Spectacle (Situationism)

rquote|right|We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience.
Larry Law| "Images And Everyday Life"
The spectacle is a central notion in the Situationist theory developed by Guy Debord. Guy Debord's 1968 book, "The Society of the Spectacle", attempted to provide the Situationist International (SI) with a Marxian critical theory. The concept of "the spectacle" expanded to all society the Marxist concept of reification drawn from the first section of Karl Marx's "Capital", entitled "The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof" and developed by György Lukács in his work, "History and Class Consciousness". This was an analysis of the logic of commodities whereby they achieve an ideological autonomy from the process of their production, so that “social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them.” (Marx, Capital) Developing this analysis of the logic of the commodity, "The Society of the Spectacle" generally understood society as divided between the passive subject who consumes the spectacle and the reified spectacle itself.epigraph
quote=The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.
cite=Guy Debord, "The Society of the Spectacle"

History and influence

A long tradition of work exists in political science on the "political spectacle"McLagan, Meg. "Spectacles of difference: cultural activism and the mass mediation of Tibet", "Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain", 2002, p.107] started with Debord; [Edelman, Murray (1998) "Constructing the political spectacle". |Wedeen, Lisa (1999) "Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria".] many literary critics and philosophers in the 20th century contributed to this analysis. According to anthropologist Meg McLagan, "Debord analyzes the penetration of the commodity form into mass communication, which he argues results in the spectacle". Andrew Hussey claims in his biography of Debord that the term spectacle began life not in a Marxist context, but was first borrowed from Nietzsche and his concept of the mass secret. The critic Sadie Plant argues that later theories of postmodernism, particularly those of Baudrillard and Lyotard, owe much to Debord's theory, and represent an apolitical appropriation of its criticism of the unreality of life under late capitalism.

Different forms

Debord later modified his argument, and claimed that the spectacle manifests itself in three different forms:

The concentrated spectacle

The spectacle associated with concentrated bureacracy. Debord associated this spectacular form mostly with the Eastern Bloc and Fascism, although today mixed backward economies import it, and even advanced capitalist countries in times of crisis. Every aspect of life, like property, music, and communication is concentrated and is identified with the bureaucratic class. The concentrated spectacle generally identifies itself with a powerful political leader. The concentrated spectacle is made effective through a state of permanent violence and police terror.

The diffuse spectacle

The spectacle associated with advanced capitalism and commodity abundance. In the diffuse spectacle, different commodities conflict with each other, preventing the consumer from consuming the whole. Each commodity claims itself as the only existent one, and tries to impose itself over the other commodities:

The diffuse spectacle is more effective than the concentrated spectacle. The diffuse spectacle operates mostly through seduction, while the concentrated spectacle operates mostly through violence. Because of this, Debord argues that the diffuse spectacle is more effective at suppressing non-spectacular opinions than the concentrated spectacle.

The integrated spectacle

The spectacle associated with modern capitalist countries. The integrated spectacle borrows traits from the diffuse and concentrated spectacle to form a new synthesis. Debord argues that this is a very recent form of spectacular manifestation, and that it was pioneered in France and Italy. According to Debord, the integrated spectacle goes by the label of liberal democracy. This spectacle introduces a state of permanent general secrecy, where experts and specialists dictate the morality, statistics, and opinions of the spectacle. Terrorism is the invented enemy of the spectacle, which specialists compare with their "liberal democracy", pointing out the superiority of the latter one. Debord argues that without terrorism, the integrated spectacle wouldn't survive, for it needs to be compared to something in order to show its "obvious" perfection and superiority.


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