Thus Spoke the Spectacle identifies itself as a "theatrical rock performance" and draws on writers such as Noam Chomsky, Marshall McLuhan, and, as the title suggests, Guy Debord and Friedrich Nietzsche. This multimedia performance brings those influences together with video and still imagery that is accompanied by creator Eric Goodman on guitar and vocals and Leo Friere on drums. Divided into ten songs, Goodman’s hourlong piece sets out to critique what Debord, in the title of one of his best-known works, calls the society of the spectacle, the elevation of the superficial that is presented by mass media and passively consumed by the audience.
There are some quite successful juxtapositions. A newscaster reporting on mutilated animals quickly cuts to a commercial for a fast-food burger. Reports of murder and destruction give way to ads worshipping consumer goods. In fact, those decontextualized ads are some of the more powerful images in the show -- stripping these commercials of their narratives and original music foregrounds just how ludicrous ecstatic people dancing around new cars actually are. A short excerpt from the Grapes of Wrath film with the Okies trying to figure out who is to blame for the foreclosures and evictions that they are facing is remarkably resonant, economically exploring the Foucauldian diffusion of power that makes effective popular resistance to systemic oppression extremely difficult.
However, Spectacle sometimes seems to be behind the conversational curve. A segment including older footage of a papparazzo being questioned about his practices illustrates just how quickly we have accepted the papparrazi culture as the new normal, but its major point of reference is the death of Princess Diana rather than, for example, more contemporary incidents like the British tabloid phone hacking scandal and the reprehensible (yet widely defended) Fappening. In fact, the internet makes little appearance overall Similarly, one number, "WMD Blues," adds a coda of hawkish rhetoric on Iran to demonstrate how much we seemingly haven’t learned since the Iraq war(s), but is really focused on the post-9/11 arguments for war rather than the events of the ensuing decade, giving the current administration a pass while condemning the Bush administration.
The music, some of it original and some reworked classic rock, from the likes of Pink Floyd and Edgar Winter, is often Steve Vai-ish, complementing and stringing together the flashing images. Thus Spoke the Spectacle is a good intro to a critical theory of media and manipulation, as its history of performance at several colleges and universities shows, but while it may not be fair to expect detailed analysis in rock-video format, this sort of thing won’t be revelatory to fans of The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, for example. - Leah Richard and John Ziegler
Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.
When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.