Society of the Spectacle

ISBN: 0946061122
ISBN 13: 9780946061129
By: Guy Debord Ken Knabb

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Guy Dubord's critique of Western culture as spectacle seems more pointed today than when he wrote it in the 1960s. Dubord basically says that our so-called culture has come down to looking at things, and that the media (print, film, advertising, etc.) provide us with a constant wash of images that we mistake for culture, when in fact they are simply about making us feel helpless, passive, and chained to a need to consume products in order to have a sense of self worth. The fact that things like the internet make all of this hundreds of times faster and more intense simply makes Dubord's point stronger. A remarkable piece of writing, that still poses questions we desperately need to answer.

Philip Cherny

I really enjoyed this book, though more for aesthetic than intellectual reasons. It's not a very informative read, and the insights Debord offers seem already pretty obvious by now. A lot of it is mere regurgitation of the Frankfurt school, but it's beautifully written rhetoric; it feels almost like a manifesto. Easy read, you can knock it out in a day or two. Parts of it I found inspiring, other parts dispiriting. I guess you could label this work "post-Marxist," since Debord remains sympathetic of Marxism while weary of its failures, but by the end of the text it becomes clear it's still a very modernist project. Debord offers hope where I still have my doubts. Personally I buy Marxist critique of capitalist society, but I don't share their messianic belief that replacing this system with another will fix the world's problems. Failure after failure of modernist enterprises have reinforced the disbelief in a panacea. And Debord would accuse those who argue that Marxism can only be achieved on a micro/local scale of accepting the alienating "atomization" of society, and yet his situationist movement was guilty of becoming insular and esoteric. In fact I believe he wrote this after realizing its failure. A great book for spurring discussion. I'd recommend it for any young idealist out there.


Bright sunny styles starting at $8 are spectacle. Tanning beds and stairmasters are spectacle. Sonny and Cher are spectacle. Sonny as mayor is spectacle. Any mayor “cleaning up” Times Square and polishing it with corporate spit is spectacle. Little New York in Las Vegas is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai inside Tokyo Disney in a feature-film starring a topless Nicolas Cage saving the natives with guns in a Gatorade jihad is spectacle. These are obvious examples of spectacle in a society where “all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacle. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation” (1). I have a zoo membership. It takes us into a tropical jungle full of strollers. Nice capris. Nice passive aggressive DNA exchange. Nice legacy of anxiety across the generations as captured in the phenomena of perpetual perceived election. What if I can’t let go of this plushee harp seal pup that says “mama” every time I squeeze its flipper? “What requires the deepening of rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchical exploitation and repression.” Thank you for your campaign contribution. Vote China. Vote Coke. Vote CNN. Vote BPA-free, gluten-free, organic plastic baby CNN. “The spectacle is not a collection of images but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (4)--“the eonomy developing for itself” (16). I’m in the spectacle, and the spectacle’s in me. A prolonged meditation in which self-immolation is imminent, and also elusive. All of this abstract diagnosis is making me hungry. A vortex of plastic waste twice the size of the United States roaming the Pacific Ocean is a ghost mouth. It is an organ of yes. It is always hungry. It is a roiling maw post-time. “The spectacle … is the false consciousness of time” (158). I carry this book everywhere with me for months. I read and read (and, interestingly, it is Debord’s use of abstractions that make Society of the Spectacle a kind of timeless text, versus say Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which is so swept up in the technology of its own contemporaneity that it reads as an outdated text) and am actively aware of my own hunger for some kind of solution. Not solution but antidote. A manifesto against. For détournement. By 203, we get some instruction: To effectively destroy the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men [sic!] putting a practical force into action. The critical theory of the spectacle can be true only by uniting with the practical current of negation in society, and this negation, the resumption of revolutionary class struggle, will become conscious of itself by developing the critique of the spectacle which is the theory of its real conditions (the practical conditions of present oppression), and inversely by unveiling the secret of what this negation can be.Debord concedes that this is a “long-range task,” but his is a complicated directive merging theory with practical conditions: “the obscure and difficult path of critical theory must also be the lot of the practical movement acting on the scale of society” (203, again). Ostensibly, this is a loaded enterprise, but given the increasing marginalization of theorists in academia (as expressed in a recent round table on theory at the U) and their resistance to institutionalization (“the inevitable fall into falling asleep”) and their solidarity with movements that bring together individuals from within and without institutions, such as Occupy Wall Street, the Green Revolution in Iran, the Arab Spring, and Pussy Riots against the re-enstatement of Putin in Russia, it seems there is no better time than now to listen to Debord. In Poetryland, we have our own warriors such as Joshua Clover and the Davis Dozen, CA Conrad, Anne Boyer, Brandon Brown, Dana Ward, Steve Zultanski picking up political mantles with an urgency that exceeds the limits of aesthetic debate or taste oppression in Poetryland-proper. Maria Damon’s recent discussion of antonisms recalls Debord when he says: “Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. It is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in form as it is in content….It is not “the nadir of writing,” but its inversion. It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation.” One way in which this might be achieved, suggests Debord, is through theft: “Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it.” I’ll take these as marching orders, and also mutate “the obvious degradation of being into having” (17) with a partial reversal through “the obvious liberation of being into having” via Cixous on writing:"Having? A having without limits, without restriction; but without any “deposit,” a having that doesn’t withhold or possess, a having-love that sustains itself with loving, in the blood-rapport. In this way, give yourself what you would want God-if-he-existed to give you."


