The Debord Paper. On the Actuality of Guy Debord´s book "The Society of the Spectacle" from 1967

Essay, 2016
7 Pages, Grade: A


The Debord Paper

Even though it is not quite a widespread attitude fulfilled in practice, analysing whether certain theoretical legacy of the past could be regarded as appropriate and valuable to the contemporary times is without any doubt appears to be a procedure that might provide one with productive outcomes. As far as Guy Debord is concerned in particular, his ideas definitely refer to a potential list of conceptions that need to be reconsidered today. This assumption could be explained at least by the fact that his basic positions presented in the well-recognized book The Society of the Spectacle (1967) obtain both critical and appreciative perceptions, which in fact are going to be discussed further. Nevertheless, it could be easily suggested that Debord’s statements are still relevant to the contemporary context, when technologies that constitute specificity of media are significantly advanced. While some of his theses could be used while describing practices people apply to while using social media, others eloquently represent a range of aspects that are crucial to analysis, as an instance, of celebrity culture. That is why it is important to state that the profound indications of Guy Debord articulated back in 1967, preserve their actuality these days as well.

For the beginning, it appears to be somehow beneficial to present main ideas of The Society of the Spectacle, specifically those that refer the very first chapter - Separation Perfected. Generally, this works appears to be an attempt to interpret the society, in which the author lived that he defines it as a “society of the spectacle”, where every single dimension of it, such as politics, economics, arts, is nothing else but a fascinating spectacle on the scene of a huge theater that managed to become an artistic mediation of social life. At this point, Debord clearly states what the spectacle really is: “THE SPECTACLE IS NOT a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (Debord 2). The present state of the society the author determines as the loss of authenticity since everything is experienced within mere presentation. Eventually, the concept of Guy Debord was based on the theoretical foundations of a wide range of previously presented ideas, which influence cannot be ignored while analysing the core of Debord’s ideas, as well as their applicability to the present time. Among them, the most significant one which is needed for the understanding of the discussed theoretician is definitely Karl Marx. In his works, Debord mentions Marx's theory of socio-economic formations, alongside with his vision of history and theory of class antagonisms. However, this feature of The Society of the Spectacle could be at the same time used as a platform for announcing criticism towards Debord’s implications.

For instance, in his article Between Mass Society and Revolutionary Praxis: The Contradictions of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, R.L. Kaplan implies that basically Debord’s theory needs to be considered as a defective one (Kaplan 468). Still, at this point it is vital to note what exactly is meant by this refutation: “both of Debord’s terms – alienated masses and revolutionary collective – are secretly dependent upon the atomized perspective of liberal individualism” (Kaplan 459). Thus, the author assumes that realizing somewhat of internal freedom could be achieved within the conditions that “the society of the spectacle” present, due to which, possibly, criticizing them would not be efficient. Due to this, Debord’s allegements are not be regarded as topical ones, so that the notion of the spectacle indeed preserves emancipative impulses, which Guy Debord himself did not recognize. However, such an interpretation seems to be fallacious. Among a range of definitions of the spectacle presented in the chapter Separation Perfected, the following one draws attention: “The spectacle is the self-portrait of power in the age of power's totalitarian rule over the conditions of existence” (Debord 9). In other words, participation in “the spectacle” is hardly to be considered as an emancipatory procedure, but rather an inevitable outcome of the enhancement of technologies and media, which deepens the presence of “the spectacle” within the contemporary times.

