Publicity's Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy

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In recent decades, media outlets in the United States—most notably the Internet—have claimed to serve the public's ever-greater thirst for information. Scandals are revealed, details are laid bare because "the public needs to know." In Publicity's Secret, Jodi Dean claims that the public's demands for information both coincide with the interests of the media industry and reinforce the cynicism promoted by contemporary technoculture. Democracy has become a spectacle, and Dean asserts that theories of the "public sphere" endanger democratic politics in the information age.Dean's argument is built around analyses of Bill Gates, Theodore Kaczynski, popular journalism, the Internet and technology, as well as the conspiracy theory subculture that has marked American history from the Declaration Independence to the political celebrity of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The author claims that the media's insistence on the public's right to know leads to the indiscriminate investigation and dissemination of secrets. Consequently, in her view, the theoretical ideal of the public sphere, in which all processes are transparent, reduces real-world politics to the drama of the secret and its discovery.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dean's book coalesces a number of approaches to the public and publicity, ranging from political theory to psychoanalysis and cultural studies. It identifies a new and consequential amalgam of public and new technologies. It warns of the dangers posed by information overload and generalized skepticism."—Esther Leslie, Radical Philosophy, July/August 2003

"For Dean, the modern, and now postmodern, public sphere has always been based upon the integral relationship between secrecy and publicity. . . . Revealing secrets legitimizes the public realm, a public, however, that never really exists. 'The public' is a simulated, technocultural construct that most people believe actually operates as a democratic representation of 'the people.' It does not."—Wayne Gabardi, Perspectives on Politics, September 2003

"Dean discusses how the popular belief in truth in reporting and fairness in the media is almost entirely a myth. . . . Dean's voice joins a number of other intellectuals such as Ishmael Reed, Joshua Micah Marshall, and Eric Alterman that have come out in favor of critical thinking in our age of Homeland Security Departments and the Office of Information Awareness. With a little luck maybe others will follow their lead."—Chris Cobb, Leonardo

"The World Wide Web has made those with access wary of surveillance, loss of privacy, identity theft, lurking, fraud, scams. . . . Ideology itself, in Dean's argument, has been fundamentally altered under the regime of technoculture. Communication is the new ideology; it has survived the most recent crash of Silicon Valley stock options and taken the place of production. . . . Dean speaks with an intelligent and important analytic voice about the seductions and dangers of the wired, media-drenched universe. In this universe, the rule of law has morphed into the rule of artificially manufactured public opinion, and what is not publicized does not exist."—Julia Epstein, Women's Review of Books, February 2003

"Cultural theorist Jodi Dean's latest book tackles the issue of the public sphere in a refreshingly contemporary and relevant way by focusing on the role of the technological media in the exercise of public democracy. . . . One of the most interesting discussions in the book is that of subjectification in terms of a drive toward celebrity, which seems to suggest, in a Sartrean vein, that we experience existence only in the eyes of multiple beholders. . . . The book serves, however, to raise the question of what democracy would look like without the rational monolith of 'the public' and goes some way to clearing the ground that has served to bolster this (from Dean's perspective) dangerous avoidance tactic."—Kieran Laird, Contemporary Political Theory, Summer 2004

"Jodi Dean's new book approaches the key issue of today's critical theory: how are we to subtract the authentic democratic impulse from its perversion in the media-manipulated notion of 'public' and 'public support'? Is the situation so manipulated that true democracy cannot survive? Or should we start to look for sites of resistance even in odd places like UFO and conspiracy theories? In short, to say 'I am engaged in critical theory and don't want to read Dean's book'is a contradiction in terms: the book is A MUST!"—Slavoj Zizek

"Jodi Dean takes us one step deeper into the mindscape of consumer capitalism."—Kalle Lasn, Editor in Chief, Adbusters Magazine

"At a time when much of the writing about the politics of net culture is glib and epigrammatic, Jodi Dean provides an analysis that is theoretically profound and politically astute. Publicity's Secret is an important and distinctive contribution to thought about the public sphere, democracy, and secrecy."—Michael Shapiro, University of Hawaii

"Removing secrets from the soul, where we traditionally suppose them to hide, and from the acts of divination that pretend to uncover them, Jodi Dean examines the genesis of secrecy as a ploy of modern technology. In doing so she does far more than place the secret 'out there' in the various technologies that have become the life-support of a thriving capitalism, she exposes the way a new ideology of intimacy threatens the very possibility of radical democracy. Political, cultural, and psychoanalytic insights spring from each page of this lively and timely book, raising critical concerns about our hasty acceptance of degraded notions of publicity." —Joan Copjec, University at Buffalo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801486784
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Communicative Capitalism: The Ideological Matrix 1
1 Publicity's Secret 15
2 Conspiracy's Desire 47
3 Little Brothers 79
4 Celebrity's Drive 114
Conclusion: Neo-Democracy 151
Notes 177
Index 205
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