We're all duped by the illusions produced by contemporary consumer society. But fear not: simply utilize your free time creatively and grant autonomous political and economic powers to self-governed workers' councils within every vestige of society and all will be well. Best quote: "Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it." (p. 145)


I gave this Guy a chance.In any expository writing, particularly when persuasion is the goal, the writing should be as clear as possible to reach the widest audience.This essay is laid out in numbered statements. Some are only a sentence long, others may run a page or two, but all are written in a style that tells me the author is more concerned with his style than the content. Perhaps this is the thing to do in intellectual circles, where stylish profundity that requires effort to decode is valued.See if you can figure out what the following means. This is statement number 56:"The spectacle, like modern society itself, is at once united and divided. The unity of each is based on violent divisions. But when the contradiction emerges in the spectacle, it is itself contradicted by a reversal of its meaning: the division it presents is unitary, while the unity itself is divided."Say what? These are not the words of someone who is writing to the masses, the very masses that he is out support and enlighten! Debord is writing for the intellectual 1% of which he is a member.It's not that he has nothing meaningful to say. If I can get anything out of what I have read, he believes in much of the socialist/communist bedrock - that people are alienated from the work they do and that we live in a word of products paraded before our eyes which induce us to spend our labor maintaining the system that produces them. Therefor, humanity supports a system, we do not have a system that supports our humanity. The goal is to keep us wanting and buying, while not paying attention to the fact that we are deluded.I made it a third of the way through before looking on the shelf for another book to read. I enjoy intellectual challenge, but I appreciate clarity above all. There are many ideas that require mental effort to understand, that even the most lucid prose is hard-pressed to convey, but what Debord is taking on is not one of those ideas. To expect change, which I believe he does, is idle if you can't get people to understand the points you are trying to make to alert them to their plight. So this book is an unintentional tragedy having nothing to do with the subject.You will find that here and there one of Debord's numbered statements will ring perfectly true and make its point, but this is so rare that it isn't worth the effort to plow through all the rest.One star for a book that commits suicide.PS: there is a possibility that the translator mangled the translation from French to English, but that's a stretch.


Amazing. Read this for research purposes while writing thesis "Perception and the spaces between art". I don't want to ruin this by reviewing it in a highly analytical manner, so I'll just say that it applies as much now as when it was written. A great text about the repackaging of culture and the coersion of visual freedom.

