Presentation #3: Remembrance Day & Debord’s theory of the Society of the Spectacle


Remembrance Day & Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’


Possible introduction – Remembrance Day (or Armistice) – traditionally held on the 11th November is a day in which we (those of a part of the commonwealth) honour and respect the soldiers who fought and died for the freedom of their country. This is an obvious example of a spectacle because it is something that effected the whole world and how we live today. Having such a global effect surely makes this one of the biggest examples of spectacle that there can be.

Resistance – As most of most of the nation are respectful of the day and its meaning, that is not to say it goes without resistance. During the recent Armistice there was a protest from Muslims who clashed with police in London after burning a large poppy to protest Britains part in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. Thirty-five Muslims were involved in the protest, chanting “British soldiers: terrorists” on the day meant to be dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives during the world war.

Guy Debord’s theory – The society of the spectacle is a theoretical idea of the situationist Guy Debord first published in 1967. From my understanding it’s a reinterpretation of Marxism, which differs because it focuses on the power of media and technology. The theory explores (what Debord calls) consumer culture and commodity fetishism. He said “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation” and by this he is suggesting that media (or ‘the spectacle) has replaced genuine human interaction. A great example of this is Facebook, with the rise of technology we now have a so called social network which we access individually. We sometimes have more of a masked relationship through facebook than we do in reality. Debord says that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing” I accept this to be true and with the future inevitably increasing our technology I think this theory will only become more and more applicable in time. I think the basis of the idea of the spectacle came from the increasing popularity of television in the 1960’s. TV’s were introduced in the 1950’s and this could have been the thing that triggered Debord’s theory. Through this increasing popularity it became easier for people to become immersed into the spectacle.

(Karl) Marx believed that humans are unique because we are not constrained by our life activity or survival. We can consciously what we want to do with out lives. Marx said we manifest this by creating things universally and not just for ourselves, he thinks we are alienated from what we wanted to make because we didn’t choose to make it and that we are slaves to our wage. Debord says that to overcome this alienation caused by capitalism we have let ourselves become colonized by an immersive experience he calls the ‘spectacle’ (and what might know as media – for instance; Television). We get caught up in meaningless TV shows featuring fictional characters that don’t really exist and this is what is replacing our social interaction. A slightly obscured example of this could be the cinema – in which hundreds of people sit together in the same room but do not speak to each other as they are focused on the (usually) fictional film.

Society of the Spectacle

The spectacle has replaced our social interaction and human needs but this is only superficially satisfying and in fact makes us lonely and isolated individuals. But isn’t all of this just a re-statement of Marxism with an added media twist? In my opinion it is because Debord expands on Marx’s theory of alienation and adapts it in the modern society which is becoming increasingly involved with technology and therefor – more media.

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