wealthy few", that power economic growth in a plutonomy, refers to the richest of the rich, which is probably 100,000 or less people.  These facts do not worry the research team, nor their readers I suspect, as the concentration of such vast wealth in so few hands, guarantees that rising oil prices will not effect the global economic system. Though, such prices will effect the poor. Instead of worrying, the team declares the uber-rich a "new managerial aristocracy" and goes on to flatter their readers with explanations of their "entrepreneurship" that verge on social darwinism.

The team present a thesis that high dopamine levels are connected to "curiosity" and "entrepreneurship". According to them, there is a high dopamine intensity among the populations of America, Britain, Canada and Australia, this is the reason such states are plutonomous. This explains the Americentrism of the reports and the sheer arrogance of it's authors. The view they have taken is that inequality is a natural result of our evolution. But they also list six drivers of plutonomics: 1. an ongoing revolution in technology. 2. governments favourable to capitalism and certain tax regimes. 3. globalisation, greater mobility among elites and desperate workers. 4. greater financial innovation. 5. the rule of law. 6. patent protections. The team point to the fact that these drivers are all present in America, Britain, Canada and Australia. They list Eastern Europe, China, India and Russia as "embracing many of these attributes". And point to Continental Europe stating that it may too "succumb" and be "seduced" by the drivers of plutonomy. The oligarchs of Russia, Chinese manufacturing tycoons and Indian software moguls are exemplars of this. But this system is not all powerful and is vulnerable to certain actions from a particular section of society.

Plutonomy is based on income inequality and a society which will tolerate or endorse income inequality is more likely to tolerate plutonomy. There are obvious threats to this system, an organised backlash from the lower-classes being the main threat. So long as the working-class are willing to work at longer hours and lower wages, whilst the possibility of redundancy lurks around the corner, a plutonomy can sustain itself. The team point out that the masses have equal voting power to the rich as a source of anxiety and fear. As a well organised mass-movement could easily "kill off" a plutonomy. However, they explain that this could be avoidable as the electorate seem to believe they can become a "Pluto-participant" one day if they just work hard enough. "Why kill it off when you can join it?" the writers explain before declaring this to be the "embodiment of the American dream." A backlash is probable, but it's not going to happen so long as the economy continues to grow and the electorate feel that they too are benefiting from that growth. Their readers that they describe as "managerial aristocrats", "pluto-participants and "plutonomists", are safe for now because the "rabble" have been sated. It would appear that George Carlin was right when he said "It's called the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Brand Obama - A lack of Audacity.

Hurray for Hope.

Barack Obama has had a busy year, to say the least, and has faced many obstacles in his path as President. Whether or not he has passed those obstacles is another matter... His economic strategy has been deemed "socialist" by the Republican Party and their friends in the media. He has faced hostility, from "Corporate America", over his proposed health-care reform. But there is no doubt that he has many more obstacles to face over the next 3 years. When Obama took office this day one year ago, there was an atmosphere of optimism and anxiety that he would be gunned down before he could live up to his rhetoric. Though, the rhetoric Obama used in his campaign was deliberately vague and lacked substantive content, in fact it consisted mostly of "hurray words" like hope, change and unity. Noam Chomsky predicted that the Obama administration would recycle the policies of the last half of the Bush years, which were considerably moderate when compared to the first term. Unfortunately, it appears that has come true, despite the rampant red-baiting at Fox News, Obama has not deviated greatly from the platform set by Bush. As Gore Vidal pointed out "The shock of this administration will reverberate for a long, long time."

It should be noted that Obama's victory was not a landslide, which is frankly shocking after two disastrous terms with the Bush Administration. Despite the fact that Obama's campaign outspent the McCain-Palin campaign by about $300 million. Arguably, this is part of a consistent pattern in American politics in which the candidates who spend the most win the elections. On an interesting side-note, Obama's campaign was awarded for being the most successful marketing campaign of 2008. It is true that Obama received a large amount of small contributions from people, but the majority of funding came from the same corporate entities and lobbyists, some of which had also backed McCain. Citigroup Inc, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley funded McCain and Obama. Clearly, as the campaign progressed, more of them increased their contributions to the Obama-Biden campaign. Though, between John McCain and Barack Obama, it was obvious, as it is now, that Obama was the lesser evil out of the two. But John McCain and Sarah Palin probably would not have dared to pursue the extreme policies as the Bushites had pursued since 9/11.

