An ace mall with quite a nice stadium attached

Two reports from the society of the spectacle.

In his new book The Beach Beneath the Street, McKenzie Wark makes a strong case for the "contemporary resonance" of situationism, in particularly the theoretical writings of the Frenchman Guy Debord. In his masterpiece The Society of Spectacle (1967), Debord wrote the following: "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life."

Two pieces in today's Guardian provide melancholy evidence for the claim that the commodity has indeed achieved "total occupation of social life" in this country.

Exhibit 1: under the headline "Welcome to London 2012. But first take a walk through the shopping centre", Esther Addley reports from Stratford in east London, where work on the Olympic stadium and adjoining mega-mall is going on around the clock:

No matter which sport you are going to see when the third London Olympics begin, a visit to 2012 park will mean one thing - walking though a very large shopping centre first.The high-speed Javelin train from King's Cross - set to deliver 25,000 spectators an hour to Stratford International - exits to a busy row of shops and restaurants, constructed by the Westfield Group. Crowds arriving at Stratford's tube and mainline station can exit either via a concourse leading directly into Westfield's complex or walk across an elegant rusted steel bridge - again built by Westfield, again delivering sports fans into the heart of the retail development.

Years ago there was a now notorious advertising campaign for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, in which posters carried the strapline "An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached". You might say that the "Olympic Park" in Stratford is an "ace mall with quite a nice stadium attached".

Exhibit 2: the intellectual historian Stefan Collini unpicks the dismal, economistic logic of the higher education white paper, which encourages the students currently scrambling for university places to "think of themselves as narrowly focused consumers, searching for 'value for money' among different forms of employment-directed training". This government understands very well the logic of Lord Browne's crudely utilitarian, unabashedly economistic review of higher education that was published in the autumn. As Collini puts it:

Whatever view you take of this government's macroeconomic policy, the truth is that the new higher education system will not reduce public expenditure in the short or even the medium term. Indeed, the reason why the white paper now proposes a more centrally controlled system than at present - in terms of determining how many students with particular A-level results universities will be able to take - is because the government has belatedly realised that the new fees will otherwise increase public expenditure in the short term. In fact, the independent Higher Education Policy Institute, which published its analysis of the proposals this week, thinks the government is still underestimating the cost to the public purse of the new system. The measures are clearly being introduced for political reasons, to install the simulacrum of a market and to make universities serve the economy more directly.

 

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland