From the streets of Atlanta to the shores of Antarctica, millions of demonstrators marked January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, with peaceful marches in support of women’s and human rights. With 673 marches spanning all seven continents and 408 rallies in the U.S. alone, according to Women’s March on Washington coordinators, the events were the largest single day of protest in American history.
Impressively, what became a worldwide demonstration attended by nearly 5 million participants was launched on Facebook. On November 9, 2016, the day after Trump was elected, Teresa Shook, a retired attorney living on the Hawaiian island of Maui, created a Facebook event to protest Trump’s ascension to the Oval Office and invited friends to join. Seasoned campaign planners were brought in to manage the event after Shook’s post and others like it generated thousands of followers.
While not billed as anti-Trump protests, the demonstrations nonetheless appropriated a political space used by Trump for electoral gain to oppose Trump’s agenda. During the 2016 presidential election cycle, the Trump campaign embraced the media spectacle to promote his candidacy. According to the media analytics firm MediaQuant, Trump benefited from approximately $5 billion in free media value over the course of his campaign. Media attention given to Trump, even when negative, exemplified what Guy Debord referred to as the “society of the spectacle,” in which images supplant human interaction to exacerbate class alienation.
Yet, the global post-election backlash against Trump’s agenda shows that the relationship between the ever-expanding media spectacle and politics is more complex in the 21st Century than Debord theorized in the late 1960s. Rather than simply being subsumed within and reproduced by a corporate media culture, divergent populations are today able to employ the media for strategic spectacularization, whereby mediatic apparatuses undergirding the society of the spectacle are used to forge mass movements that resist political repression and legitimate dissensus as crucial to conceptualizing–and problematizing–who “the people” includes.
If politics is the struggle of the un(der)recognized for equal recognition within an established social order, as the philosopher Jacques Ranciere and women's marchers suggest, then, at a time when the President is targeting immigrants and trampling basic rights, democratizing the media's gaze toward resisting emergent authoritarianism is an urgent political project, and one that might unmask the murmuring corporatization of "sensible" speech as an accomplice to modern barbarism.