Fans of scatology will have had a merry old time last week watching the President of the United States of America merrily flapping around in a pool of the excrement of his own lies. During his Grand Fromage-off with Putin, Big Don decided that the Russian President was his best friend. “Nothing short of treason…impeach him,” the world shouted back at their televisions and devices. Trump splashed around, dipped his finger in the brown fermentation, had a taste and decided that actually, maybe him and Putin weren’t blood brothers after all.
Trump is of course the bullshiners’ bullshiner. Fans of avant-garde French theory, such as myself, can barely think of POTUS without thinking of French philosopher and psychoanalyst Dominique Laporte’s 1978 classic treatise ‘Histoire De La Merde.’ The thrust of ‘Histoire De La Merde,’ is that humanity cannot civilise itself until is has got its faecal matter together. Literally and metaphorically. The Greeks and the Romans got onto this — stop doing your business in the corner of your dwelling and build yourself a sewerage system. Once you’ve got a sewerage system you have to pay someone to deal with the it, you can even use the ‘product’ to grow vegetables. Your human waste is now monetised, et voila, you’ve got yourself a civilisation. When you have a civilisation you have capitalism. When you have capitalism, you can rub a golden lamp and in a cloud of methane Donald Trump – or a Trump-a-like (they’re everywhere) will pop up.
In 1967, another Frenchman, Guy Debord, the doyen of the avant-garde, the leader of the Situationist International published his prescient critique of all modern life: ‘The Society Of the Spectacle’. Between 1957 and 1972 The Situationists International (SI) were a collective of European art provocateurs extraordinaire. ‘The Spectacle,’ is the all consuming shaggy dog story that distracts us from our own reality. Leisure, pleasure, advertising, consumption, pornography, money. In The Spectacle the truth doesn’t matter, as all images have been replaced by replicas. Debord (he killed himself in 1994 with a bullet to his heart) was an intellectual giant. But still a shaggy dog story merchant, just like his intellectual negative – Donald Trump. If one were to explain The Situationists to Trump (God help you) you would perhaps call them playful pranksters, writers, filmmakers (maybe you could convince Trump that Guy Debord directed ‘Top Gun’?) Luckily, you will never need to explain The Situationists or situationism to Trump or his ilk. For the leader of The Free World is very much the Situationists’ Situationist. That The President would have no idea that he is the Situationists’ Situationist just makes it all the more Situationist.
So what is the purpose of The Free World? The purpose of The Free World is to make money and lots of it. So that we can then pursue the other stuff that we like: leisure, pleasure, sex, pornography and all that. There’s some other stuff to do with The Free World as well: guns, religion, values, but that’s all doo-doo. When Guy Debord was defining The Spectacle he was describing The Free World. I suspect Debord would have ‘enjoyed’ these Trumpian times that we now live in.
The Situationists’ most notorious time came when they were the prime movers in the 1968 Parisienne student uprising. Having infiltrated the growing unrest at the University of Nanterre and stirred up the ‘situation,’ by the time of the May ‘68 riots Debord and co were out on the Champs-Élysées siding with any one who threw a bottle or a petrol bomb. Half of France was about to go out strike, partly down to Situationist tampering, but Debord was careful not to align with the Trotskyites, the anarchists, the Marxists, striking Renault workers. Debord regarded them all as at best disingenuous, more likely beneath contempt . After the events of ‘68 the Situationist International dwindled. Debord spent his time in Italy meddling with the Red Brigades stirring up the hard left and the hard right. I wonder what fun he would have had with the new Alt-Right, who have certainly discovered him, predictably making hay with Debord’s dislike of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and claiming him as one of their own.
“All that once was directly lived has become mere representation. All real activity has been channelled into the global construction of the spectacle,” wrote Debord in The Society Of The Spectacle. Donald Trump is not so much a part of The Spectacle – he actually is The Spectacle, like no other ‘politician’ before him. An architect of nothing tangibly useful to society, just the manifestation of futile decadence. A non-sentient ‘pussy grabber.’ His golf handicap is possibly the only thing of any importance to him. He is the world’s great entertainer. Not beloved but ghastly. And as we gasp in horror and astonishment or clap gleefully – depending which side of the line you are on – he absent-mindedly doodles our downfall.
To be at one with Mammon, somehow, is the aim of civilisation. We can’t see God but we can worship him with gold. In his 1966 essay, ‘Formulary For A New Urbanism’ the Situationist Ivan Chtcheglov wrote ‘The Hacienda Must Be Built’. Trump hasn’t read Chtchleglov’s essay, but he has built his own hacienda. The President of the United States of America loves gold. He lives, just as a child would like to, in a golden house. A house that is the end result of alchemy, turning base material – the monetised human effluence of capitalism – into gold. Donald Trump’s self-actualisation is another act of alchemy – turning something (that may actually be) worthless into The President of the USA. ‘All that glisters is not gold.’ It doesn’t matter what is real for the Situationist President. The credibility of his tax return doesn’t matter, nor does his ‘clean bill of health. It doesn’t matter if Trump Tower is made of gold or fake (fools) gold. It’s all fake news for fools anyway. And fake news is all lies, or as Debord would had it– ‘The construction of situations.’ Back to The Spectacle.