‘But too many people now climb onto the cross merely to be seen from a greater distance’ -Albert Camus
The 21st century has seen humanity ascend to the digital plain. Currently, 4.26 billion people use social media, a number that is projected to reach a staggering six billion by 2027. These unfathomable numbers have allowed politically oriented individuals to decentralize their news diets, allowing many to bypass the ‘mainstream’ biases that pollute real events. The universal ability to document injustice through the camera in your pocket and share it for billions to see has elevated the voice of those that have been previously denied basic integrity. Yet such an online abundance of voices has led many with unchecked digital diets into algorithm-guided rabbit holes. Older generations have been misled by deceitfully fearful, ignorant, inducing content warning them of swarms of immigrants overrunning their homes. Younger generations are inundated with toxic ideologies of becoming a true man or woman, perpetrated by steroid-ridden grifters. These 30-second clips of outrage found on Instagram and TikTok fail to capture the essential humanity of the issues that plague our world. Teenagers and news anchors fueled by the money of the Koch brothers peddle their opinions in states of pure arrogance, insulting the very real feeling of sceptical inquisitiveness we all feel in our hearts.
The constant barrage of false truths arrogantly force-fed to us with each swipe chip away at our fallible thoughts, smothering us into a dizzying disillusionment. Right and wrong swirl into one another, creating a mass of nauseating greys. Social media has quelled our need for true substantive action, allowing us to participate in pseudo-protests that mainly conclude in the construction of giant digital echo chambers. Paradoxically, our reposting of carefully crafted infographics on our stories quells our hunger for justice. We suckle on the pacifier of likes and replies, patting ourselves on the back for the inconsequential change we have contributed to. The French philosopher Guy Debord puts it best, - "All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.". Social media has arguably thrust us into what Debord coins as ‘the society of the spectacle’. Now instead of being a person who fights for equity and justice, individuals passively identify with the spectacle of appearing as a moral being, supplanting genuine action with vain virtue signalling. The spectacle, therefore, mutilates radical ideas into safe, and packageable commodities for the mainstream to appropriate.
The year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he died with a disapproval rating of 75%. He died as a polarizing figure who lived his revolutionary ideas through sabotage and disruption of major industries until his martyrdom. Yet throughout half a century of mainstream appropriation, his ideals have been neutered and boiled down into a vague dream speech that espouses even more ambiguous platitudes. Now, his newly manufactured spectacle can be butchered for easy use for left-wingers and right-wingers alike, without any need for a change of the status quo. Criticism and protest have become a commodity that can be bought and sold — a phenomenon explored in Fisher’s book Capitalist Realism. Recent memory reminds us of Representative Alexandra Ocasia Cortez's stunt to get applause from armchair revolutionaries by wearing a dress that says ‘Tax the Rich’ to the Met Gala, an event which costs $35,000 per ticket. It is important to note that capitalist realism’s spectacles do not always come in such jarring forms; in fact, most times, it comes pre-portioned in our media, leaving us in a state of interpassivity where the characters on TV fight on our behalf against the tyrannies of capitalism, as we sit back comfortably enjoying the show.
Ultimately, it is our ability to question and understand the fallibility that leads us to the most humane truths. It allows us to forego the repugnant vanity of our ‘thought leaders’ and instead find solutions grounded in the foundations of our fellow man. However, more so than this, we must understand that our ability to act, to create tangible outcomes in our surroundings through protest and rebellion in whatever form, allows us to take back our agency and fight for a more equitable world. We must not allow the society of the spectacle to castrate our formidable ability to transform compassionate indignation into material change. Keep your mind open yet critically robust, keep your ears tuned in and vigilant and ensure that your eyes are never sealed wide shut.