The suggestion stated above, however, is often recognized as relevant in popular publications, which somehow appears to be symptomatic. For example, John Harris indicates that Debord managed to envision several aspects of the twenty-first century, particularly “celebrity culture and its portrayal of lives whose freedom and dazzle suggest almost the opposite of life as most of us actually live it” (Harris). In general terms, the contemporary culture is obviously spectaculous, and the following tendency prevails: spectators, by the term of which social media users and cinema viewers are to be meant: they re-interpret themselves within “ a phantasmagoric fantasy world of stars, celebrities, and stories, in which individuals compensate for unlived lives” (Best & Kellner) by means of identification with celebrities from all the spheres of entertainment, such as cinema, music, sports, etc. Thus, such an order of things corresponds with Debord’s definition of “the spectacle” as “concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life” (Debord 2). In addition to this, his implications about dreaming as a necessary mode of existence within conditions of “the spectacle” (Debord 8). As a result, people tend to constitute associations with looks, style of celebrities, that for some are to be direct targets of a consumer society (Best & Kellner). That is why Debord’s insights on “the spectacle” and its relation to the existing economic system appear to be more than sufficient: currently, the conditions where “social life is completely taken over by the accumulated products of the economy” (Debord 6) are basically noticeable. However, it needs to be also noted that in these times the production became more abstract, so that people mostly consume not material objects as such, but images, as well as work on constituting representations.

Referring to objections to Debord’s view again, among other possible ones is the indication that the spectacle always remained an integrative component of human culture. However, it needs to be understood that “the spectacle” in Debord’s interpretation does not fully corresponds with Roman spectacles. While the latter in fact praised the existing power and the state, the former supports the prevailing economic system for it “has more immediate origins in 19th century capitalist society organized around commodity spectacles and consumption” (Best & Kellner). Thus, Debord managed to articulate such features of “the spectacle”, which are specifically representative to modernity.

At the same time, it appears to be crucial to note that due to the development of media technologies the notion of the spectacle has experienced a significant expansion, which obtains several versions and interpretations. S. Best and D. Kellner, for instance, provide the following differentiation: “a genuine interactive spectacle and pseudo-interaction” (Best & Kellner). The authors are convinced that the phenomenon of the spectacle is not necessarily dangerous, for it could be reinforced within such a manner that challenges mass culture. Thus, implicitly they seem to admit that Debord’s criticism could reconsidered in order to find positive aspects of the discussed notion. As an example of positive dimension of “the spectacle”, the authors stress on the one that an individual might create, such as a video-blog or website. Eventually, this spectacle is possible due to opportunites contemporary media with their various techniques provided.

However, it could be assumed that praising the spectacle is somewhat of misjudgment at least due to the fact that Best and Kellner do not explain what makes one’s own created images and pictures an authentic spectacle. Contrary to that, it seems the very intention to create such content could be interpreted as submission to the laws of “the society of the spectacle”. Probably, instagram addiction appears to be a representative example and confirmation of how “the spectacle” is currently incorporated in the mode of existence of a regular individual. At this point, it needs to be added that the advancement of technologies and its outcome in the sphere of media serve as a proof of presence of “a generalized shift from having to appearing” (Debord 6). In the context of this specific feature of “the spectacle”, positions of an observer and a performer seem to become united. While one skips Instagram or Facebook news and profiles’ updates, as well as puts likes, he or she at the same time possibly thinks over the ways to represent his or her everyday activities, looks, impressions and other various aspects of one’s regular life. Not being incorporated in this circulation of images correlates with being if not dead, but unremarkable and dull. The regulations the contemporary culture preserves implicitly articulate visual representations of the self as a must, so the statement that Guy Debord’s ideas appear to be applicable to the contemporary conditions of interaction between individuals cannot be regarded as irrelevant.


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The Debord Paper. On the Actuality of Guy Debord´s book "The Society of the Spectacle" from 1967
Colorado State University
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Guy Debord wrote his essay in 1967—before the Web, before cell phones, before cable TV, even before the invention of the personal computer. Looking back on his work 47 years afterward, we must now ask: have the changes in media and technology proven, modified, expanded, or disproven his argument? In other words: how do Debord’s ideas from ’67 apply to ’14? Use the following to help you build your argument: Examples of media artifacts—either from then or from now (or both, used comparatively) Guy Debord’s text, Chapter 1 of The Society of the Spectacle.
debord, paper, actuality, debord´s, society, spectacle
Quote paper
Alexander Potako (Author), 2016, The Debord Paper. On the Actuality of Guy Debord´s book "The Society of the Spectacle" from 1967, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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