Friday, March 27, 2015

The Society of the Spectacle

It's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social media, where the mediated space is on equal footing with our lived experience. In fact, the virtual seems positioned to entirely replace the material in the course of history, a point at which we can truly say would be the end of history.


Now, these quotations, directly from the text:

In a world that is truly topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.
The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than "that which appears is good, that which is good appears."
The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having to appearing, from which all actual "having" must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function.
The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.
... The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among classes: a second nature...seems to dominate our environment. If the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring superficial manifestation seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self movement. If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is because this "communication" is essentially unilateral. 
We need not call to mind the PR debacle of Facebook "emotionally manipulating" its users. This is, after all, nothing but the type of marketing manipulation all companies attempt, with varying degrees of success. No. It is the much more casual way that these technologies integrate with our lives that bears the most consideration. It is the business of these platforms to set themselves up as the intermediary, the go-between when you engage anyone in this "topsy-turvy" world.

More anecdotally, (and prosaically), it has been somewhat disturbing to me of late that the few times I've left my Facebook account, many people have ceased contact. When I returned, caving into what has increasingly felt like a Stockholm Syndrome like situations, the refrain was "I'm happy you're back, now we can talk to you again." The virtual is increasingly the world in which we exist in, socially. What then is the fleshy present? The mechanism of mediation is increasingly the "lived world."
To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessity. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. 
Couched in the sort of "pomo speak" that seems to be less in vogue these days, it's not likely to be a top seller anytime soon. The tone almost strikes one as the bullet points read off through a bullhorn at a rally by a chain-smoking Frenchman with a megaphone. There are countless ways that we can critique, interrogate, and ultimately narrate technology. Whether it is our salvation or damnation is almost a literary conceit. But that makes this particular critique no less lucid, or downright prescient.

Next up I'm going to start looking into how Situationism influenced Debord's work. And dig back at the anarchist primitive movement that was fire-bombed in Philadelphia. I'll report back what thoughts seem worth sharing.

All It Takes Is The Right Story. Mythos Media

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