Stokes as spectacle

by Ivan Lozano February 27, 2009


Matt Stokes, these are the days (Image from Arthouse's website)


[Note: All numbered quotations are theses from Guy Debord’s SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE]


The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive,
indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “that which
appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it
demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already
obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of

Matt Stokes‘ show at Arthouse, these are the days, a
two-screen film projection and collection of ephemera from Austin’s
punk days in the late 70s and 80s is pure spectacle. It sets out, or
attempts to, archive "cool." A friend of mine who lived through that
time told me that he had a difficult time appreciating it because "it
was just a bunch of old crap and videos of hipsters walking around
Austin trying to look real cool." Not having been a part of that
particular scene, I am somewhat fascinated by it, but, if I were to see
a show of the music scenes of my youth in 20 year’s time, I might have
the same reaction.



The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common
stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished.
Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a
pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization
of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous
image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as
the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the


Structurally (though not in a Structuralist way), putting "a bunch of old crap" in vitrines and shelves
creates a feeling of history and respectability that is anathema to the
actual philosophy of punk, the nihilism inherent in the DIY movement
and it’s materials, the sense of immediacy and aliveness that was
endemic to the movement. Stokes doesn’t kill it, since it was already
dead, but turns the artifacts into zombies, undead symbols that point
to the dead end of teenaged rebellious impulses. Stokes’ attempt at
eulogizing the punk movement in Austin turns it into Happy Days.



In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the

The two-screen film projection, while gorgeoulsy shot by PJ Raval
and Lee Daniel, takes the voice away from the actual performers
(potentially unphotogernic crusty punks to judge by this image),
literally making them invisible, and replacing them with cute hipsters
who can rock. While it could be perceived as a sort of linear
progression – the music continues, is perpetuated by the fans and made
personal and alive – I mostly feel it to be a directorial decision that
undermines the project’s integrity. Media Theorists can probably back
me up on this.


The society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or
superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist. In the
spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is
nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other
than itself.

Dan Boehl writes :

"I worry because most visitors will spend a minute watching the film,
then spend an hour perusing the cases, wondering just what the hell
those records on the wall sound like. Akin to collecting ubiquitous
political stickers, posters and snapshots, this is an American problem:
we’re more interested in the ephemera surrounding an idea than the
substance of a movement."


The spectacle inherits all the weaknesses of the Western
philosophical project which undertook to comprehend activity in terms
of the categories of seeing; furthermore, it is based on the incessant
spread of the precise technical rationality which grew out of this
thought. The spectacle does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes
reality. The concrete life of everyone has been degraded into a
speculative universe.



vjones March 2, 2009 - 11:27

Maybe, but it is purely coincidental: they are a plucking of dudes in Austin punk bands who were available for the gig. A non-band made up of Austin kids in actual bands, if you will.

Stokes didn’t want to highlight one band in particular but did want the musicians to live in Austin and play in bands.

CNYTHOG March 25, 2009 - 12:39

Mr Biscuit and the Big Boys were what the punk movement looked like—really
No glamor involved. Mostly misfits, and the punks wore anything that was free
not stylish. Most of the Folks with outlandish outfits were probably living off Daddy’s money.

If there were no pictures of Johnny Straight Edge doing flips at Woodshock off Hamilton’s Pool
and the dusty mash pit of that event, it might be somewhat cahoneyless.


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