The Society of the Ditz
The Guy Debord book review that never was.
One time I humiliated myself at an anarchist reading group. It dissolved my group of friends, unhinged my brain, made me leave town, and turned me into a ditzy nihilist squatter. The experience was a mess, but it taught me how to tailor my humiliation, counterfeit ideas, and make the most of the ignorance, disillusionment, and failure I earned as a byproduct of the academy.
In my neck of the woods, anarchist reading groups were kind of like interventions for book-addicts, where the prescription for change is smaller, xeroxed books. Everyone reads passionate passages that make you feel bad about yourself for not rioting, rather than making you feel bad about yourself for drunk-driving the riding lawnmower into your boss’ breakfast nook. Also, instead of your relatives crying around you in a circle, it’s your punk friends who are in the circle, while your relatives cry about you in the comfort of their homes.
I had some bad experiences with reading groups and had given up on them altogether until about a year ago. That’s when I started seeing Evites for a queer discussion event organized by illegalist babes. It seemed like a thinly veiled pretense to cruise. There was junk on the flyer – like, crotches. It didn’t seem to require me to read anything beforehand, and it was promoted as “a possible orgy,” so I went.
The night of the reading group, I showed up, vibrantly ignorant and thinking I look really good. My hard-femme peroxide dirt-coif had grown out into a kind of cyber-ombre, and my strategically tattered tank barely covered my modest boy-tits. A hunk of black tourmaline hung there, too, and it matched the black rosette studs I had managed to force through scar tissue with a safety pin the night before. Everything within bathroom-mirror selfie range was in good shape.
But as I scooched a chair into the circle, I glanced down and suddenly realized I was wearing the whisker-faded low-rise boot-cut jeans I had been sentimentally (or ironically) keeping stowed in my drawer. I started to get that miserable hot-neck/rising-bile feeling that usually follows the realization that I’m not the stylish punk who knows how to dress their body I thought I was. Rather, I remain the same hapless frump tub I was in middle school, literally watermarked with the jeans of that grim era to prove it.
This was no true black BDG high-waisted cigarette pant – everyone immediately knew it, and I was in trouble. It was mortifying. So awkward. I kept wishing I smoked so I could have done something with my hands. Like light myself on fire.
After this episode, I never went back. But in my embarrassment I became emboldened in my resolve to perform and perfect the post-empirical ditz identity that had run aground that night. Crime levels elevated to accommodate the demands of haute-couture. Troll levels soared to expose the inconsistencies and contradictions endemic to the activist-martyr prole aestheticians. An irreconcilable nihilism abounded and permanently embittered old friends unwilling to unmoor from their optimism.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What does being embarrassed about your pants at a reading group have to do with anything?” Believe me, I had to ask myself this many times. Usually I asked myself this question while I was being mercilessly caned by the editorial staff of Mask Magazine for “not doing writing” and “wasting time we could be spending railing Molly in a Williamsburg laundromat bathroom.”
The answer, dear reader, isn’t immediately clear, but it has to do with The Spectacle.
If you’re not sure what The Spectacle is, don’t feel bad – neither am I. (Even after attending the reading group, I still think that The Society of the Spectacle is an erotic mystery novel by Guy Debord.) My sister, who smokes weed, told me The Spectacle describes a condition of a particular stage of capital dominated by media and commodity consumption. The Spectacle, by virtue of commodifying language, time, and sociality, turns everything into disingenuous, representative alienation. She told me you can’t turn away from The Spectacle by “using less,” so conscious consumerism and boycotts won’t help you. Then again, without incidents of conscious consumerism like the recycled paper High Times is printed on, or those pesticide-free Raw rolling papers, maybe she wouldn’t be so smart in the first place.
From what I can tell, The Spectacle might be my enemy. But it also seems like The Spectacle is something I can troll to feel good about myself. Without any prerequisite understanding, a whole mental wardrobe opens up.
Vanity can be anti-authoritarian if your makeup is stolen. And ignorance becomes resistance when you refuse to know histories that were written by shithead patriarch oppressors. Consider why witches are so badass. Some brew potions because doctors are captains of industry who treat the body like a factory floor. Some craft sigils and study tea grounds because they get to decide what the readings mean. Some pay attention to celestial cycles because measuring time takes the day out of the sky and puts it in some boss’ pocket. Some are insane and undecidable because sanity and decisions are mechanisms of efficiency.
When I steal a pair of leather-look leggings with the cool rhombus mesh panels, it’s my own little ritual to subvert the logic of capitalism – to troll The Spectacle. And when I wrap the leggings around my sex-negative legs and an anti-identity ass, I’m not just decorating my body, I’m coordinating my look to match my mental outfit. Yes, this means sometimes I care about a commodity, but it’s worth it to have so many thrilling criminal conversation pieces. Besides, it’s like Spectacle 101 that there is no outside – capital dominates all social and material relations; I might as well fetishize stolen shit that looks hot and dangerous since I’m bound to fetishize something.
So when the basics and crypto-norms accuse you of falling victim to the mind-colonization perpetrated by capitalism, you can tell ‘em what I told you: 1. I stole everything. 2. Fuck you. 3. Even though I’m sex-negative, I’m still a slut, which means I can fuck and be fucked by whoever I want, including capitalism. 4. You’re boring. 5. I stole literally everything and never got caught, so I’m cooler than you, and finally, 6. Shut up.
Never understanding The Society of The Spectacle and eating sartorial shit at the reading group have been important failures. They taught me to embrace being a ditz. If Daria has taught us anything, it’s that exacting cynicism of the titular character is more boring, less cute, and heartily less ingenious than the honest airheadedness of Brittany the cheerleader.
Every thought I rack is a piece of jewelry I get to keep, every humiliation worth tailoring. My unread library of critical theory books are like an abandoned theory strip-mall where I can go to steal words and zazz up my language whenever I want – Kapowza! Theoretically sound aggression is something I try to work into every look. Wordplay, stealing, and looking good all matter to me, so fuck it. I’m gonna sit at the keyboard and put rings on my fingers. Just like my old CrimethInc. boss used to say, “dress for the future you don’t want to have, not the present you always-already have.” Every little aspect of my being that I can curate counter to the logic of capital is a moment of resistance.