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Reviewed by:
  • Spectacle ed. by Jennifer L. Creech and Thomas O. Haakenson
  • Rick McCormick
Jennifer L. Creech and Thomas O. Haakenson, editors. Spectacle. Peter Lang, 2015. German Visual Culture 2. 313 pp. Cloth, $105.95.

Creech and Haakenson have edited a provocative interdisciplinary volume on the topic of spectacle, including contributions by scholars of history, art history, architecture, film and media, and theater and performance studies. Most of the book focuses on twentieth-and twenty-first-century visual culture, but its first chapter examines early modern German visual culture. Wisely, the volume does not define German spectacle. Rather, it examines the concept of spectacle in the context of German history and politics.

Thomas O. Haakenson's insightful introduction provides a useful discussion of Guy Debord's influential 1967 book La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle, 1970), to which almost every author in the volume makes reference. He compares it with Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno's Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947; Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1972). Their concept of the "culture industry" has similarities with Debord's "society of spectacle" in modern consumer capitalism. Debord's manifesto is a more monolithic model, collapsing spectacle and society, whereas Horkheimer and Adorno's more nuanced, dialectical model offers some hope for resistance.

For Debord, spectacle is inseparable from capitalism. Jacob M. Baum's chapter on baroque spectacle in early modern Germany reminds us that Protestantism opposed medieval Catholic spectacle; thus, early capitalism [End Page 153] was allied with anti-spectacle Protestantism. But Lutheranism in the German lands tolerated spectacle to a greater extent than Calvinism did.

Moving to the twentieth century, the volume devotes four chapters to modern(ist) visual culture in Germany's Weimar Republic. Elizabeth Otto's chapter focuses on the early history of the Bauhaus when its expressionist resistance to consumerist spectacle was allied with mysticism and spiritualism. Brían Hanrahan focuses on the spectacle of the Chamberlin flight to Berlin in 1927, which mobilized not only the crowds who watched the plane as it approached Tempelhof airport but also a new audience following live radio coverage. Paul Monty Paret examines the Berlin in Licht (Berlin in light) exhibition in 1928, a commercial celebration of electric illumination. For all its apparent modernity, its organizers did not subvert but rather included Berlin's nationalist monuments from the Wilhelmine era. Finally, Sara Ann Sewell discusses spectacle and Weimar communist culture, countering Debord's insistence that spectacle is indistinguishable from capitalism. Noting the construction of gender in communist culture, Sewell analyzes its spectacular mass rituals. They remind this reader of a modern secular religion, comparable to Nazism, or even to bourgeois nationalism (but not consumer capitalism).

Nadine Rossol looks at Nazi spectacles, focusing primarily on the Thingspiel. This attempt at a new form of mass theatrical spectacle had failed already by the mid-1930s, undermined by a tension between political propaganda and entertainment (consumerist distraction).

Jennifer L. Creech's provocative chapter examines gender and spectacle in two recent cinematic representations of the RAF. The films she discusses are products of this century, but she compares them to West Germany's New German Cinema of the 1970s, an oppositional cinema with a feminist wing that analyzed the gender politics of terrorism and its mainstream reception. Creech argues persuasively that Uli Edel's Baader Meinhof Komplex rejects this oppositional legacy, trivializing the political ideas of the RAF women through sexist objectification. But the radical camp aesthetic of Bruce LaBruce's The Raspberry Reich deconstructs and queers mainstream representations of the RAF.

Deborah Ascher Barnstone examines the modernist "transparent architecture" of glass in the 1948 and 1992 parliament buildings constructed in Bonn, and she concludes with a discussion of Foster's 1999 renovation of Berlin's Reichstag. Heather Matthews investigates Documenta 13 in Kassel (2012), showing how this art exhibition tried to resist the global spectacle and consumerism of contemporary art shows [End Page 154] and to address political debates in Germany about immigration—an attempt ignored in the mainstream press reception of the exhibition.

The volume's final chapter examines terrorism and spectacle from the perspective of theater and performance studies. Brechtje Beuker argues that spectacle and theatricality are linked...


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pp. 153-155
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