“WE ARE THE WORLD”: THE FLIGHT FROM IMPOTENCE IN THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE

Matt McGregor

Abstract


Punctuating a recent music video we see, in his white glove and gold jacket, before his infamous face-whitening surgeries, the Michael Jackson of old. This video, for the song “We are the World 25,” is introduced, directly into camera, by a sincere Jamie Foxx, who implores viewers to give generously to help the recovery effort in Haiti. “Do more than just watch,”he says. “Take action.” Then, before the expected images of Haitians, and even before the singing celebrities themselves, we see a host of signatures unfolding on a black background.From the beginning, then, this video walks a very thin line: clearly banking on the reputations of singers who have made their careers as spectacles, as images, the video goes to some lengths to claim an authentic, and even superior, political position. “Give what you can,”Jamie Foxx says, “as I have.”The video’s repeated use of the image of Michael Jackson signifies this tenuous, if not contradictory, position. Who, after all, is more exemplary of the cultural logic of the societyof the spectacle than Michael Jackson? And who, in the pantheon of MTV singers, spent more time claiming authenticity and declaring our collective responsibility for a universal humanity? The video presents an excess of repetition and citation, in terms of its music and lyrics, the images Michael Jackson himself, as well as the chorus of Jackson-citing celebrity singers. But, despite the obvious point that these images and these performers are perhaps the most manufactured and least authentic imaginable, the video’s authenticity, as well as its anxiety over its own search for authenticity, is almost hyperbolically announced. My goal in this short essay is to read this video in relation to Agamben’s claims about the spectacle in his book  The Coming Community. I will argue that it is precisely this citationality, this identity without essence—what is clearly a profoundly inauthentic announcement of authenticity—that Agamben sees as, potentially, the road out of the spectacle society. This video promiseswhat Agamben calls “whatever” politics (1), so–called politics, or, in Derrida’s terminology, a politics “under erasure” ( OG 23). At the same time, this video reveals the parallel logic,suggested in juridical terms in Agamben’s  Homo Sacer, in which the anxiety of nonbelonging and inauthenticity leads to a more extreme and potentially violent search for essential group belonging and authentic political identity.

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