Ryn Shane-Armstrong

I read Society of the Spectacle way back in college -- when one is young and naive, and you're supposed to care about heady, outdated French philosophy that is utterly disconnected from the real. But now that I'm older and I have a world of experience to draw from, I'm fairly certain it wouldn't resonate as it once did. To wit, the so-called "radical" situationist ethic is now a totally mainstream, mass media commodity in and of itself. Beijing hosts pillow fight flash mobs in Tian'anmen square, orchestrated with consumer electronics on high-speed internet connections; the next day, everyone goes about their business as usual.My beef with Debord and his ilk (Hakim Bey, for instance) is twofold: their message is hyperbolic, poorly articulated, loaded with cyclical logic, and often imbued with the sexy but none the less empty rhetoric of retro-romaticism (notice, as Steev has, the "thin" nature of their masterpieces -- this is no accident or coincidence); and, of course, they espouse a remote worldview that is tremendously arrogant and at least as fantastic and absurd as that with which they claim to despise about the human condition.Case in point, Debord's regressive contention that:"The spectacle was born from the world's loss of the unity, and the immense expansion of the modern spectacle reveals the enormity of this loss. The abstractifying of all individual labor and the general abstractness of what is produced are perfectly reflected in the spectacle, whose manner of being concrete is precisely abstraction."Putting aside for a moment the meta mind-fuck jibber-jabber of the author's writing -- not to mention the rich irony of a book (itself a kind of spectacle that's only about 600 year old) littered with such sentences that so expertly illustrate how the spectacle's "...manner of being concrete is precisely abstraction" -- it's pretty clear that Debord laments the development of our species and longs for a return to some supposedly glorious golden era when everything and everybody was awash in "unity." Not sure how far back he wants to go, but given his frustrations with the spectacle's "representation" of the real, the charming paintings of the 18,000 year old Caves of Lascaux in the lands of his own native France clearly isn't far enough. Maybe the dawn of agriculture? The big bang? When, prey tell, were we whole, Mr. Debord?!I recommend this book to folks if only to become aware of this particular subset of intellectual sophistry. But please don't take it to heart. If you really want to revel in photos of your kid, by all means, enjoy your spectacular "abstractifying." I won't tell the smug intelligentsia if you won't

M. Baran

Kitabın ana metni, sonradan eklenen bölüme nazaran daha "az" akıcı. Ekleme bölüm, verimli bir çalışma olmuş.

Arjun Ravichandran

Brilliant book ; hard to read initially because of its "poetic" nature and the ambiguity that entails. But keep at it, and there plenty of insights to mull over. A classic. Read "The Revolution of Everyday Life" as well.


It’s funny, because this book has been more-or-less “in my orbit” for the past 25 years or so, but I only got around to actually reading through it for the first time just now. That makes it a bit difficult to review, because in some ways I knew what I was getting in to when I first opened it, but in other ways it was a surprise. Maybe that helps explain the fact that it struck me as being at times very cutting-edge, and at others quite out-of-date.This book was originally a manifesto of sorts, along with Revolution of Everyday Life for the “Situationists” in France in the 1960s. Where Vaneigem was speaking more positively about what could be done, Debord is outlining the problem as the Situationists' critique understood it. The concept of the “Spectacle” is an attempt to move revolutionary theory into a post-industrial territory, by analyzing the shift from substance to image under late-twentieth-century conditions: “The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual ‘having’ must draw its immediate prestige and ultimate function.” This probably seems pretty obvious, today, but relatively few radical critiques have expressed it so clearly, even if angry people everywhere can feel it in their bones. Debord walks a kind of tightrope in this book between rejection of Marxism’s authoritarian tendencies and a nostalgic longing for working class revolution. His critique of the Soviet Union, of Lenin and Stalin, and of their many imitators and followers, is generally right on, and vindicated by events since the writing of the book. He also sees, though I would say with less definite clarity, the fallacy in Marx’s refusal to see the State (or rather the bureaucrats who comprise it) as a class in itself with its own class interests, which led to the rise of the apparatchik in Russia and elsewhere. Yet still he clings to the idea of “worker’s councils” as the only revolutionary path away from the spectacle, failing himself to recognize that identification as “workers” in itself disempowers individuals when they form collectivities (this is especially ironic, since so far as I know Debord never held a steady job himself). His brief analysis of fascism (in paragraph #109 of the text) is equally fascinating in its past-and-future-ness; on the one hand he anticipates later theorists in declaring it “technically-equipped archaism” whose “decomposed ersatz of myth is revived in the spectacular context of the most modern means of conditioning and illusion,” and yet he insists simultaneously that it is merely “an extremist defense of the bourgeois economy,” in line with the Stalinist analysis. It’s interesting that I find this text somewhat detached from time, both old and new at one time, because I think the most valuable chapter here is probably the one on “Time and History,” in which Debord attempts to explore the ways in which power affects our understanding of time itself. I say this is probably the most valuable chapter, because quite frankly I will need to live with it for a while, and go back and read it a few more times, before I’m sure that I have understood the argument. Coming from me, that’s pretty high praise, so long as I don’t find three months from now that I didn’t understand it because it make no sense at all.


