June 12, 2019

GREAT MOMENTS IN KABUKI: When did Congressional testimony become performance art?

[Jon] Stewart was attending a hearing for a bill that would protect the health benefits of 9/11 first responders. Noting that around half of the subcommittee’s 14 members were absent, Stewart launched a pitch-perfect nine-minute-long assault on the errant lawmakers, which was going viral before it even finished.

Stewart was attending a hearing for a bill that would protect the health benefits of 9/11 first responders. Noting that around half of the subcommittee’s 14 members were absent, Stewart launched a pitch-perfect nine-minute-long assault on the errant lawmakers, which was going viral before it even finished.

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What Stewart, Ocasio-Cortez, Owens and Soave actually said, whether it was right or wrong, matters far less than the way they said it. In the last 10 years, the rules of the game have changed. Politicians, activists and writers are no longer giving testimony to a committee, as Butterfield did in 1973. They are competing for attention and influence on the internet. As William Davies wrote recently in the LRB:

‘This calls for a very different set of political and personal talents: confrontation, wit, defiance, spontaneity and rule-breaking.’

This has much more in common with performance art than politics. In the old Situationist movement there was a technique known as a détournement – which simply means hijacking, or rerouting. In practice this meant turning the familiar upside down – logos against advertisers, slogans against politicians – in order to demonstrate just how arid the familiar really was. Is this not what the most canny operators are doing to our old, boring, complicated institutions?

Read the whole thing.

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