Archive for society of the spectacle


Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2020 by Magadh

“Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor in the form of class divisions had given rise to an earlier, religious form of contemplation: the mythical order with which every power has always camouflaged itself. Religion justified the cosmic and ontological order that corresponded to the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing everything their societies could not deliver. In this sense, all separate power has been spectacular. But this earlier universal devotion to a fixed religious imagery was only a shared belief in an imaginary compensation for the poverty of a concrete social activity that was still generally experienced as a unitary condition. In contrast, the modern spectacle depicts what society could deliver, but in so doing it rigidly separates what is possible from what is permitted. The spectacle keeps people in a state of unconsciousness as they pass through practical changes in their conditions of existence. Like a factitious god, it engenders itself and makes its own rules. It reveals itself for what it is: an autonomously developing separate power, based on the increasing productivity resulting from an increasingly refined division of labor into parcelized gestures dictated by the independent movement of machines and working for an ever-expanding market. In the course of this development, all community and all critical awareness have disintegrated; and the forces that were able to grow by separating from each other have not yet been reunited.”

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, #25

Spectacular Dispatches #2

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on March 30, 2017 by Magadh

“The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world has culminated in a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the non-living.”

trumpism1The individualistic ideology of liberal capitalism functions as a superstructure for the fragmentation and isolation of human beings. But this fragmentary individualism operates dialectically with the world of collective images. No feature is so definitive of politics in postmodern mass societies as the centrality of images that create the illusion of integrated life. These images surpass and eventually replace the true.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las VegasThe politics of Donald Trump (one hesitates to lend it coherence by designating it Trumpism) are predicated on the construction of a complex of stimuli coalescing into apparent coherenceThe utterances of Mr. Trump and his amanuenses weave together truth, rumor, and outright lies into a web the target of which is more affect than intellect.

trumpism2The creating of this spectacle is facilitated by the prevalence of infotainment, in process for at least half a century. The twenty-four hour news cycle created a need for the creation of ever greater volumes of content (although not substance), with sports punditry increasingly used as the structural model for political and social commentary. The sporting industrial complex has retrogenetically colonized the culture out of which it grew.

trumpism4Sporting events have cultural traction to the extent that they involve individuals in the narrative worlds of imagined communities. The insistence on referring to the fanbase of particular teams as “nations” seems ridiculous at first blush. But this is merely a function of the absurdity of nations as such, which does not practically diminish the capacity of such narratives to motivate mass human action, often with lethal consequences.

(Text from Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle drawn from Ken Knabb’s website)


Spectacular Dispatches

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , on March 25, 2017 by Magadh

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”

Spectacles are the purest product of zero marginal cost capitalism. Whereas in earlier times, capital was primarily engaged in the reproduction of itself through the production of material commodities, now it is spectacles that accumulate rather than (primarily) things. Spectacles constitute the reproduction of domination through the production of fascination and apathy. They can be reproduced and distributed in practically infinite quantities through the medium of networked societies. Spectacles have become the lifeblood of modern capitalism.

coffeeThe circuits of production of modern capitalism are maintained by a politics centered on the production of compliance. This is not to say that there was in the past some sort of golden age in which the sphere of the political was one of free and rational consideration of substantive matters relative to the organization of society and its resources. But Habermas was probably correct to note that there was a period from the late 17th century in which there were spaces wherein such rational considerations were given greater scope that at other times, at least for those positioned in social and gender terms to have access to them. This era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies.

rallyThis era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies. It was also functional to the maintenance of the political and economic order, at least in the respect that it provided a means for the rising bourgeoisie to exert intellectual influence on the post-absolutist orders of politics and production that they were creating. Beginning in the 1920s this mode of ideological organization came increasingly to be seen as insufficient to the increasingly turbulent political conditions of imperialistically segmented industrial and finance capital. It was in this era that the production of spectacles began to replace the production of ideas as the medium for preserving the domination of capital.