During the year since Obama entered office, the US government has sent numerous drones over Pakistan, killing hundreds of civilians and bringing the "War on Terror" to another country. Over the same period of time, Obama has continued a steady flow of military aid to Israel and has condemned a
coup d'état in Honduras while covertly supporting it. For which Obama has been rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize, though time has yet to tell if he is destined to join the ignoble likes of Jimmy Carter, who supported Suharto's genocide in East Timor, and Henry Kissinger, who backed bombing campaigns that killed millions across Indochina. Hopefully, as Cornel West emphasised, the Nobel Peace Prize could function as a form of pressure on the Obama administration, as it is difficult to commit mass-murder with such an award on your shelf. At the same time, the Obama administration has furthered the series of bailouts, which the Bushites initiated, and have poured over $3 trillion dollars into private companies considered "too big to fail". The administration has recently taken advantage of the situation in Haiti, putting the country through "shock therapy" and making sure that debt will keep Haiti paralysed for future decades.

But should we have even expected any "change" from him? The answer to that question is unfortunately, "No". In his brief time as a senator, Barack Obama did not rock the boat, he voted to extend the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposed universal health-care, supported the death penalty and the USA Patriot Act. Guantanamo Bay has yet to be closed and no member of the Bush administration is likely to face trial for war crimes any time soon. The National Security Agency, strengthened under Bush, is currently constructing a vast database, the size of Salt Lake City, which will hold as much information as possible on every American citizen. The information has been gathered from some very cooperative corporations. From such information as credit card details, internet searches, phone calls, emails, text messages and so on, the NSA are going to decide who is and who is not a "terrorist". If this isn't bad enough, there are rumours of a second Patriot Act, even more extreme than the last, in waiting for America's next disaster to provide justification to clamp down on civil liberties.

It's a Free County...

Prior to Obama's victory in late 2008, many attempts at vilifying him were made in the media. Typically, vilification came in the form of labelling him as a Muslim, a terrorist, a foreigner, an anti-American and eventually a socialist. The Right has stuck with the "socialist" label, since it is the most politically acceptable and one of the most misunderstood words in America. The label also lacks the potentially racist connotations of "foreigner", "terrorist" and "Muslim". Though, some on the Right, who are less concerned about provoking a negative reaction, are still sticking with the more controversial labels. The term "socialist" needs no detailed explanation, since 70-odd-years of anti-communist propaganda has already done all the explaining needed in America. Unlike the term "anti-American", which requires an explanation, because Americanism lacks a clear definition that could be used against Obama. Whereas, the term "socialist" carries the connotations of anti-Americanism and of having foreign origins, without being explicitly racial. Though, racism still lurks in the background of the populist critique of the Obama White House.

The financial crisis of 2008 has been viewed by some as an opportunity for the Left and has even been referred to as the "Death of Capitalism". But as Slavoj Žižek stressed in First as Tragedy, then as Farce, it is short sighted to look upon the recession as an opportunity for the Left to reassert itself. Unfortunately, in financial crises it is the Left that is usually hit hard and the Right that propels itself onwards with a mighty shield of populism. There will be no political liberation due to this recession, though there will be a rise of reactionary ideology. Racist populism, war and a rise in inequality may lie ahead. The reaction to those, hundreds of millions, currently in need of food aid has been one of protectionism. This was made clear by the cuts made to foreign aid, that would feed those in need in the Third World, to help pay for the bailouts. It was further demonstrated when the anti-protectionist aspects of Prime Minister Brown's speech were not applauded by American politicians. Though, this is not a surprising reaction from the governing class of the most protectionist country in the world.