This book is one of the best depictions of capitalist alienation ever written. It is a very one-of-a-kind philosophical and thought-provoking read, written in such a way that each paragraph is a thesis. It is not copyrighted, and can be found for free online: also turned it into a film, which can be found here: spite of the merits of the rest of the book, Chapter 4 , The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation, denounces way too much, seemingly rejecting everything but Situationism. Anarchism and the bureaucratism of degenerated workers' states were rightly condemned in this chapter, but incorrect slanders were levelled against Leninism and Trotskyism, which will mislead an uninformed reader.


The Society of the Spectacle is a commentary about the power that governments and mass media hold over people in their day-to-day lives. For Debord, this hold is managed through the relation between mass production and consumption, an issue also addressed by Marcuse in One Dimensional Man, and Adorno and Horkheimer in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Debord argues that society is full of spectators drugged by the spectacle created within hegemonic practices. His aim is to awaken the sleeper through a “radical re-ordering of life, politics, and art.” In his conception, people hold the power to actively create situations/moments in life that are characterised by “a sense of self-consciousness of existence within a particular environment or ambience.” And it is through this rebellious act of construction that individuals can work towards freedom from the embrace of the spectacle.A must-read for those interested in mass communication and the intersection of philosophy of technology.


While I wouldn’t exactly describe this book as having the force of a “Das Kapital of the 20th century” [like the cover notes indicate], Society of the Spectacle is surely an important work in the field of modern cultural critique. Originally written in France in 1967 by Guy Debord, an influential member of the Situationists movement, the book’s concepts are still as relevant as ever, as it is with many books that relate to topics of modern capitalism and consumerist “programming.” It starts with a basic outline of the definition of the “spectacle,” which is simply the idea that our conception of legitimate fulfillment (and participation) in our society has shifted to a purely superficial level. The capitalist forces of advertising, marketing, and public relations have transformed the utility of consumption into the “spectacle” of consumption, which drives us to consume and participate in this spectacle in ever intensive ways. The mere idea of consumption has replaced our conceptions of what self-fulfillment should be, and our internal worth is often measured on the “model of life” as reinforced through the capitalist order, to what Debord argues is a quasi-religious degree of reverence. Furthermore, this order is reinforced by our desire to appear “well-connected” with our selection of expensive gadgets, for example, or with our taste for specific stylish clothing brands, projecting our image which is alienated from our specific realities. This is all aided by our “separation” from the physical world of the products we produce, with the separation between worker and product playing an important role in how we feel about commodities in general. All of this results in a general degradation in our quality of life, to say the least. The book also goes on to discuss how our conception of time has changed with the advent of our participation in capitalist production, a section on class struggles against the spectacle, as well as a compelling critique of modern revolutionary ideologies and ideas.My short summary certainly does not do the entire idea justice, of course. Debord’s profound analysis of the intersection between social phenomena and capitalist consumerism is only the tip of the iceberg. As the book is organized into small passages within larger chapters, many of these verses leap off the page as noteworthy and prescient bits of brilliance. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in consumerism, class struggles, and the state of the modern consciousness.

Justin Mitchell

I don't necessarily agree with or subscribe to Debord. He has this seriously irritating habit of saying really cheesy formulaic things like "this didn't lead to the misery of philosophy, but merely philosophized misery." Seriously annoying not to mention ultimately vacuous. It reminds me of Wes Studi's character in the movie Mystery Men, who said things like "In order to go right, you must go left." And he does this like ten times in this book. I think he had a little less to say than he wanted you to believe, and also that his idea of a separated new consciousness is not really possible. I tried that for quite a while, and it just left me feeling detached and miserable. There can be no ultimate outside. It's more complex than that. But I think he does have his seriously right-on-money moments when it comes to critiquing the modern world as well as the failings of many other philosophical systems. This was my second reading, and I still find it inspiring and influential.



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