Monday, September 17, 2012

Society of the Spectacle - Post 1

Debord's idea of commodity as spectacle is both metaphysical and physical. It's not only about the products that one buys but also the ideas that people buy into. Debord uses this idea to show how the "social elites", capitalist government, and big businesses control the very thought process of their commodities which are their consumers. We are the "spectacle" as we allow ourselves to be brainwashed into wanting and needing new products. It becomes an image and social group that we want to be a part of and be associated with.

"Whereas in the primitive phase of capitalist accumulation, "political economy sees in the proletarian only the worker" who must receive the minimum indispensable for the conservation of his labor power, without ever seeing him "in his leisure and humanity," these ideas of the ruling class are reversed as soon as the production of commodities reaches a level of abundance which requires a surplus of collaboration from the worker. This worker, suddenly redeemed from the total contempt which is clearly shown him by all the varieties of organization and supervision of production, finds himself every day, outside of production and in the guise of a consumer, seemingly treated as an adult, with zealous politeness." (43)
This idea presented by Debord plays well against modern American government and economics. With a teetering job market, the value of money becomes more than it's worth. The concept that "money makes the world go round" rings true for every person within the American working-class. However, even with money scarce the consumer world that is American society never sleeps or goes into hibernation. The idea of saving is never in a person's mentality. Newer generations must have the newest products in order to fit in and older generations must have products that make their lives easier. It is a vicious circle that feeds the economy and makes the economic world go round.

This cartoon by New Zealand cartoonist Nick Kim sums up everything Debord writes in the second chapter of his book. Commodity is not any specific item or product; it is this concept of thought. With the average worker putting in hours to make money for the survival of his or her family, ease of access becomes the best thing any working class citizen can think about. "Effortless Thinking" as Nick Kim puts it, is the commodity that Debord had in mind. After a hard day's work, the government and/or the corporations tell the worker how to spend his or her leisure time. It's this idea that crowds malls on Black Friday and this idea that has people buying something every single day of their lives.

In his book 1984, George Orwell had this idea that the government sees all and controls all. In this day and age it is not the government that we necessarily have to worry about, rather it is the big businesses and corporations that see all and control all.

In this cartoon by POLITICO'S Matt Wuerker, it is clearly depicted as to how corporations control the economy and the lives of most citizens. Workers are in a sense "brainwashed" into believing that they need a new product every time it comes out. They are encouraged to spend their hard earned money. While this does help the economy the lives of workers and other lower class consumers are jeopardized when the lack of money becomes a problem. Between this idea that one must have the latest "iPhone" versus the lack of funds to pay for it, the consumers lose themselves and become a commodity for the social elites. In the end it is their pockets that are lined with money while ours wear thin.

Commodity as spectacle can mean many things to many different people. The social elites can see it as one thing while the working class or "proletarian", as Debord puts it, can see it as another. In the end it is simply all a matter of perspective. However, in today's American society commodity is not just the "iPhone" but also the person buying it. The minds of people are easily controlled by flashy objects and farfetched reasoning. That is what the spectacle is, the idea that one will spend money they don't have to buy something they do not need. 

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