The Society of the Spectacle

May 13, 2008

For decades now, there has been an idea floating around: the dumbing-down of America. And while I wouldn’t employ that phrase because it’s a euphemism, I will say this: We are screwed. Or, more than that, we are screwing ourselves stupid with broken lightbulbs and hackneyed, empty ideas that have no meat to them like: what Brittney Spears is doing today. Or what Madonna’s wearing this week.

In the sixties, an important thinker named Guy DeBord proposed a batch of ideas in his seminal work, “The Society of the Spectacle”. Much of what DeBord wrote about holds true fifty years later and it bears grand relevance both to the DoDo crowd and to our collective consciousness.

The main premise in DeBord’s work iss that, because of our economic system, everything in our society has become a commodity. Including you and me. Our hearts and love and lust included. What DeBord called “the spectacle” was the imbroglio of images that we are bombarded with through our media, and as an extension, through our mouths. These are the images of product and commodities and celebrity. What is important within this notion is not necessarily the images or “the spectacle”, but that the spectacle has become a mediator for how people interact with one another.

In other words, “the spectacle” has provided us with an inauthentic way of interacting with one another. A way to approach this is to say that our colloquialisms and manners of communicating with others is predicated by what we see on the television; what hip hop phrases are in vogue; what stupid hand signs (i.e., “the shocker”) are prevailing. What is important here is the idea that, as DeBord wrote, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”.

DeBord wrote that the problem is within the quality of life we lead. He said that, within the spectacle, life is impoverished with such lack of authenticity. He said that human perceptions are affected, and there’s also a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought.

The importance here, is in the dearth of critical thought. Not only the act of critical thought but really, the inability to think critically at all.


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