- thesis – antithesis – synthesis
- Id – Ego – Superego
- talk – text – data
- conservative – liberal – anarchist
- client – therapist – transference
- duty – honor – country
- lather – rinse – repeat
- shadow – reflection – unconscious
- signifier – signified – referent
- FOX – CNN – TMZ
- kids – marriage – bankruptcy
- alcohol – tobacco – firearms
- everything – must – go
- death – burial – resurrection
- location – location – location
- life – liberty – property
- transportation – security – administration
- stop – drop – roll
- top – bottom – switch
- rock – paper – scissors
- duck – duck – goose
- imaginary – symbolic – real
- cave – typewriter – tablet
- legislative – executive – judicial
- cash – credit – debit
- people – places – things
- there – their – they’re
- mind – body – soul
- bacon – lettuce – tomato
- YOLO – CEO – GMO
- heels – boots – curves
- Tinder – Grindr – masturbator
- terror – surveillance – democracy
- faith – hope – charity
- father – priest – warden
- Netflix – Hulu – Prime
- Facebook – Twitter – telegram
- diagnosis – treatment – prevention
- intrusion – avoidance – hyperarousal
- thesis – antithesis – synthesis
In 1962 Daniel J. Boorstin published The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. A pseudo-event is a public relations tactic—a carefully crafted, television-ready spectacle that makes news for the sake of making news. Think of the press conference or political debate—in Boorstin’s time and today. Add the celebrity Twitter “feud” and star-studded movie premiere as current examples.
Boorstin wrote eloquently about celebrities, people “known for their well-knowness.” The Kardashians exemplify well-knowness today. Kim Kardashian rose to fame following the leak of a private sex tape. Her first press release was a case of pubic relations. Who’s screwing whom, we ask TMZ. In the end it’s the buying public—emotionally stunted pop culture voyeurs anxious for the money shot.
We are just as disgusted with the Kardashians’ antics as we are mesmerized. Some of us maintain a healthy dose of incredulity, refusing to support the Kardashian Hype Machine. We use irony as a weapon in a post-ironic world in which selfies replace family portraits and depth is measured at face value, that is, the sexual worth men—and women—ascribe to the airbrushed female body.
But beyond our collective eye-roll, the Kardashian Image persists, sharpening its focus while simultaneously extending its field of vision. The Kardashians not only go about their business, but get stronger. Our derision feeds their appetite for attention. They assume the challenge and up the ante.
It’s the same today with athletes, pop stars and politicians. Our feeble attempts to question the billions of dollars pouring into professional sports and the national committees of both major political parties go unnoticed. The rich and famous absorb all discord, trampling plebeians too dumb to see that personal investments matter more than the public good. We pay people “known for their well-knowness” to entertain us, to rid us of the illusion that change is still possible, that there still exists a space for committed political action against a self-serving Consumer Society.
“Free Time,” a 1977 essay by cultural critic Theodor Adorno, examines the relationship between work time and leisure time. We think we’re free when it comes to our free time, Adorno asserts, but leisure is simply an extension of the workday. Even at play, we labor to enjoy ourselves.
The compulsion to consume: we make money in order to spend it on crap we don’t need when we’re not on the clock. Entire industries are dedicated to filling up our leisure time, to satisfy our need for (temporary) freedom. The totality of this process escapes us. Adorno: “Hence the ease with which free time is integrated; people are unaware of how utterly unfree they are, even where they feel most at liberty, because the rule of such unfreedom has been abstracted from them” (191).
Threatened by the specter of boredom, people crave distractions. Adorno holds nothing back in his condemnation of our obsession with the cheap thrills popular culture provides:
People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled, for such a long time that now people no longer like it. They need shallow entertainment, by means of which cultural conservatism patronizes and humiliates them, in order to summon up the strength for work, which is required of them under the arrangement of society which cultural conservatism defends. (193)
The culture industry placates us, snuffs out the faintest flicker of rebellion in the heart of man. Capitalism finds support in a cultural conservatism that reinforces the compulsion to work and spend, work and spend. A “shocking” movie or provocative painting makes no significant political difference after we’ve consumed it. The status quo remains. Tomorrow’s shift awaits.