This week’s dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. was a quintessential display of what Guy Debord called “spectacle.” In his words, what we prefer to refer to as “media” is really the communication of “orders” whereby “those who give them are also those who tell us what [to] think of them.” These orders, Debord says, “permeate all reality,” and form a “crushing presence” so as to assure that “no place [is] left where people can discuss the realities which concern them…” And by so doing we are left with only the “unanswerable lies [which] have succeeded in eliminating public opinion.” In fact, Debord says, the “spectacle” is “the end of history [which] gives power a welcome break.” Such displays as we witnessed this weekend operate under the orders of ending critical thought and radical reflection and gave us a parade of characters who, as Debord also says, are the “experts [who] serve the state and the media and only in that way do they achieve their status.”
And just who were delivered by General Motors, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Boeing, Phizer, Tommy Hilfiger and AT&T? Well, of course, the big prize delivery was the president himself and with at least 4 of his previous top campaign contributors also sponsoring the monument (GE, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs) it was clear his re-election bid was to be a primary function of the spectacle. And why not? Banksters and war profiteers don’t sponsor events meant to commemorate anti-war and wealth redistribution. So no, Dr. King could not be present at his own memorial, spectacle erases memory to preserve an ignoble present. And Obama played his role beautifully. He implicitly accepted, as he has always done, the simultaneous honor of being the culmination of King’s movement and its refutation. How else can a movement reach its conclusion and still require so much work, as the president reminded us, to achieve its goals? How else can a movement achieve the highest office and still be told by its leader that those who put him there have not worked hard enough? Only in America can so much work, for so many centuries, with so much blood, loss and suffering produce so little for so many. But this, for a president seeking re-election as opposed to a genuine product of a revolutionary movement, has to be the message even when all involved know that none of this has anything to do with King or his ideas. And while some delivered impressive comments all of the speakers let Obama get away with it.
The usually conservative, anti-progressive, anti-gay friend of Eddie Long, Bernice King was strong in calling out the fact that the distribution of wealth in this country is sickeningly disparate, while her brother Martin Luther King, III warned against an erasure of his father by a selection of “idol over ideas” and “brand over belief.” But the cavalcade of usurpers of King’s throne and their sponsors washed away any good those comments could have done. Jesse Jackson, still fraudulently adorning himself in King’s blood, told us yet again to “keep hope alive.” Andrew Young again reduced persistent poverty to a lack of “financial literacy” among Black people and said explicitly that a refusal to vote for Obama in 2012 was a turning over of gains won by King’s movement to the Republican party. And Al Sharpton, again, made White middle-class liberals look like revolutionaries by reducing their “occupations,” and worse King’s plans for permanent protests in 1968, to a slogan of “we will occupy voting booths” next year for Obama.
So by the time the corporate sponsors spoke themselves and after all the choirs sang all we are left with is a memorial that will permanently impose itself, as spectacle, preventing actual discussion of the man or his ideas. In fact, the words “Black” and “racism” make zero appearances at a memorial dedicated to a man who spoke of the essentialness of Black pride and an end to White supremacist notions of race. So having served the state and its media apparatus the “experts” this week assured that all that was and is Dr. King will be “crushed” beneath the orders they’ve communicated; orders that discourage the radical interventions that come, as King said, with a “divine dissatisfaction” with the world as it is.