The Society of The Spectacle written by French Marxist theorist Guy De Bord was Published in 1967. Within this manifesto Debord describes the human condition driven by the Spectacle; he deconstructs our world that values the representation of images greater than the reality of being. He states that The Spectacle is the social relation among people, mediated by images. Although written over 50 years ago, this notion rings true in our highly image saturated consumer culture. The ease of self representation through online media platforms such as blogs, websites and applications have provided the masses with the power to edit and direct their own virtual image reality.
Debord wrote of the collective human behaviour that breaks down human lifetimes into segregated images. For this reason, where in other epochs our human experience was prioritised by touch, The Spectacle favours the visual and aural senses providing an escape from the truth of our reality. (Debord, 1967.)
The Spectacle is constituted by the following traits; it values Appearance over the essence, Illusion above reality and a separation over unity.
Due to the context in which we live, the truth is harder and harder to find. Politics have become a parody of themselves. The spectacle is entertainment; Where audience attention is being fought for in our highly saturated digital sphere the integrity of Political values, documentary stories and journalism have all been compromised. (Wisecrack, 2016.)
“In a world which is really topsy turvy, the true is a moment of the false.”
Politicians are fighting for popularity, sculpting their public image just like any other public figure. They must be bold show men and women with a certain performative demeanor so that the audience will engage with what they are saying. Politicians are competing against hollywood blockbusters, sports people, folk content that is generated across platforms such as youtube and instagram. It’s a dog eat dog world in the fight for analytics, hence the power of the spectacle and it’s extremity is driven to a whole new dramatism.
Following on from my last post on postmodernism, writer David Foster Wallace amongst a crowd of other cultural theorists believe that Postmodernism has run its course and we are now living in a post humanist, digital culture. Within this new cultural movement the Spectacle is central to our values and actions.
Within this digital sphere the rise of clickbait content aims to lure us down a wormhole of emotive amusement. The appearance of an an event or being takes rise of the essence.
The consequences of this notion is that when consuming media the instant message and images are consumed, yet the in depth understanding is poorly communicated.
Nick Clyde writes of the contradictions of ideologies that arise when appearance is highly valued. We condemn the senseless killing of western Journalists that occured to Charlie Hebdo in France, where following this millions of people took to the streets to protest such violence and rightly so. This problem with this writes Clyde, is that there is nothing to be said when 12 people are killed on their way to a wedding in Yemen with drones. Similarly both events are motivated by ideology; one is an ideology of religious fundamentalism and violent extremism; the other economic fundamentalism and violent imperialism. (Clyde, 2015.)
The essence is not understood merely by consuming the appearance of something. Instead we must look at various appearances on the same event to try and understand the truth of it’s being.
Nothing seems more relevant during our time of attention economy then the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. Presidential and other political elections are now based on cognitive styles.
“Between attention and distraction, reflection and impulsivity, self regulation and outrage. The dynamics of the attention economy uniquely underly and enable Trump’s style.”
This new attention economy has meant that politicians have become actors and actors have become politicians. News outlets have been disrupted by new publishing platforms in such a way that they have had to play by the rules of social media in vying for audience engagement. They rely on the spectacle to sensationalize, bait and entertain in order to survive.
“The internet has become an outrage machine. (Sidebar pro tip; whenever you see the phrase ‘the internet’ used agentive like this, mentally replace it with ‘we’.” (Williams, 2016.)
There is no doubt that we live in a time where the spectacle rules. The question is how can we rise up from with it? Black Mirror seems to have been able to hold up a mirror to our generation by presenting us with a series of worlds where technology has taken advantage of us. Within it, the spectacle rules our experience, the illusion provokes action.
But there is no solution within this witty insightful series where both the appearance and the essence of the series whispers; “We’re all doomed.”
To conclude I say if you can’t beat them join them. Jump on the conversation. Tell your story with authenticity, at least that way you are the hunter not the hunted.
The spectacle is real, create loving relationships, eat healthy food. We all choose to engage to a certain level with the spectacle, it’s like a drug; it has its effects and side effects some positive and some negative. An awareness of the system and how it works requires a critical eye so this seems like a good place to start;
“Taken as a whole, our spectacle is a distributed process of social networks, media outlets, commercial sponsors, data miners, bloggers and consumers who circulate a currency of clicks. The speed and the spread of content, driven by the manic pursuit of profit, propel a market race-to-the-bottom that selects for easily digestible blurbs of outrage and hysteria. Meanwhile, the crises and contradictions of 21st century neoliberalism ensure a sound supply of fusses to be made. Every click, however cheaply earned, keeps the revenue engine running; each link or share is unpaid advertising. Our comments, likes and hashtags tell the data miners and their clients what to capitalize upon—and how best to do it, too.” (Manalastas, 2016.)
Take breaks from the spectacle. At times we cannot escape it’s strong hold, at times we can. It’s best to be mindful in the times that we can switch off to do just that. Read a book. Go for a run. It will still be there when you decide to switch back on.
Clyde, Nick. (February, 02 2015). Society of the Spectacle: The Unsettling Consequences of Living in an Image-Based Culture. Retrieved From: http://www.refinethemind.com/society-of-spectacle/
Debord, G. (1994). The society of the spectacle. New York. Zone Books.
Manalastas, Jordan Von. (October, 14 2016). Clickbait and its Discontent. Retreived from: https://aestheticide.com/2016/10/14/clickbait-and-its-discontent/
Reichle, M. (April 2, 2016). Is Trump the end of Politics? – 8 Bit Philosophy. [Video File]. Retreived from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlptgqP_PEA
Williams, James. (October 09 2016). The Clickbait Candidate. Retreived from: http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2016/10/the-clickbait-candidate/