Nowadays, the mainstream media processes information in the form of spectacle. The communication arena stands out because of its intense competition; all-day TV coverage, radio, Internet sites, and the multiplication of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, the hunt for attention is ever more intense. As a consequence, public figures and media tend to go sensationalistic, creating themselves an spectacle to attempt to attract maximum audiences for as much time as possible. In the next passage, I seek to analyze the relationship between Debord’s and Baudrillard’s visions of spectacle and the act of political communication developed by the Chavismo movement.
Many have drawn attention to the links between Debord’s spectacle and Baudrillard’s theories, especially the latter’s concept of hyperreality.On the one hand, the entirely constructed nature of the world from which the individual experiences alienation is not, for Guy Debord, a program to be passively viewed on television or simply consumed through mass media, but a belief that we actively enter into, a view of the world that has become objective. The spectacle is therefore much more than what occupies the screen, or the sounds that come out of the radio.
Instead, Debord argues, everything that humankind once experienced directly, our link to the natural, ‘real’ world, is constantly and obsessively being processed and made over into images. And these images have become the content of people’s lives, in which they have relegated themselves into a passive role, keeping themselves “in a state of unconsciousness as they pass through practical changes in their conditions of existence” . Images have become so omnipresent, Debord warns, that we no longer remember what it is we have lost, the authenticity of our own acts. This spectacle has, however, taken a certain degree of independence itself, resulting in a way of life that becomes ‘image’, giving its separation from real, ‘livable’ and actual life itself; life thus becomes a mere representation of itself.
However, we are not just innocent victims in this total shift from being to appearing – rather, we ourselves reinforce this state of affairs when we lend our attention and surrender to the spectacle . On the other hand, Baudrillard’s work revolves around the emergence of a new element of today’s advanced industrial society: the media’s domination of culture with unfundamented simulations. According to Baudrillard, the continuous expansion of communication channels demanded the establishment of information networks and technologies which have substantially changed the way in which we perceive rationality and action.
Similar to Debord, Baudrillard argues that thing and idea, actual object and representation, are today no longer valid. Instead, simulations have taken their place presenting the imaginary as the real, the absence as a presence. He introduces the term ‘hyperreality’ to best describe this new order of things: the virtual reality in which we live is sustained by the superposition of production and consumption above anything else, and the value that we finally give to things is in the idea that we have of them, which is in turn a result of the media’s introjection. We no longer live to choose our lifestyle, the seduction scheme of today’s media makes the choice for ourselves through advertising. In this sense, Baudrillard argues that war in a modern sense is “speculative, to the extent that we do not see the real event that it could be or that it would signify”. Indeed, “just as wealth is no longer measured by the ostentation of wealth but by the secret circulation of speculative capital, so war is not measured by being waged but by its speculative unfolding in an abstract, electronic and informational space” .
However, the individual does not remain passive, as there is “a degree of popular good will in the micro-panic distilled by the airwaves” . Ultimately, individuals consent to be deterred “on the basis of a kind of affective patriotism” .The specific style of rhetoric used by former President Chávez usually featured adversarial, emotional and patriotic speech through which he connected with the more discontented sectors of the population, often via grassroots communicative practices and spaces.
Like nearly all political actors, he usually engaged with and was covered by the media and used political deterrence to try to break the perceived taboos of the dominant international paradigm. He used multiple channels of political communication to transmit his messages and connect with the public, both nationally and internationally. Arguably, as a political actor, he feeded off mediatic controversy by openly playing the underdog, using crude language, earning media spaces by expressing himself in a rather spontaneous style against the establishment, and staging newsworthy political events.
The reality of the Chavismo ideology was centered in a long-standing battle for justice: a domestic fight against the corruption of the powerful elites, and an international struggle against the tyrannical neoliberal forces. He put forward a narrative portraying an international community that is brainwashed, threatened and endangered by powerful and conspiratorial forces, a rhetoric of fear. The state apparatus concerning communication invaded the Venezuelan society in accordance to the regimes internal dynamics. Besides the imposition of his long-lasting talk-show Alo Presidente, Chávez set up new pan-Latin America channel, Telesur, intended to counterweight the tyranny of international media . He argued, Venezuela needed new sources of knowledge, which he promoted with a variety of new media channels and outlets, including new universities, forums of discussion, communitarian associations and new forums of discussion for the Bolivarian ideology. There was no place left where people could discuss the realities which concerned them outside of the Bolivarian discourse, as Debord concluded, “because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse.” To conclude, the short analysis of Chávez’s speech and some of the aspects of his communication strategy during his presidency do go in unison with most of the concepts and propositions of several of the authors dealt with in our seminar.
More specifically, Chávez strategy of political communication emphasized on the construction of a specific persona and world order in which spectacle played a significant role. Along with the management of the details surrounding his persona, portrayed as an exemplary leader and historical savior, he used existing and new information networks to publicize Chavismo’s idea of the order of world affairs. By exploiting the media, and with the help of a charismatic, colloquial discourse, he made a reality out of its representation.