Trump and Debord: A Presidency Consumed by Spectacle – Kellner

Trump and Debord: A Presidency Consumed by Spectacle – Kellner

In the Preface of UWP’s next book Spectacle 2.0, Professor Doug Kellner in the extract below reflects on how Donald Trump has taken the society of the spectacle as conceived by Guy Debord to a whole new level. Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Age of Digital Capitalism is the 5th title to be published in UWP’s open access series Critical Digital and Social Media Studies edited by Christian Fuchs. The full article ‘Guy Debord, Donald Trump, and the Politics of the Spectacle’ published open access can be read or downloaded  for free.

TRUMP AND DEBORD: A Presidency Consumed by Spectacle – Kellner

‘Trump represents a stage of spectacle beyond Debord’s model of spectacle and consumer capitalism in which spectacle has come to colonize politics, culture, and everyday life, with the chief manipulator of the spectacle in the United States, Donald J. Trump, now becoming president and collapsing politics into entertainment and spectacle.

Twitter is a perfect vehicle for Trump as you can use its 140-character framework for attack, bragging, and getting out simple messages or posts that engage receivers who feel they are in the know and involved in TrumpWorld when they get pinged and receive his tweets. When asked at an August 26, 2015, Iowa event as to why he uses Twitter so much, he replied that it was easy, it only took a couple of seconds, and that he could attack his media critics when he ‘wasn’t treated fairly.’ Trump has also used Instagram – an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them on a variety of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.

Twitter is perfect for General Trump who can blast out his opinions and order his followers what to think. It enables Businessman and Politician Trump to define his brand and mobilize those who wish to consume or support it. Trump Twitter gratifies the need of Narcissist Trump to be noticed and recognized as a master of communication who can bind his warriors into an on-line community. Twitter enables the Pundit-in-Chief to opine, rant, attack, and proclaim on all and sundry subjects, and to subject TrumpWorld to the indoctrination of their Fearless Leader.

Hence, Trump is mastering new media as well as dominating television and old media through his orchestration of media events as spectacles and daily Twitter feed. In Trump’s presidential campaign kick-off speech on June 16, 2015, when he announced he was running for President, Trump and his wife Melania dramatically descended the stairway at Trump Towers, and ‘The Donald’ strode up to a gaggle of microphones and dominated media attention for days with his drama. The opening speech of his campaign made a typically inflammatory remark that held in thrall news cycles for days when he stated:

The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. [Applause] Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people

This comment ignited a firestorm of controversy and a preview of things to come concerning vile racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the other hallmarks of Trump’s cacophony of hate. Throughout his campaign, Trump orchestrated political theatre and transformed US politics into spectacle, with his campaign representing another step in the merger between entertainment, celebrity and politics (here Ronald Reagan played a key role, our first actor president).

Trump is, I believe, the first major US presidential candidate to pursue politics as entertainment and thus to collapse the distinction between entertainment, news, and politics, greatly expanding the domain of spectacle theorized by Debord. Furthermore, Trump’s use of Twitter, Facebook, and other new forms of digital media, social networking, and interactive spectacle expanded the political spectacle to new realms of digitization, participation, and virtuality described by editors and contributors to this book as Spectacle 2.0. Trump’s mastery of the politics of the spectacle was evident in his campaign against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Although there were many other decisive factors in the outcome of the election, including the fact that Clinton ran an uninspiring campaign without a compelling message and the country was suffering from Clinton fatigue, there is no doubt that media spectacle is playing an increasingly important role in US politics, which is now standing on the threshold of an era in which a master of the spectacle, Donald J. Trump stands as President in a presidency consumed by spectacle, one that might serve as a sacrifice to the politics of the spectacle that destroys its avatars, just as it creates them. Indeed, Guy Debord might be astonished at the extent to which spectacle has come to dominate politics in high-tech supercapitalist societies of the hyperspectacle which it is our fate to suffer.’

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