Bret Easton Ellis has been running with this distinction over the past year on twitter, and this week, he finally found his avatar to channel this latest label of the zeitgeist.
In fact, Ellis doesn’t truly get into the label itself, make clear distinctions and pull off a well-defined concept, but perhaps that is intentional, and how the essay brings about the historical situation it is written in. Moreover, it’s likely the ambiguity of what the term is supposed to designate is actually the author’s own ambiguity about the situation.
My take is that the label refers to the entertainment complex, and actions that aligned with it during the last American imperial phase, and to the imperial situation itself, i.e., the entire American empire in the post WW2 mode, which was basically an invasion of consumer goods and entertainment options (coke, film noir).
In other words, Charlie Sheen is posed as a “fuck you” to the first ( the Man in the local entertainment hierarchy) & as a symptom of a mode of dealing with the implosion of the American empire – a kind of a mockery of the older ethos and pathology at once – all of which is being normalized because it continuously appears on TV and spreads throughout the Internet. It’s a pathology as a type of aesthetic posture that is the breakdown of obvious aesthetic postures.
If you play the game of equating social power with distance from necessity (sociological position) then it appears reasonable to equate the loss of distance (we perform this through rituals of decorum) with a breakdown of power, and a loss of power (in both locally the entertainment complex and more generally) with the breakdown of the invisibility of power. The distance that separates the exercise of power from the perception of power that is being exercised is the most basic distancing in a hegemony.
Then again, it’s probably not a good idea to take this label at face value because instead of glorifying what seems to be the state of “post-empire transparency” Ellis is making an acidic commentary on the state of symbiotic consumer news-entertainment relationship with a copious amount of irony.