The Age of Spectacle, Part II
Spectacle defined and illustrated
By Adam Garfinkle
After The Spectocracy appeared here, readers’ comments were divided. Some thought that of my three main drivers of the Age of Spectacle—mass affluence, deferred myth maintenance, and the erosion of deep literacy—only deep literacy erosion was significant; others said the opposite: deep literacy could not matter much since it had never been widespread.
My short introduction omitted some caveats, to wit: Mass affluence and the failure of myth maintenance are necessary for a massive and rapid erosion of deep literacy. This in turn is critical mainly in its impact on cultural, media, and political elites. But the biggest punch comes from the substitution of a new form of cyber-oral culture for deep literacy. It’s true that American society has never had more than a small minority of deeply literate people, but the rise of this oral culture is new, and its broad neurocognitive impact is unprecedented.
The evidence lies in the timeline. The madness in our politics has closely followed new cybernetic intrusions upon our culture. The iPhone first hit the market in June 2007, right in time for the Great Recession. By February 2011, Facebook was the largest online photo host. In late 2013, the iPhone hit market saturation. By 2016, we were in the age of Pizzagate, Frazzledrip, and QAnon.
Here I will define what I mean by spectacle. The next installment will present the neurocognitive evidence in support of my definition. The fourth will explain why we must appeal to mass affluence and failed myth maintenance to account for our troubles. The fifth will examine the impact upon our elites of the displacement of deep literacy by oral culture. The sixth and last will take a step back to look at the trajectory we have described.
Doing a Ripley
We need to be precise about spectacle as a cognitive state to make this argument clear.1 For millennia, this state has been unique to rare moments of escapist magic in otherwise workaday lives. This is no longer true. For many of us, it is now our default setting.
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