Posted by Canto Rodado on August 5, 2006
This wondrous alchemy whereby spiritual values and materials things are transmuted into vicarious experience, an experience of spectacle, is the byproduct of a process we call commodification. Now I looked up the word commodification in my old edition of Webster’s Collegiate as I prepared for this speech, only to discover that it was not in common usage in 1973, which isn’t surprising. For it is only in the last 25 years or so that we have had enough perspective to discover what has overcome us.
The commodification of our culture, as representing a final phase of late 20th century capitalism, has only gradually become apparent, and even now the scale of its effects on our society are not well understood. Had I known this when I scanned that sea of television antennas many years ago, I would have realized that beneath each roof in every house, there existed people held in isolation from the world at large. Like those famous prisoners in Plato’s cave, these internees are given only spectral shadows to experience. They stare steadily at entertaining images and by degrees mistake them for palpable things and real experience. Gnawed by an incessant appetite, a boundless hunger for spectacle and it’s ambiguous promise of satisfaction, they endure this vicarious state from day to day, from year to year, now throughout entire lifetimes, in a state of isolation from the sunlit world and from one another.