- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Zone Books; Revised ed. edition (September 23, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0942299795
- ISBN-13: 978-0942299793
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Society of the Spectacle Revised ed. Edition
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"In all that has happened in the last twenty years, the most important change lies in the very continuity of the spectacle. Quite simply, the spectacle"s domination has succeeded in raising a whole generation moulded to its laws. The extraordinary new conditions in which this entire generation has lived constitute a comprehensive summary of all that, henceforth, the spectacle will forbid; and also all that it will permit." -- Guy Debord (1988)
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
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Top Customer Reviews
And The Promised Land, as Debord sees it, is TOTAL CONSUMPTION. This is the edict and goal of contemporary consumer society. The fact that it has grown out of and usurped religious feeling makes the SPECTACLE a competitive product to formal religion. Certainly, Islam feels its power and threat. Certainly, the Middle East is reacting to it, through individual and state sponsored terrorism against the West.
Debord is a difficult read, but ultimately worth it. His insights are penetrating, remarkable, and have proven to be more acute with the passing of time. Private and public over consumption has become a disease and the hallmark of an age that has debt financed prosperity for too long.
For me, Debord's has number of chief insights that signify trouble ahead for our current economic system. One of them is the apparent and obvious falling use value for goods in abundance (many of them pseudo goods - things we don't really need). Having long fulfilled our need for food, clothing, and shelter, our current economic growth is contingent upon consistently manufacturing pseudo needs that must feed upon the boundless desires of persons in an unending pursuit of gratification through purchasing new products and services.
The problem occurs when the next disillusionment, Debord tells us, takes place not with religion or politics but within the commodity itself. Product prestige evaporates into vulgarity soon after its purchase...at this point; the actual poverty of production stands revealed - but too late. By this time another product will demand attention...the continuous process of replacement means that fake gratification cannot help but be exposed as new models are released every year but yet remain all to similar. Why upgrade, we ask?
For the sake of Dell, GM, Microsoft, Target, Home Depot and so on, we had certainly better. Herein lies the rub picked off by Debord: "By the time that the society has become contingent upon the economy, the economy has in point of fact become contingent on society...he economy begins to lose its power."
A society/economy built upon an illusion of needs will certainly be a fragile on at best. Such a society/economy, whose growth rests upon expanding the market of pseudo commodities, has apparently developed a penchant for reporting pseudo revenue earnings (eg. Enron, World Comm, etc). This is all very predictable and very much Debordian.
Debord is reminiscent of McLuhan, full of arcane wisdom and prolix, and a prophet of the current society nonetheless. He predicted our growing devotion to quantitative trivia that arise from a juxtaposition of roles and competing spectacles, and a never-ending succession of, what he calls, "paltry contests - from competitive sports to elections." All this, he says, fuels an abnormal need for representation, to compensate for the feeling of being at the margins of existence. This seems to be modern man, slavishly devoted to commodities, celebrities, politicians, sports teams and sports heroes, compensating for the loss felt by the dividing line being the self and the world that Debord calls THE SPECTACLE.
Although it is not for lightweights or the nonchalant, I do highly recommend this book as a guide to understanding some of the psychological complexes at work in the new society/economy.
Marcus's discussion of the Spectacle is at best vague, but I believe that is part of the source of its power. One sees -- to stay on the level of the SF film -- in movies like ROBOCOP the spectacle in full bloom, as the mass media through advertising pushes onto the public utterly irrational products like the 6000 SUX, a large luxury automobile that explicitly celebrates its horrible gas mileage and somehow makes this a reason for desiring it (in the course of the film a gunman holding hostages makes one of his demands a huge car that gets "really sh*tty gas mileage, like the 6000 SUX"). One can associate a wide range of phenomena with the Spectacle, from the endless hawking of products that are supposed to result in "a better you" to political regimes like the Bush administration that used the explicit, bald-faced lie as its primary tool for governing to our endless preoccupation with pseudo-celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and the contestants on AMERICAN IDLE (yeah I know that is spelled wrong). It is a flexible and versatile image that gets at our brute suspicion that our world is increasingly obsessed with what is not important but with what is trivial and unimportant. Debord's insight that the system of the spectacle elevates untruths to the level of uncontested beliefs is constantly on view, such as the absurd contention that the American news media -- one of the most conservative and compliant to the needs of the corporations that own it -- is "liberal." And when entities as the very conservative American news media or politicians like the fiscally conservative Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are defined as "liberal" it shifts the "center" so far to the right as to make the far, far right seem mainstream. And the few voices that point this out -- such as Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who points out that he is, while the most liberal current member of the U. S. Supreme Court, in fact a moderate conservative -- are ignored. The celebrities, the pageant, the epic verbiage, the spectacle obscures history and prevents any other understanding either of history or of what kind of society would actually serve our real needs.
Both the major virtue and a major vice of both THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE and Debord's COMMENTS are the almost complete lack of structure. The former is written as a series of over 200 "Theses" that ramble over a host of matters. These are loosely arranged in chapters but I emphasize the word "loosely." Many comments are immediately clear and easily understood. Some passages are opaque to anyone who is not intimate with the most obscure debates concerning Marxist and Communist history. Some theses are brilliantly written and cut to the heart of our contemporary society; some theses are so dull and irrelevant that they may be guilty of killing brain cells. To say that THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE is uneven is an understatement. The upside is that if you don't understand one page, nothing has been said to prevent you from understanding the next; if one page is flat, the next can be thrilling.
COMMENTS ON THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE is, compared to the earlier work, very easy to read and understand. There is still some vagueness, but there is little that is impenetrable. It does a somewhat better job of connecting up the various bits and parts. He is more explicit here about precisely what his targets are. There might be a small parallel to a passage in Kierkegaard that he quotes at length in THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE. PHILOSOPHICAL FRAGMENTS (actually "Crumbs" -- it is a Biblical reference to the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; here Kierkegaard imagines himself as the poor subjective thinker who has to content himself with the crumbs from the table of the great objective philosopher Hegel -- so far no translator has been willing to give the book the less impressive but more accurate title) deals with the problem of Christianity "algebraically" (in the Swenson translation), while the much larger sequel CONCLUDING UNSCIENTIFIC POSTSCRIPT "clothes it in its historical dress." So THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE is more abstract; the COMMENTS more concrete. He makes several explicit (and scathing) references to Reagan; his allusions in the first book are far more illusive.
Despite Debord's hesitancy to be as clear as he might about his overall argument, his intent is clear: to indict the alliance and collusion between mass media, celebrity culture, market capitalism (and its expression in consumerism -- nicely captures in the title of Lizabeth Cohen's A CONSUMERS' REPUBLIC: THE POLITICS OF MASS CONSUMPTION IN POSTWAR AMERICA), and politics. And by remaining less than utterly specific, he made his work all that much more usable by other thinkers and writers. THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE remains one of the most important books for anyone interested in modern culture and society with which to be familiar, while the COMMENTS is an important tool in aiding that familiarity.
Society of Spectacle is existentialist Marxism, buttressed by Freud and the behavioural sciences maybe, but still one which retains the fundamental qualitative legacy of Marx and the philosophical thread begun with Hegel. Its a fascinating and challenging book on political theory, one which is an authentic attempt modernize classic communist and anarchist dogma into a theory which fuses with and responds to history and society as a whole. Few people are going to be convinced by this now, but there is a strand of irrefutable truth in its analysis of the consumer society, and the predicament of the individual caught up in our commodity and market driven culture, which makes for a penetrating and worth while read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you have any interest in understanding the modern system (correctly termed the "spectacle-commodity system" by Debord) read this.Read more