Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

By Sabrina Mesa

Guy Debord is a Paris native, Marxist theorist known for works such as The Society of the Spectacle, published in France in 1967. Debord is also known for short journalistic articles in journals like Potlatch, Les Lèvres Nues, Les Chats Sont Verts, and Internationale Situationniste. Debord's theories account for the modernization of private and public spheres, as well as economic forces infused in social life. Debord's analysis developed the notions of reification and fetishism of the commodity pioneered by Karl Marx. Debord is also responsible for developing “The Situationist International,” an organization devoted toengage struggles amongst social classes by encouraging individual autonomy from the Spectacle. The Spectacle he defines to be the union amongst advanced capitalism and mass media.

In Debord’s Society of the spectacle, the relationship between the Commodity in the discourse of the Spectacle is explained. Like the Spectacle, commodity is a visually perceived notion by a visual culture that appropriates the spectacle as a reality. The spectacle is the medium how the commodity communicates to society. The author refers to commodity as a form that reduces everything to a quantitative equivalence, by such it is meant what is produced within the society. The standard to which the commodity was created was to turn world market economy into a single world market. In result, the commodity represents a surplus for survival in the society. The commodity affects economies when the commerce of a large social condition and capital accumulation takes over the economy or in other words capitalism.Through this form (economic power as a commodity) human labor is converted into a commodity, wage labor. The economy that has been developed through commoditization has changed the world, thus it is not yet dominated by it. The amount of developed commodities (and commodities relations) is the same as augmented survival. According to the author, labor is a commodity due to the technological developments that lean towards the decreasing work for people. It is therefore why the parties responsible for the economy resourced to put incredibly efforts into campaigns for people to consume more and mostly unnecessary commodities. Debord connects commodity and the spectacle, “The commodity is this materialized illusion, and the spectacle is this general expression.” Commodity and spectacle serve as pseudo-justification for a counterfeit life. In that essence, spectacle is like money, also abstract and equal to all commodities. But because money is not an abstract matter, the spectacle doesn’t just have pseudo-use. Thus in some societies, money values has master over commodities. The industrial revolution is where commodity shifts as an understanding that this power has colonized all aspect of social life. Nevertheless, the spectacle is the stage where this is possible for the commodity.

“The world we see is the world of the commodity.” (42) In the debate of the humanism of the commodity, the author aims to explain that because political economy, commodity takes over the worker’s leisure and humanity when he or she is also a consumer. The spectacle in essence allows people to find an equal value with goods and commodities. “Once society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy in fact depends on the society.” (52) In the society of the spectacle, the commodity is reflected in the world it has created.

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