Dork Zabunyan (Université Paris 8)
To Govern and Distract: A Reading of Siegfried Kracauer's 'The Cult of Distraction' (1926)
In March 1926, Siegfried Kracauer wrote an article published by the Frankfurter Zeitung, entitled “Cult of Distraction [Kult der Zerstreuung]: On Berlin's Picture Palaces”. This article is not a defense of the entertainment business at that time, but a way to save the concept of distraction from its usually pejorative senses, in order to understand how the masses can live an experience of emancipation through film. We will try to examine how this critical position is also a way of responding to the rising propaganda in Europe through state apparatuses which, as opposed to Kracauer's Zerstreuung, inevitably alienate the masses. This is why we will also connect this text of 1926 with the one written by Kracauer in 1942 about Nazi propaganda (“Propaganda and the Nazi War Film”). Finally, we would like to show how the “Cult of Distraction” is a political tool for our times, when politicians such as Donald Trump often govern by distraction, distancing the masses from the real problems they face in their daily lives.
Dork Zabunyan is professor of Film Studies at Université Paris-8. He has recently published L’insistance des luttes: Images, soulèvements, contre-révolutions (De l’incidence éditeur, 2016, English translation: The Insistence of Struggle: Images, Uprisings, Counter-revolutions, IF Publications, 2019) and Foucault at the Movies (with P. Maniglier, Columbia University Press, 2018). He has written for various journals including Cahiers du Cinéma, Trafic and Critique.