"The Society of the Spectacle"
by Guy Debord
The Society of the Spectacle is a critique of contemporary consumer culture and commodity fetishism. Before the term "globalization" was popularized, Debord was arguing about issues such as class alienation, cultural homogenization, and the mass media.
Debord traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: "All that was once directly lived has become mere representation." Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing." This condition, according to Debord, is the "historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life."
With the term spectacle, Debord defines the system that is a confluence of advanced capitalism, the mass media, and the types of governments who favor those phenomena. "... the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring superficial manifestation...". The spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity. "The spectacle is not a collection of images," Debord writes. "rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images."
In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there's also a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought. Debord analyzes the use of knowledge to assuage reality: the spectacle obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never ending present; in this way the spectacle prevents individuals from realizing that the society of spectacle is only a moment in history (time), one that can be overturned through revolution.
Debord's aim and proposal, is "to wake up the spectator who has been drugged by spectacular images, through radical action in the form of the construction of situations, situations that bring a revolutionary reordering of life, politics, and art". In the situationist view, situations are actively created moments characterized by "a sense of self-consciousness of existence within a particular environment or ambience".
Debord encouraged the use of détournement, "which involves using spectacular images and language to disrupt the flow of the spectacle."
When Debord says that, "All that was once directly lived has become mere representation," he is referring to central importance of the image in contemporary society. Images, Debord says, have supplanted genuine human interaction.
Thus, Debord’s fourth thesis is "The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images."
In a consumer society, social life is not about living but about having; the spectacle uses the image to convey what people need and must have. Consequently, social life moves further, leaving a state of "having" and proceeding into a state of "appearing;" namely the appearance of the image.
"In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false."