Disposable Futures

By Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux

Disposable Futures is a populist political and philosophical manifesto, but one that is not always easy to follow. This is mainly because it is primarily an academic work, with deep roots in French critical theory (in particular it draws heavily on the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord). The authors clearly want to reach a broad audience, as they are responding directly to popular culture and write in an impassioned, rhetorical voice, but the general reader will find much of their analysis a tough slog.

By “spectacle” the authors mean the productions of the mainstream media. All of this content, from news programs to reality TV to zombie films, has a political role, as culture is always political even as it seeks to de-politicize. That role is to propagandize for neoliberal ideology (“neoliberal” being an overused word here, standing for the most brutal and exploitative aspects of free market capitalism).

There are three essential points to the neoliberal message. In the first place, a certain segment of the population are now considered disposable: excess lives of no value except perhaps as fodder for violent entertainment. Second: the neoliberal triumph is the inevitable end of history. As the phrase has it, there is no alternative. Finally, and a bit surprisingly, this inevitable end is not Utopia but catastrophe. Neoliberal ideology has appropriated disaster and made the logic of capitalism not progress but rather regression to a savage state of nature. Optimism is an Orwellian thoughtcrime. The future, in other words, has also been made disposable.

These points are all well worth considering, and are helpfully related to various current trends in pop culture centered on the normalization of violence. The connection between disposable people and zombies is especially apt, while the chapter on Internet surveillance is the only part of the book where the authors seem to go wandering.

What’s unfortunate is that these ideas are not presented in a more accessible voice. If you’re not accustomed to the use of “imaginary” as a noun than you’re not going to be up to speed, and the mostly unnecessary borrowings from other theorists and academics will likely only lead to confusion. Such specialized language is unsuited for a book of this sort, which has something important to say to all of us.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, July 2015.

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