FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Total Screen: How Baudrillard Anticipated Trump

It was, indeed, a Trumpquake. And the sequel was a given; the whole world, transfixed, in real time, 24/7, hanging on every word, tirade, feeding frenzy oozing from the swamp and its various flesh-eating monsters and manmade pathogens, deep state-related or otherwise.

The Trump presidency is the ultimate larger-than-life – for many the only – show on earth. It’s open to debate whether the vicious civil war currently in effect between Team Trump and powerful deep state factions enmeshed with the neocon/neoliberalcon galaxy is just shadowplay; or whether this is the real deal underlining the eventual crash and burn of the American Empire.

That’s all too predictable, when a reality TV star becomes president. When “post-truth” pseudo and/or non-events on screen 24/7 make a mockery of “reality.” When the screen determines the perception of truth; if an “event” is not on show, it never happened.

The “post-truth” battle happens – where else – on a vortex of digital screens. And that’s why US corporate media is freaking out. Because now there are no limits to how much it can suppress/repress/digress; what ideas are “appropriate” to be discussed; and what taboos cannot be broken, as debating the pernicious effects of neoliberalism, globalism or the industrial-military-intelligence-security complex.

And what a pity that the neo-Gibbon who could track this Decline and Fall to perfection – in fact did it, decades in advance, died 10 years ago, on March 6, 2007.

What to do after the orgy?

Since 1970, when he published The Consumer Society, the West’s Deconstructor-in-Chief Jean Baudrillard had been nothing but consistent. After he identified marketing as the supreme ideology and shopping as the new moral standard/modern concept of happiness, we have come to understand ourselves primarily as reified prisoners in The System of Objects (another one of his classics), duly alienated by a non-stop demented deluge of merchandise.

In 1990, in The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard went one up, stressing how after the 1970s, everything had been liberated: “It was a total orgy of the real, the rational, the sexual, the critical.” So, he asked with a pure dadaist/surrealist sense of humor, what is to be done “after the orgy”?

He was like a drunken Nietzsche figuring out the death of God – all over again. Our only way forward was to “simulate” non-stop, to repeat every instance of “liberation” over and over again, a pallid, vacuous redundancy empty of meaning. T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men marching to a Kraftwerk beat.

Then, when vacuous neo-Hegelians announced the “end of history” after the wrap-up of the USSR, heralding the Forever Rule of Western liberal democracy, he smashed the dream as a mere “illusion of the end.”

Across the go-go 1980s, everyone, from the incipient anti-globalization Left to slightly anarchist alter-globalizers, from soft John Stuart Mill progressives to dejected neo-Marxists had to resort to their portable Baudrillard to understand the tentacles of the ego-driven, ego-corroded consumer medusa, spreading a toxic virus that kills any possibility of empathy and communitarian spirit.

By the time he published America, in 1986, Baudrillard was already deep into conceptualizing the ultimate game of post-modernity; Total Sign, Total Image, Total Media, Total Culture Industry all enmeshed in a “hyper-real” web of “real simulacra.” He coined the concept of reality TV even before reality TV existed. In the process, alongside Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida and Lyotard, he became a Guns n Roses-level intellectual superstar across elite US universities.

From David Cronenberg’s Videodrome to the Matrix trilogy, and all the way to Westworld, here’s to our Baudrillardian world under complete control, simultaneously transparent (everything is so glitteringly visible) and totally opaque (everything that matters is veiled), where what’s on show is never what it seems (or, to quote Twin Peaks, a totally Baudrillard series, “the owls are not what they seem”).

All aboard the total simulacrum

Dead before the Obama era, Baudrillard could not have possibly deconstructed Obama’s “invisible” kill list or the pathological demonization of Russia and Iran. But he did have imperial sideways encounters with both Daddy Bush and Dubya.

On the 1991 Gulf War, he wrote it never happened: no battles; no dead bodies; “asexual, chirurgical”; a “no-war”; just videogame-style abstract scenes (it would have been another story had he had access to “highway of death” footage, the US Army engaged in target practice on thousands of fleeing, unarmed Iraqi soldiers).

On 9/11, he wrote a landmark essay, The Spirit of Terrorism (which I read, startled, in Peshawar) not justifying it, but demonstrating how maximum power had to eventually elicit maximum destructive, although asymmetrical, counter-power. 9/11 was the ultimate Total Screen event.

Baudrillard would have been mightily intrigued by reality TV master Trump – as well as the current post-truth civil war.

He would have analyzed how Trump went over virtually the whole Beltway establishment, corporate media included, to get elected, using his trademark version of Total Screen. He would have seen that Trump is far from an American Macbeth sowing Hobbesian chaos. And he would have reveled in a vicious sociopolitical American war played in real time on the Total Screen.

What to do after the orgy? Revel in the Baudrillard index, put together by the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (IJBS), and welcome to the Total Simulacrum Trump era.

More articles by:

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail