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The Das Kapital of the 20th century,Society of the Spectacle is an essential text, and the main theoretical work of the Situationists. Few works of political and cultural theory have been as enduringly provocative. From its publication amid the social upheavals of the 1960's, in particular the May 1968 uprisings in France, up to the present day, with global capitalism seemingly staggering around in it’s Zombie end-phase, the volatile theses of this book have decisively transformed debates on the shape of modernity, capitalism, and everyday life in the late 20th century.

This ‘Red and Black’ translation from 1977 is Introduced by Notting Hill armchair insurrectionary Tom Vague with a galloping time line and pop-situ verve, and given a more analytical over view by young upstart thinker Sam Cooper.
Published: Bread and Circuses on
ISBN: 9781617508301
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After years of reading references to it, finally made my way through The Society of the Spectacle. The text is full of gems and retains its relevance, perhaps even more so in our hyper-mediated present. When writing of the Spectacle and the Commodity, Debord is as intellectually stimulating as McLuhan. However, there were a couple chapters in Society that delved deeply into Marxist theory to a degree that the casual reader (or myself for that matter) may find it difficult to follow. Despite this, worth the read.more
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.more
This book is sporadically very interesting as it deals with one of Marx's most useful ideas - the alienation of labour - in the context of late capitalism. However, the 'spectacle' that is at the heart of this alienation is never convincingly defined, nor discussed in anything but vague generalities. The language is frequently incomprehensible, deliberately so, I expect, to cover up the underdeveloped and infrequent ideas.There is also a real and very teenage contempt for life, and by extension people, in the modern world.As a book it is also very odd, containing lengthy digressions on history (agrarian societies have no history!) and Marxist tittle-tattle, but not explaining what a détournement is, except to say how revolutionary they are.In summary, I call bullshit on this one.more
Recently reread this old Situationist classic, this time after a few years of experience in trying to disentangle what obtuse French authors say when they write. Also, attempted to read the book from an urbanistic perspective, reading it alongside the short "Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography." Although Debord's concerns for the city and city spaces may have been more influenced by the huge explosions of suburbia and auto-dependency of the 60s than other contemporary urban issues, there are some really excellent points to pull away.more
An interesting but problematic work. Debord argues that at the core of modern society is the concept of the "spectacle", which encompasses not only obvious things like the mass media but our entire way of engaging with reality. For Debord, our default condition is one of alienation from reality, where interaction with others is always mediated by the social structures of consumerism. We cease to perceive time as history, instead revelling in an "eternal present". We cannot see beyond the false consciousness imposed upon us by the "spectacle", and so superficial critiques of "media sensationalism" miss the point.All of this is very interesting, and more relevant in today's media-saturated world than it was in 1967. Theories about the mediation of reality by consumer structures no longer seem so far-fetched now that everyone is connected wirelessly to the Internet through smartphones, Blackberries, and Bluetooth headsets. Yet the relevance of Debord's criticism is somewhat diminished by the decidedly irrelevant Marxist terminology in which his critique is couched. Woe betide the reader who is not familiar with Hegelian/Marxist terminology; without a basic understanding of Debord's ideological background, much of the discussion will be totally incomprehensible. With its numbered paragraphs and frequent reference to earlier Marxist texts, The Society of the Spectacle reads like a parody of abstruse theological treatises. Here, from paragraph 120, is one of my favourite sentences:"The revolutionary organization is the coherent expression of the theory of praxis entering into non-unilateral communication with practical struggles, in the process of becoming practical theory."The sensible response to this sort of writing is to apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. One has a vague idea of what the author meant to say, but the prose style is getting in the way. Interestingly, Debord seems to anticipate this criticism, commenting that "Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. . . not a negation of style, but the style of negation." This seems to me, at least, to be so much special pleading, indicating that Debord was aware of the problem and chose not to do anything about it.Readers who share Debord's Marxist presuppositions will get the most out of this book. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone else who would enjoy section IV of the book ("The Proletariat as Subject and Representation"), a lengthy, tendentious interpretation of Marxist history which is by far the largest section of the book. (Debord tries to explain the failure of the Communist experiments in Russia and China while pointing to '60s youth rebellion movements as evidence that the real workers' revolution is just around the corner.) For the majority of readers, who are not committed to doctrinaire Marxism but are interested in Debord's insights into modern civilization, it's possible to learn quite a bit by reading slowly and carefully, skipping the parts that are irrelevant or don't make sense. But I'm afraid that the communication in this book is so poor that the average reader will gain nothing from The Society of the Spectacle whatsoever.more
Most are well-aware of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman and the Propaganda Model presented in Manufacturing Consent, of how the media is pure propaganda. But the idea of 'spectacle' being something part of our daily lives, not just in the media, of our consumer society as one of consuming spectacles virtually everywhere, is under-studied, under-talked about and more relevant than ever. Guy Debord relates it all to technology, without bowing to a weak primitivist stance. He helps us realize that technology controls virtually everything now. He was prescient. Think mobile phones, internet, Blackberries, Facebook, Twitter, clictivism, Google, if you still that it's far-fetched.The intellectual technologies and practices Google has pioneered promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage any deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative. ‘Our Goal,’ says Irene Au, ‘it to get users in and out really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.’ Google’s profits are tied directly to the velocity of people’s information intake. The faster we surf across the surface of the Web - the more links we click and pages we view - the more opportunities Google gains to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. It’s advertising system, moreover, is explicitly designed to figure out which messages are most likely to grab our attention and then to place those messages in our field of view. Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention - and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible.” In layman's terms, A.D.D. is rampant. We need to be concerned, we need to reclaim the cyber commons and we need to read, slowly, and surely. This book is important in its understanding of how technology/spectacle when controlled by capital alienates, marginalizes, dissipates commonality, community. Google or capitalism does not intend to empower the individual with technology, they intened to make money. A consumer-oriented, historically amnesiac, attention deficit, and mobility addicted society of a never-ending cycle of spectacle is what they need. This kind of book is what I think we need.Pure genius.more
yes, it's still relevantmore
Read all 7 reviews

Reviews

After years of reading references to it, finally made my way through The Society of the Spectacle. The text is full of gems and retains its relevance, perhaps even more so in our hyper-mediated present. When writing of the Spectacle and the Commodity, Debord is as intellectually stimulating as McLuhan. However, there were a couple chapters in Society that delved deeply into Marxist theory to a degree that the casual reader (or myself for that matter) may find it difficult to follow. Despite this, worth the read.more
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.more
This book is sporadically very interesting as it deals with one of Marx's most useful ideas - the alienation of labour - in the context of late capitalism. However, the 'spectacle' that is at the heart of this alienation is never convincingly defined, nor discussed in anything but vague generalities. The language is frequently incomprehensible, deliberately so, I expect, to cover up the underdeveloped and infrequent ideas.There is also a real and very teenage contempt for life, and by extension people, in the modern world.As a book it is also very odd, containing lengthy digressions on history (agrarian societies have no history!) and Marxist tittle-tattle, but not explaining what a détournement is, except to say how revolutionary they are.In summary, I call bullshit on this one.more
Recently reread this old Situationist classic, this time after a few years of experience in trying to disentangle what obtuse French authors say when they write. Also, attempted to read the book from an urbanistic perspective, reading it alongside the short "Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography." Although Debord's concerns for the city and city spaces may have been more influenced by the huge explosions of suburbia and auto-dependency of the 60s than other contemporary urban issues, there are some really excellent points to pull away.more
An interesting but problematic work. Debord argues that at the core of modern society is the concept of the "spectacle", which encompasses not only obvious things like the mass media but our entire way of engaging with reality. For Debord, our default condition is one of alienation from reality, where interaction with others is always mediated by the social structures of consumerism. We cease to perceive time as history, instead revelling in an "eternal present". We cannot see beyond the false consciousness imposed upon us by the "spectacle", and so superficial critiques of "media sensationalism" miss the point.All of this is very interesting, and more relevant in today's media-saturated world than it was in 1967. Theories about the mediation of reality by consumer structures no longer seem so far-fetched now that everyone is connected wirelessly to the Internet through smartphones, Blackberries, and Bluetooth headsets. Yet the relevance of Debord's criticism is somewhat diminished by the decidedly irrelevant Marxist terminology in which his critique is couched. Woe betide the reader who is not familiar with Hegelian/Marxist terminology; without a basic understanding of Debord's ideological background, much of the discussion will be totally incomprehensible. With its numbered paragraphs and frequent reference to earlier Marxist texts, The Society of the Spectacle reads like a parody of abstruse theological treatises. Here, from paragraph 120, is one of my favourite sentences:"The revolutionary organization is the coherent expression of the theory of praxis entering into non-unilateral communication with practical struggles, in the process of becoming practical theory."The sensible response to this sort of writing is to apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. One has a vague idea of what the author meant to say, but the prose style is getting in the way. Interestingly, Debord seems to anticipate this criticism, commenting that "Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. . . not a negation of style, but the style of negation." This seems to me, at least, to be so much special pleading, indicating that Debord was aware of the problem and chose not to do anything about it.Readers who share Debord's Marxist presuppositions will get the most out of this book. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone else who would enjoy section IV of the book ("The Proletariat as Subject and Representation"), a lengthy, tendentious interpretation of Marxist history which is by far the largest section of the book. (Debord tries to explain the failure of the Communist experiments in Russia and China while pointing to '60s youth rebellion movements as evidence that the real workers' revolution is just around the corner.) For the majority of readers, who are not committed to doctrinaire Marxism but are interested in Debord's insights into modern civilization, it's possible to learn quite a bit by reading slowly and carefully, skipping the parts that are irrelevant or don't make sense. But I'm afraid that the communication in this book is so poor that the average reader will gain nothing from The Society of the Spectacle whatsoever.more
Most are well-aware of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman and the Propaganda Model presented in Manufacturing Consent, of how the media is pure propaganda. But the idea of 'spectacle' being something part of our daily lives, not just in the media, of our consumer society as one of consuming spectacles virtually everywhere, is under-studied, under-talked about and more relevant than ever. Guy Debord relates it all to technology, without bowing to a weak primitivist stance. He helps us realize that technology controls virtually everything now. He was prescient. Think mobile phones, internet, Blackberries, Facebook, Twitter, clictivism, Google, if you still that it's far-fetched.The intellectual technologies and practices Google has pioneered promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage any deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative. ‘Our Goal,’ says Irene Au, ‘it to get users in and out really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.’ Google’s profits are tied directly to the velocity of people’s information intake. The faster we surf across the surface of the Web - the more links we click and pages we view - the more opportunities Google gains to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. It’s advertising system, moreover, is explicitly designed to figure out which messages are most likely to grab our attention and then to place those messages in our field of view. Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention - and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible.” In layman's terms, A.D.D. is rampant. We need to be concerned, we need to reclaim the cyber commons and we need to read, slowly, and surely. This book is important in its understanding of how technology/spectacle when controlled by capital alienates, marginalizes, dissipates commonality, community. Google or capitalism does not intend to empower the individual with technology, they intened to make money. A consumer-oriented, historically amnesiac, attention deficit, and mobility addicted society of a never-ending cycle of spectacle is what they need. This kind of book is what I think we need.Pure genius.more
yes, it's still relevantmore
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