It is Obama, not Bush, who is being vilified as a socialist for bailing out needy corporations. As a consequence, he will be remembered for the bailouts and for his socialist label. Though, the Democrats and the Republicans don't even represent Left and Right. The latter represents the far-Right and the former represents what could be referred to as the centre-Right (at best). This is what the Right is currently doing in America, working towards establishing another reactionary President, like Bush or Reagan, who will be succeeded by a President posing as a progressive or a moderate. It's almost like a cycle. The Left will inevitably lose out, since it is only represented in the US by politicians like Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich. The Left has already been harmed by the Right's claims that giving the rich more money is a socialistic action. The fact that Americans can actually fall for this is a testament to the success of massive corporate propaganda since the days of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann. The Tea Party Movement only further confirms this success.

This methodical vilification of the Obama administration and their policies could potentially lay the foundation for a much more extreme administration to succeed Obama. These tactics are no different than those which were used against Clinton in the 1990s, which led to the anointment of one of the worst Presidents in American history. This would appear to be the only logic behind the populist, and borderline racist, attacks launched by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Rupert Murdoch's pundits at Fox News. Perhaps, these individuals have an administration in mind that is even more extreme than the Bush administration. Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to that just from examining their rhetoric. The Democrats have to be turned into a party of elitist liberals, secular progressives, socialists and generic anti-Americans, so that the Republicans can be turned into a populist reaction against that. Which could lead to the election of such an administration in the future.

Elephants in the Room.

As Bill Maher once said on his show "The Democrats have moved to the Right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital." Sadly, it is true that the Democrats are now as thoroughly right-wing and capitalist as the Republicans, though they were never that left-wing in the 20th Century. But at least, it produced politicians like the progressive George McGovern and Franklin D Roosevelt, who took the US towards social democracy, but the party also produced the likes of Bill Clinton, who killed 1 million Iraqis with his economic sanctions, and Harry Truman, who turned the US into a fully militarised republic and nuked Japan. The problem with the Obamaites is that they are not radical enough, they are still the subject of the corporate stranglehold on American politics and a conservative wing in their own party. It is as though Obama could do with taking a page out of Bush's book and ram his policies through, no matter what anyone thinks or says. The bipartisan approach, between two predominantly right-wing political parties, is doomed to fail when trying to resolve problems in the American health-care system. But this is just one elephant in the room.

There is, of course, the military industrial complex which has been out of control since the days of Harry Truman. But the biggest elephant of all in the room, is the notion that the political ideals - negative freedom and business-orientated individualism - of America may not be enough to deal with the problems the country now faces. Privatisation and liberalisation of the health-care system will only function to further strengthen the position of insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations, who are already very powerful and rich. Especially, as the US Supreme Court has passed a ruling on corporate funding of political campaigns - Citizen United v the Federal Election Commission. This isn't surprising as the Supreme Court is effectively a conservative institution, though reactionary is a much more appropriate term to describe the Court today. It is hardly conservative to further the transition from politician to prostitute. So it seems, the record breaking $700 million the Obamaites received will be broken at the election of 2012. It may even top $1 billion and then we can see the winning campaign team receive another marketing award.

Though, it is tragic that another politician of hope may fail to deliver on his rhetoric. Just as the war "Corporate America" has launched against universal health-care is hard to stomach, Obama's failures will to be hard to handle for many. It will be the young people who voted for him and participated in his campaign, who believed his rhetoric about "hope" and "change", who will be most affected by these failures. Not to mention, the 50 million uninsured Americans, the 1 out of every 4 insured Americans who will be denied care, that he has already failed. The Obama administration have had a year, they have accomplished little, and if they don't turn things around over the next year Obama could become another Jimmy Carter or worse, another Bill Clinton. It's unlikely the administration can fail and Obama will come out of it being idealised like John F Kennedy. It is true that the Obamaites have a lot to deal with, but they should act swiftly if they aim to resolve these very serious issues. But instead we find them bombing women and children in Pakistan and loaning money to Haiti, which probably won't be paid back for decades.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Noughties - A Solon's Calling.

