The Society of the Spectacle
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Society of the Spectacle is a French language work of philosophy by Guy Debord first published in November 1967 by the Paris publishers Buchet-Chastel. The book was adapted for film by Debord himself in 1973.
In two hundred and twenty-one theses divided into nine chapters, Debord traces the development of a modern society in which "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 in which authentic social life has been replaced with its image represents, according to Debord, that "historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life." 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."
The pernicious genius of the spectacle is its ability to mobilize the image of what it actually militates against. When the promise of the Russian Revolution, for example, was betrayed by a self-interested bureaucracy, "an image of the working class arose in radical opposition to the working class itself." Similarly, in advanced capitalist countries, mass produced commodities are marketed for their singularity, as if individuality could be achieved by millions of people buying the same useless product. In both instances, the spectacle inverts reality in order to pacify potential opposition. It is an inverted image of the real that nonetheless has real effects.
The Society of the Spectacle provides an extensive reinterpretation of Marx’s work, most notably in its application of commodity fetishism to contemporary mass media. It also expands the concept of alienation to include far more than labor activity, and exposes the common spectacular politics of Soviet and American regimes.
Debord also made a film called Society of the Spectacle.
- Wikisource complete text of The Society of the Spectacle
- Other source of complete text for The Society of the Spectacle
- Translation from the Situationist International Library
- Situationist International
- Autonomist Marxism