Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guy Debord / Society of the Spectacle – summary: Chapter two: "commodity as spectacle"

Society of the Spectacle -chapter 1 - chapter 2 - chapter 3
Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (Third Edition) (Radical Thinkers)
According to Guy Debord in "Society of the Spectacle", the notion of commodity, in its Marxist sense, has transcended in advanced capitalism to the form of the spectacle. "The world of the commodity is thus shown for what it is, because its movement is identical to the estrangement of men among themselves and in relation to their global product" (37). Commodity is essentially tied with the quantitative, which negates any unique intrinsic value and equals everything in our life through the medium of currency.  

Debord describes an historical Marxist development of commodity by which societies free themselves from the task of surviving only to be enslaved to what granted them this freedom ("Economic growth frees societies from the natural pressure which required their direct struggle for survival, but at that point it is from their liberator that they are not liberated" (40)).

"The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life" (42) commodities for Debord are superimposed like geological layers, with the spectacle on top. If the first industrial revolution subjected humans to physical commodities and alientated them from the product of their own labor, the subsequent development of capitalism as alienated them from a more advanced product of again their own labor, the representation of their lives. At first capitalism cared only about the worker's work and not his leisure time, but with abundance obtained, it now seeks his cooperation not as a mere producer, but as a consumer as well, and here is where the spectacle comes into play. The economy can never once and for all defeat privation, it can only move further away from it by paradoxically nurturing it. The new privation is no longer (materially) related to survival, but to something more elevated, something of a "false privation" (like "false consciousness), and in Debord's phrasing: " The real consumer becomes a consumer of illusions. The commodity is this factually real illusion, and the spectacle is its general manifestation" (47).

" The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities" (49). The spectacle is for Debord "a pseudo-use of life" in being, like money, the abstract representation of value which created equivalence between things that are not comparable. " At the moment of economic abundance, the concentrated result of social labor becomes visible and subjugates all reality to appearance, which is now its product" (50). When providing for a society is being replaced by the need to provide for the economy's growth " the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs" (51). In other words, the society of the spectacle is for Debord a society which no longer needs a developing economy for its survival, but rather one which has to provide for the survival of the ever developing economy.

Society of the Spectacle -chapter 1 - chapter 2 - chapter 3

More by Debord:



  1. G wiz. I read it and think of the film network where Howard Beale is told that he is beginning to believe the illusions.
    I think about the audioanarchy series through which I was shown so much of this text
    and reflect on "Teaching as a subversive activity" which highlights our peril into this new, technological mess

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