Living in End Times.
"What would 'September 11th' have been without television?" - Jacques Derrida

In the late 1990s, people were speculating that the new millennium would herald the end of the world. Over 10 years later and Roland Emmerich has made movie with an apocalyptic vision, which might happen in 2012 apparently. We still cannot imagine the end of capitalism, so we imagine the apocalypse because that is easier to envision in this era of mass fear and cynicism. It would be too easy and cynical to simply describe this time period as a decade of shallow consumerism, horrifying atrocities, celebrity worship, impending environmental doom and avaricious excess. The Noughties were paradoxical, in that wondrous luxuries were now available at the click of a button on a keyboard. But all the while there was a sense that we are drifting obliviously into our own destruction - these are the end times. Yes, this occurred in previous decades, but in the Noughties this was taken to an extreme, pressing onwards as if there are no limits except there clearly are limits now. One question comes to mind: How long can we just keep going on like this?

As JG Ballard once wrote "The marriage of reason and nightmare that has dominated the 20th Century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world."
It could be that the ambiguity, born of that "marriage", is present in the undercurrents of our lives today. Botox is an interesting case in reflecting the strange juxtaposition, the horror and the beauty, the nightmare and the reason. It was during World War II that fears of Germany using biological warfare drove the Americans to develop the chemical botulinum toxin, the principle ingredient of botox, as part of a germ warfare experiment. Botulinum toxin is actually one of the most lethal substances in the world, it causes the disease botulism which has a rate of almost 100% mortality. But it was later found that non-lethal amounts could be used to treat wrinkles. It wasn't until the early 21st Century that botox became accessible to those who weren't the rich or the famous. At times it seemed as though there was a desperation to push consumerism further and further, breaking down boundaries and pushing the limit. But at the same time exhaustion, at the notion of very real limitations and there banality, leading to a increasing reliance on the past.

This feeling of exhaustion, limitation and banality is explicitly present in music. As it is evident that the mainstream music industry is increasingly dependent on past genres and eras to recreate itself, leaving the listeners feeling that it has all been done before. This reliance may have been what led to an abundance of goods and services which lacked the very thing which they used consisted of. Examples: decaffeinated coffee, nicotine patches, sugar free drinks, cyber-sex, even warfare and capitalism. Nicotine patches are cigarettes without the little white sticks of death, which you light up and smoke yourself to death with. Cyber-sex is sex without the physical act of intercourse. People talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as if no one on our side had to die, is this not a desire for war without war? Since in war, people on both sides inevitably die. What about the "liberal communists" like Bill Gates? Those who want capitalism without the inequality, poverty and enormous suffering caused by market forces, who promote the idea that all inequality, poverty and suffering can be eliminated through capitalism with a human face. However, capitalism is not about equality it is about competition, winners and losers,  and dog-eat-dog individualism. Therefore, it could easily be claimed that the liberal communists want capitalism without the very essence of capitalism.

We've seen the politics of fear, along with the most vile forms of Orientalism, put into action following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, which has also reminded us that we're still governed by liars and criminals. The politicians of the West have found a new enemy in "Militant Islam" to replace the communists with, so they can go on increasing defence spending and invading sovereign nations. After nearly 10 years, the "War on Terrorism" has failed to capture Osama bin Laden and bring down al-Qaeda. Though, it has resulted in 80% of Iraqi oil being grabbed by energy corporations and record profits for arms manufacturers - clearly, our leaders have their priorities in order. Never mind the hundreds of thousands who have died. We have seen the Bush administration begin in controversy and end appropriately in controversy. The Bushites were one of the worst administrations in history and has been succeeded by the Obama administration - who were elected by desperation for change. Unfortunately, it appears that the Obama is no dove and that his administration, as they've locked us into a war with Pakistan, are as hawkish as their predecessors. All the while, the media acts as if there should be no casualties of war, again they want war without war.

