This was not theater, because a play is a safe and riskless activity, but it was roleplaying, which can be decidedly more dangerous for the participants—five people have died in these events. The “coup” ended, appropriately, when the main plotter was banned temporarily from social media. It was not a coup in the real world, but it was experienced as one by those taking part. More interestingly, those shocked by the events in the Senate were no less captured by the fantasy and might still believe that a real coup was attempted and defeated. In Washington, you can apparently now have the full “coup” experience in just a few hours. The action takes place in a kind of virtual reality, where terrible accidents can and do happen, but more tragic consequences to the political regime and the viewers at home are somehow prevented.
Does this mean that the Capitol extravaganza was trivial or unimportant? Not at all. In some strange way it was more significant than a real coup. A coup would at least make sense, while the almost complete replacement of serious politics by subterranean fantasy and roleplaying induces a sense of vertigo. Our traditional way of relating to the world has increasingly collapsed. Nothing seems real, and doubts persist about what to think or say in the face of this new situation.
Well, we’ve been LARPing revolutionary anarchism and fascism for a while now; why wouldn’t we try LARPing a coup as well? I can’t wait for the new “civil war” as performed by tinfoil hatters and spoiled rich kids. Simulacra, simulation, society of the spectacle — maybe the worst consequence of all of this is that postmodern theorists like Debord and Baudrillard look prescient now.