Body Image Politics and Postdemocratic Operation

The Rancere and Brown readings brought the operation of body politics to my mind.  Ranciere describes democracy as “politics’ mode of subjectification…[a] singular disruption of this order of distribution of bodies as a community that we proposed to conceptualize in the broader concept of the police.” (99) The author argues that there is a duality of a social body and a body that displaces any social identification.  This detail makes me think of body image politics- not just the female body but perhaps especially so. Is the policy of post-democracy operating in the same was as body-shaming in the media?

Ranciere likens postdemocracy as “an uninterrupted count that presents the total of public opinion as identical to the body of the people.” I interpret this statement as the documentable output of a person or people is identical to the value of the person or people.  Like Human Capital,  It isn’t the person that is valuable/necessary— it is the non-tangible skill set of the person that is required. I think body image politics works much the same way.  It isn’t the person- it’s the accessories which are valuable. Democratic opinion works through the examination of polls and samples. “ In it the people are never again uneven, uncountable, or unpresentable. They are always both totally present and totally absent at once. They are entirely caught in a structure of the visible where everything is on show and where there is thus no longer any place for appearance.” (101) The individual is at once visible and silent. The choices one makes rather than the character of said personal are catalogued.

Why does this make me think of body image politics? Media tells the masses that we have a choice, that we are free to express ourselves as individuals and live however we see fit; however, we are also given a set of rules which are deemed moral and rational. “Neo-liberalism does not simply assume that all aspects of society, cultural and political life can be reduced to such a calculus, rather it develops institutional practices and rewards for enacting this vision.” (4) It is rational to be healthy (except healthy means thin). It is immoral to by lazy. To be a productive person, one must be hard-working and prove his or her value.  Value is then tied up in how much space you don’t occupy. Brown describes  individuals as “rational, calculating creatures whose moral autonomy is measured by their capacity for “self-care”— the ability to provide for their own needs and service their own ambitions.” (6)

The problem cycles back to our discussion of ‘real democracy’ and ‘human capital’. Media bombards individuals with images of what is ‘natural’ what is ‘valuable’. The individual becomes  responsible for believing the ‘natural’ and for maintaining a moral, natural, valuable image. You are irrational, sick, and/or lazy if you don’t.  The system operates my means of costs, benefits, and consequences. One must by the products he or she is told to buy (cost for individual, profit for the market economy), one reaps the benefits (we are told it’s a win/win scenario), and one is told there will be consequences if you choose not to fit into the given model. You are free to make your own decisions. just make sure you make the right one. because the only moral choice is the right choice.

Democracy thrives when there are major opportunities for the mass of ordinary people actively to participate, through discussion and autonomous organisations, in shaping the agenda of public life, and when these opportunities are being actively used by them. This is ambitious in expecting very large numbers of people to participate actively in serious political discussion and in framing the agenda, rather than be the passive respondents to opinion polls, and to be knowledgeably engaged in following political events and issues. This is an ideal model which can almost never be fully achieved, but like all impossible ideals it sets a marker…

The issue becomes more intriguing when we confront the ambitious ideal… with what I have in mind as post-democracy. Under this model, while elections certainly exist and can change governments, public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals expert in the techniques of persuasion, and considering a small range of issues selected by those teams. The mass of citizens plays a passive, quiescent, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given them. Behind this spectacle of the electoral game politics is really shaped in private by interaction between elected governments and elites which overwhelmingly represent business interests.

This model, like the maximal ideal, is also an exaggeration, but enough elements of it are recognisable in our contemporary politics to make it worth while asking where our political life stands on a scale running between it and the maximal democratic model, and in particular to appraise which direction it seems to be moving between them. It is my contention that we are increasingly moving towards the post-democratic pole.

—  Crouch, Colin (2000) Coping with Post-democracy. London: Fabian Society: 1-2. 
How is it possible for so many people to accept this course of events given that debt accumulation constituted thoroughly ethical behaviour within recent capitalist consumerist societies?
How is it possible for debt to turn overnight from good to bad object – from an accomplishment to a failure for which each and everyone (from states to individuals) is fully accountable and for which eternal suffering can be the only reward?
It is impossible to make sense of this miraculous transformation without reversing causality, highlighting retroactivity, and taking into account long-term structures of subjection.

Debt society: Greece and the future of post-democracy

Dossier: The Greek Symptom: Debt, Crisis and the Crisis of the Left

RP 181 (Sept/Oct 2013)

Yannis Stavrakakis

“As a regime of opinion, the principle of postdemocracy is to make the troubled and troubling appearance of the people and its always false count disappear behind procedures exhaustively presenting the people and its parts and bringing the count of those parts in line with the image of the whole. The utopia of postdemocracy is that of an uninterrupted count that presents the total of"public opinion" as identical to the body of the people. What in actual fact is this identification of democratic opinion with the system of polls and simulations? It is the absolute removal of the sphere of appearance of the people. In it the community is continually presented to itself. In it the people are never again uneven, uncountable, or un­ presentable. They are always both totally present and totally absent at once. They are entirely caught in a structure of the visible where everything is on show and where there is thus no longer any place for appearance.” (101)

- “Democracy or Consensus,” Ranciere