The truth of free-market fundamentalism has come out in the form of a financial crisis and a series of bailouts after the "liberalisation" in the financial sector. Once their policies began to fail, the Bush administration in the US and the New Labour government in the UK acted in direct contradiction to their rhetoric. In reaction to the monumental hypocrisy surrounding the financial crisis, there has been a rise in reactionary populism on both sides of the Atlantic. It's easier to scapegoat a minority and traditionally the far-Right have always benefited from economic turmoil. Though, in this case the vast majority of Europeans demonstrated maturity in not resorting to anti-Semitism - as Europeans have traditionally. The emergence of some form of racist populism seems inevitable, but at the same time it is certain not to be a return to fascism, as we have seen nationalists gain seats in the European Parliament. Instead, you should expect to see an shift towards increasingly racist immigration policies, as the environment deteriorates and people start to migrate to escape the consequences. The faces of such "moderately" racist policies are Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi, not Jean-Marie Le Pen and Nick Griffin.

The Age of Pleonexia.
"Selfishness does not mean only to do things for one's self. One may do things, affecting others, for his own pleasure and benefit. This is not immoral, but the highest of morality." - Ayn Rand

Here are some interesting statistics about the world from the last decade. Between 1997 and 2009, in the UK, wages for low-earners increased by 45% while wages for high-earners increased by nearly 300%. Under the Bush administration, tax-cuts for the wealthy led to 1% of the American population accumulating over $1.5 trillion in less than a decade. 5% of the world's population owns nearly 90% of the world's wealth and consumes around 30% of the world's resources. $54 billion is spent on feeding every child in the world for a year, but we spend $97 billion on pornography. We literally spend more money on watching strangers have sex, than we spend on feeding the children of strangers. OPEC put $3 billion a year towards research into ways of decreasing damages on the environment every year, but we spend over $4 billion just on erectile dysfunction every year. Just compare the $1.5 trillion we in the West spend on aid, climate change, preventing deforestation, charitable givings and so on, to the $7 trillion  the state has spent on waging wars for oil and bailing out banks. There is clearly something perverse with all of this. Though, when you read of Alan Greenspan's objectivist beliefs or the fact that Peter Mandelson is a fan of Macchiavelli, it all seems to make a bit more sense.

During the financial crisis of 2008, we saw the emergence of previously invisible men who had been raking in millions as they drove the economy towards destruction. In the UK, we had Fred Goodwin who left RBS with a retirement package of £16 million. In the US, Dick Fuld ran Lehman Brothers into the dirt - to the point that it was losing $8 million a minute - and then walked away with $500 million from that year. And then there was Bernie Madoff, who soon became the favourite punch-bag of the media. Bernie Madoff, the man who illegally accumulated $65 billion. The media soon turned Bernie Madoff into the embodiment of the "irresponsibility" and insatiable greed which triggered the financial crisis. As Slavoj
Žižek explained, to simply blame Madoff, and others like him for this crisis, is to ignore the fact that Madoff merely took the logic of the system to its extreme. Žižek views Madoff as the ultimate postmodern capitalist, who ruthlessly speculates up to the limit while half of your profits go to different foundations, charities etc. No different than Bill Gates, just taken to excess. But without the system, such an excess would not be possible or encouraged.

The Greeks of the ancient world had a word "pleonexia" used to describe that insatiable desire to own things which rightfully belong to others, in those times this was viewed as a sickness and even a form of enslavement. Pleonexia is similar to the Marxist concept commodity fetishism, which could be described as when people believe that a commodity has an innate value as opposed to the value subscribed to the commodity through labour. That in some way consumption of particular goods is a form of expression, that particular goods symbolise something about your identity. Thus, the obsession with the accumulation of things. If you're living to make money, you have fetishised money, and in a sense money rules you. You are not free as you are bound by that which you fetishise, whether it be money or shoes it doesn't matter. Though, this is not a new phenomenon, but once again it seems that it has definitely been taken further in the last decade. Never before has a crisis of such magnitude been caused by the spending of money which we don't even have. I am, of course, referring to credit. Not only do we want to shop till we drop, but we don't want to spend any money at that time. Shopping without shopping. It was new practices in the way of credit cards, loans, mortgages etc. which brought about this crisis.

