305MC: Spectacle 1

305mc-analysing-mc-lecture-1-1617-presentation-for-moodle (Presentation)


  • Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle. 704.931 DEB
  • Roland Barthes, Mythologies 084 BAR
  • Le Bon on Crowds available as electronic resource through library portal
  • Aristotle’s Poetics 704.71 ARI

Defining Spectacle

  • Consumption over active participation
  • Something you watch
  • Designed to keep you quiet
  • Impressive
  • Transports you in some way
  • Illusion of participation

“The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images”. –  Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 1, paragraph 4.

  • Sometimes the spectacle is something we know to be false – e.g. wrestling.
  • We know the match is fixed but we still engage.
  • “The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess.” — Roland Barthes on wrestling.

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all life presents as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” (Debord)

“Celebrity culture and its portrayal of lives whose freedom and dazzle suggest almost the opposite of life as most of us actually live it.” (Harris 2012)

As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented productive specialisations that they actually live.” (Debord)

Spectacle w/ theatre

  • Theatre engages the mind and then the emotion.
  • Spectacle engages emotion and overrides the mind.
  • Aristotle’s Poetics
  •   Tragedy
  •   Pity and fear
  •   Catharsis
  •   Purging/discharge of   negative emotion

Bread and circuses, Roman empire worked on warfare at the borders and a placid population at the centre.

Subsidised food prices and lavish entertainment. Gladiator fights, wild animals, reenactments of battles. All worked to distract the mob from challenging the dictatorial nature of the imperium.

Spectacle of Culture

“[Everything we consume] embodies a mixture of distraction and reinforcement that serves to reproduce the mode of society and economy that has taken the idea of the spectacle to an almost surreal extreme.” (Harris 2012)

  • From “being into having”
  • The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy
  • Led to a generalised sliding from having into appearing, from which all actual ‘having’ must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function.”

The Appeal

  • We lose ourselves in crowds.
  • We merge identity.
  • We are taken out of ourselves, freed from the burden of existential anxiety.
  • It is different from everyday life
  • Mnemonics – memory based on VIVID IMAGES

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