The instant we think, we have understood the ‘public’ and its needs; we are proven otherwise. I believe most people in the world live for bread, peace, and belongingness. Hunger tops the chain of needs, uniting mankind. But the events of destruction and death owing to world politics, are an evident fact for a long time now, and they have proven otherwise. Such events are strange because the motivation and inspiration for such crimes is not ‘hunger’ alone. Beyond hunger and thirst, of food and water, there is yet another force which maddens the world, a hunger for power, money, and acquisition. This madness is often possessed by few incredibly determined individuals who then rule this world. However, I do not wish to bring light upon those individuals, instead I want to talk about that majority and minority, which is often wrapped around their fingers; I want to talk about the ‘public’ and its bizarre perspective.
Public is miscellaneous, it never has one ‘face’ which could countersign its bearings and undertakings. Though it can be divided in the name of many sections, denominations like race, caste, class, community etc. What is common to all such fractions is a common cause. A cause which is felt by the whole strand of public, it can be an ideology, a thought process, an education too. There is a reason that in history, colonizers like the British in India or the French in Algeria, at first targeted the educational institutions of the native country and colonized the minds of those oppressed by introducing a foreign education, language, culture. Hence, it takes us to the third belief most people in the world live for – belongingness. This is the primary reason that identities in the name of race, class, caste, ethnicity, religion, language etc. have continued to make sense for the public. Humans have a powerful urge to ‘belong’ to some identity, people, or place. This ‘belongingness’ provides a ‘sense of security’ and above that, it provides motivation to live. Hence, people are constantly wanting to ‘belong’.
Belongingness has proven advantageous for the politics to a great extent. Whatever huge has occurred in the history of mankind, be it a blessing or a catastrophe, could not be possible without the support of ‘public spectacle’. The public spectacle has the power to facilitate the reign of tyrants on one hand, while on the other hand, it can incite fuel to the revolutions of masses. When history recalls of fascists like Hitler, it never fails to mention of the Nazis- the German nationalists, who gave immense force to fascism and horrendous activities in its lieu. What makes me wonder more is the example of Hitler and his fascism which is used again and again, as we talk of catastrophes, while many other examples of extermination are subdued. It could point at another politics of ‘public spectacle’ of the survivors of Second World War, after all the survivors and the powerful get to write histories. What we are arriving at is that popular narratives which encompass the history of nations and world politics are reports, which are authenticated through generations of people. They are bound to be ‘public’ undertakings, out in the open, in the name of this ‘public’ with many faces and not a real one. Politics does the job by making it appear that powerful narratives are being approved by the public. It is of no advantage to investigate these narratives of history now, so let us look upon some contemporary narratives, which bear the appearance of a public spectacle.
Narratives of nation-building and war have already laid grounds for a strictly political world. In process, we have a strictly industrious market world with the coming of technology. Technology has already transformed the world image and it is set to replace everything ‘human’ through artificial intelligence. It started off facilitating mankind and it now stands before us questioning our human capabilities. We have created something we possibly cannot beat in the future. However, there are different sides on that debate. Coming back to the impinge on our present public spectacle owing to technological advancements is well, tremendous. It has set an incomplete notion of ‘human progress’ and ‘human development’. The progress and development we understand today, is heavily ‘materialized’ and ‘capitalized’; it is purely marketed. With an inevitable role of technology in our lives, we are made to believe that it plays an important role in our well-beings. The public is confirming to this narrative of one needing to have a ‘comfortable living’ and we as individuals are reaffirming it. What is strange in this ‘public spectacle’ is that it is circular in nature, with no scope for reflection or questions. Our world, our producers and capitalists’ hand us down this ‘development’ which is visible in a lifestyle. And we consumers who form the ‘public spectacle’ are recycling the same narrative and selling it.
It is not surprising that in a world of followers from Instagram to Facebook, it is any hard to sell an image of a progressive lifestyle. What makes it strange is that we do not know if we asked for it. The public spectacle which should have been ‘about’ us, coming from a foundational context; has become about our ‘aspirational’ selves. One can argue now that we are a part of a global community where our sense of community and belongingness comes from a virtual network of ‘netizens’. What becomes difficult is to imagine that in a network based on strategies and protocol designed to encourage certain agendas, how much of a freedom does a user have? How much of free will is left upon us in this apparent global community? The strange thing about having a narrative designed to suit the economics of global producers, is that it poses serious threats on the authenticity of public spectacle. It portrays that it is unreflective and programmed in the way it performs and carries forward in the name of a generation.
The ambitions of a middle-class family are swayed by this public spectacle. From the basic principle of a facility-driven lifestyle to an extravagant, lavish, status-driven lifestyle. The latter benefits an economy which is run purely upon the wheels of production of material things and of ‘demand’ for those things. The world becomes a demand-supply chain, and the other public issues get overshadowed. Authentic public spectacle must arrive from the public setting and not from the power structures. The formulae of success behind big enterprising ideas are emotion-driven. The need to stay connected with people and make them a part of one’s life is what introduced Facebook and other social networks. However, what started off as an alternative has swamped its way through our life and has replaced the real emotional initiatives. People now feel the need to be on Facebook, more than getting to know each other. Technology has flooded us with options we never asked for, it has handed us the joys of everything at our doorsteps and has taken away the need to give it a thought and make a choice. It has taken away our will to make decisions on our own, while handing to us the façade of freedom.
The public spectacle in the age of online has ceased to be ‘public’, it is more simulated and modelled. It is being constructed from the private spaces of our homes, and the public opinions are getting manufactured from the private arenas of broadcasting networks. There is no bunch of humans in flesh and blood, standing on the road, voicing what the ‘public’ wants and needs. And when there is, they are politicized and vetoed as either humans or public voice. They are shunned by the systems of power again, who continue to decide for their futures. At present day, we do not require to look far for ‘real causes’ and ‘real voices’ as they are out, on the streets, trying hard not to get overheard or muted by the mumbo-jumbo of narratives and agendas. They are trying to save their feeling of ‘belongingness’ and not attempting ‘to belong’ to what is foreign. The meaning of public is still the same, it is made of ‘people’. And the public spectacle is right before our eyes as it always was; only our vision is glued to our mobile screens. The question is do we have the nerve and the willpower to look above, right in the face of the cause which truly shapes our public spectacle.
-Tanya Yadav (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: CCO Public Domain / Phys.org