Going back to the perverse factoid, that we spend around $44 billion more on pornography than on feeding impoverished children in far away lands, there is something more at work here. First of all, pornography is actually a deeply conservative genre, it is not as some may think a symptom of the permissiveness of our times. The fundamental prohibition, as
Žižek points out, that as we cross one threshold - accessing close-ups of penetration, full frontal nudity etc. - but the price is the narrative, which acts as a justification for sexual activity, cannot be taken seriously. The screenwriters are not so stupid that they believe that such vulgar fairytales, misogynistic and even racist stereotypes can be taken as seriously as films or even TV dramas. This is because they not intended to be realistic, emotionally engaging or believable - this is the price of the "filth" on offer. Whereas, in emotionally engaging dramas, which screenwriters have clearly laboured over, always skip over the sexual act. What is most significant of all this, is the almost all pervasive influence of conservatism, as an ideology, parading as the product of permissive liberalism. Another example of this would be "Gangsta Rap" which could be seen as promoting the Hobbesian view of human nature, laissez-faire capitalism, as well as misogyny and racial stereotypes.

Spectators of Life.
"Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation." - Guy Debord 

The Situationist, Guy Debord once said "In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles." Debord, and those of the Situationist International, thought that the capitalist structures, of the late 20th Century, would be based upon images and spectacles, as opposed to the production of goods. In the consumer society, experiences themselves would be commodified and we would be encouraged more so to express ourselves through what we consume. Reducing individuals to mere consumers, fragmenting society along the way, and leading us into passive consumption. We become spectators to life. In the case of pornography, reality television shows, cookery programmes and soap operas this is literally true. This seems almost exactly true of a certain advent of the early 21st Century, think of social networking sites like Facebook and how they could function to replace social interactions. Social gatherings without social gatherings. Friendship without friendship, almost. This is an explicit development in late capitalism, which the Situationists detected in the late 1950s and continued to rail against until the early 70s.

If the Noughties is the preface to the trajectory the 21st Century will take, what is the significance of the worship of celebrities? The attention the media gave to the speeches at the G20 protests, they were mentioned in passing, wasn't anything near the kind of coverage seen at the funerals of Jade Goody and Stephen Gately. The media were sure to give the public access to speeches by mourning relatives. Of course, the magnitude of celebrities in our world is demonstrated best by Michael Jackson, the man who's fame drove many of his loyal fans into denial of his descent into drug addiction and the evidence of his sexual depravity. If their denial, and the failures of justice, is not evidence enough of our celebrity obsession one can find plenty of examples. Just like social networking, the obsession with celebrities is really a fixation over spectacles. Though, celebrities only affect our identities in terms of the opinions we have of them. The obsession with celebrities does not even appear to be an obsession with fame or the reason these people are famous. It is an obsession with the flaws and dysfunctional lives which make celebrities human to us. Deaths and births, marriages and break-ups etc. are all ordinary occurances of life today. To some, such things are represented more in the lives of the famous than in their own.

Take X-Factor, the reality tv-show which simultaneously feigns elements of grass-roots democracy whilst it churns out celebrities for us, as a target market, to fetishise and fixate over. The depth of this fascination the public has developed is evident in the fact that more people voted for Joe McElderry in X-Factor 2009 than they did in 2005 for Tony Blair. Though, at least Rage against the Machine beat McElderry to Christmas Number 1. Then again, either way Sony won. Even the increasingly shallow and cynical nature of democracy is being extended to reality tv-shows, the best we can hope for is the lesser of two evils - e.g. RATM over McElderry and Simon Cowell. The most disturbing thing about reality-tv is that it is almost the modern version of going down to the mental asylum to mock the mentally ill, as many did for entertainment in previous centuries. It should be noted that in the television industry many shows are referred to as "filling", whereas adverts are referred to as "content". It seems quite likely that the one-hit wonder machine that is X-Factor, is merely a bone thrown to the rabble to ensure they'll keep on consuming. After all that was said and done in the decade, it seems that we desperately need radical change to resolve many of the problems that now plague our civilisation. Before we drift off of the edge.

On Orientalism - Edward Said