Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Commodity as Spectacle

The people in the photo above, waiting on line for the release of a new iPhone, represent perfectly Debord's idea of the commodity as spectacle - despite the fact that Debord wrote The Society as Spectacle in the 60s, it remains relevant to today's society and the way mass consumerism has developed through mass media.

Debord's theory of the society as spectacle / the commodity as spectacle is simple to understand. The commodity is what it sounds like - the things that we consume as a society. Society is, of course, society. And the spectacle is "where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality." (36)

The spectacle is the dominant representation of life - through media, advertising, news, and as Debord stated simply, images. What the quote above means is that when the world - or society - is so overwhelmed with images depicting what society looks like - or should look like - it is what the actual society begins to truly look like. More simply, the spectacle highlights the age old question - Is it art imitating life - imitating art ? Which came first? The images don't define us until we let them, but they ultimately do.

"The spectacle is the stage at which the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life." (42) When consumerism overtakes society in such a way that those people in line in the image above must absolutely HAVE the newest iPhone, the commodity has won out over the society. Debord also states, "the spectacle is the permanent opium war designed to force people to equate goods with commodities and to equate satisfaction with a survival.." Basically, 50 years ago Debord was explaining exactly what happens today - only maybe on a larger scale : Goods = Happiness. And the way that you get a society to believe that goods = happiness, is to project images of this thought onto them constantly - through television, advertising, the Internet, and any other available medium. It is "..a standard that the commodity has lived up to by turning the whole planet into a single world market," (39) which Debord stated well before today's single world market, the Internet, had come into play.  Years ago, theorists such as Debord understood that while society may change, these general ideas would be applicable to an ever-changing society, regardless of what medium may be dominating it at the time, and he knew that images, such as the ones below, would captivate audiences as they still do today.

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