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.
I’m going to make a short video based on the theme of ‘spectacle’. My idea works on two meanings of the word, being something spectacular as well as something involving Guy Debord’s theory on the society of the spectacle.
After watching the horrific events of ‘9/11’ again in a recent lecture the thought of where people were and what we were doing at the time it was happening crossed my mind. In my film I want to dramatically contrast the event itself with something as mundane as making a cup of tea. I will film some tightly framed shots of the various stages of making a cup of tea and obviously I will have to use archive footage of the 9/11 attacks. I will try to dramatize the mundane as much as possible and I think I can do this by using slow motion along with some great classical music. This is meant to be humorous and I got the idea when I was watching South Park in an episode that mocks ‘300’s over-use of slow-motion by putting the effect on the most unnecessary things like eating and drinking. I will mix the audio of the 9/11 footage with the shots of the tea because I think this will make the films contrast and message more powerful. Another (perhaps humorous) influence for this video is 2001: A Space Odyssey because I will try to present the visuals of the tea-making in the same vein as the famous scenes from the film, with slow, tranquil movements in harmony with a classical score.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I mentioned earlier that the idea works on two levels of meaning (of spectacle) and that’s because on a basic level it will be spectacular, aesthetically and through the event itself being spectacular in the way that it is a rare occurance that shook the whole world. The other level of meaning is through Guy Debord’s theory of the society of the spectacle. My film will apply to Debord’s theory in a subliminal way because in the parts that I will film myself it will be a suggestion that so many people were doing something unimportant and insignificant while at the same time something much bigger was happening. This isn’t a direct response to Debord’s theory because I wont be showing the ‘spectacle’ itself (being something media orientated such as television as something we hide behind) but instead a mundane task that is a representation of something insignificant that we do instead of doing something more meaningful.
doc fest advertisement
On Thursday 4th November I travelled to Sheffield because they were holding their annual documentary festival. I went to the festival last year too and found it to be inconsistent because some of the documentaries were very nicely made, while others looked very amateur. This year (as with the previous year) the advertisement was focused on bringing out untold truths with the posters saying ‘the truth is out there’. The first documentary that I watched was a short called A Tidy Life which showed a contrast between two different Welsh families. It was a very simple concept and aesthetically it was mediocre with it’s use of real lighting situations and handheld shots. However there were a couple of nice ideas that I liked, firstly the two families shown were extremely different, even though they were in similar environments. One couple were shown to be heavily drinking and the woman explained how she was frequently beaten by her husband, then it cuts to another couple (who are older) sitting down eating and drinking in a very tranquil and civilised manner. I really liked the shot used in this part – it was a high angled shot from above a television that the couple are sitting in front of and looking at as they eat.
The documentary following this short was called KMS – Jewish Negroes. It was about a group of black Israelis and Ethiopian Jews who made music to counter the racism that they frequently encounter. I didn’t like it because it quickly became boring and the people it was depicting were interesting in very small parts but usually predictable in their behaviour and it quickly became a boring documentary.
I then saw a short called La Boheme which I was really looking forward to because it was made by Werner Herzog. I was bitterly disappointed because the film of 4 minutes was so simple I felt that it was something that anybody could have made. Maybe I am bitter towards it because I didn’t grasp its concept. It showed Ethiopian couples standing together looking directly into the camera for a few seconds and then walking off in seperate directions. This occurred numerous times accompanied by a powerful classical piece of music. Despite it’s simplicity it still felt lazy because sometimes the characters on-screen would glance at the crew behind the camera which looked awkward and unnecessary and should have been shot again (in my opinion). Very disappointing.
Herzog's La Boheme
I don’t remember the name of the next documentary but it was a Turkish film depicting various characters through stunning visuals and a voice-over commentary with subtitles ofcourse. This was definitely the best documentary of the day regarding aesthetics the colours were vivid, the lighting was beautiful and the majority of the shots utilised a track on which the camera slowed progressed towards the still constructed scene. The commentary was also humorous in parts which made the film easy to watch too.
The final documentary that I watched was called Dirty Pictures and was a story of a chemist named Alexander Sasha Shulgin who is regarded as the ‘Godfather of Ecstasy’. He focuses his work on mind-altering drugs and tests hundreds of different concoctions that he creates to see what effect they might have on the human being. The film is good looking and its protagonist is an interesting character but this alone doesn’t fill the 80+ minutes. In parts it became boring and there was often little in the way of narrative. Moments of the film were fun to watch though, with various characters having interesting and humorous views on how we can and should use chemistry in modern society.
the Godfather of Ecstasy
Again applying themes involved with ‘power’ to the Chilean Miners incident, only this time myself and the group covered slightly alternative elements. Here are the things that I looked at and delivered to the class.
Power can be felt everyday in many different forms but Foucault suggests that we ‘regulate’ through surveillance (as a form of discipline). Foucault says that we are constantly being monitored and we are extremely aware of this in the form of CCTV cameras, security, police etc and because we are so aware of this observation, the surveillance itself is almost unnecessary because we create our own ‘internal surveillance’. Foucault also stated that we live in an ‘economy of discourse’ wherein speech itself is passed on as the truth, it’s an arbitrary situation in which the economy of statements are passed around almost like currency.
Onto legitimate and illegitimate effects of power now and I think that it’s fair to say that the legitimate effect of power is obviously the help that the miners were given from the many hands and minds that came together to rescue them due to its coverage from the media. A controversial illegitimate effect is that it seems there could be a huge moral dilemma involved for the media due to how much power it actually has. The media globally accepted this as a story in which the miners desperately needed help which ofcourse is fair enough, but where the line is murky is when you look at why these miners are chosen to be focused on and another set of victims are not. This is perhaps an illigitimate effect of the power that the media has because it can almost directly control who is rescued and who is not, through its ability to dramatise and bring events into the focus of the worlds eye.
In the second video on the research and development blog featuring a film made by the tutor of Lars Von Trier the obstruction seems to be that of an awkward situation. The film features a man dressed in an expensive suit dining with fine food and drink. The awkwardness of the situation is that it is filmed live in Bombay in front of poor people this becomes controversial and unusual. The only thing between the people and the film set is an opaque sheet of plastic.
As a group of 6 myself and 5 other classmates were required to make a short presentation on a global event that displayed various forms of power. We chose to talk about the Chilean Miners and delivered a 5-minute verbal presentation. We covered areas such as the power of intelligence with various methods explored to find the best possible solution to rescue the miners. The power of media to convey the story in a certain way to a global audience.
Also the powerful emotions involved with the story, from the people watching on through the various forms of media, to the families of the miners involved, especially in the actual rescue of the miners where you could see the families crying tears of joy while the miners were singing and chanting with joy.
Chilean Miners - rescued