To understand the phrase, “society of the spectacle,” one must first break it down to its simplest form. A spectacle is primarily explained as being “anything presented to the sight or view, especially something of a striking or impressive kind,” (dictionary.com). Now, a society is most commonly defined as an organized group of people who come together for a wide array of purposes. This is imperative to comprehend in understanding Guy Debord's philosophy, because America as a society predominantly comes together for the purpose of freedom. Yet, we as Americans are constantly compromising our freedom to choose the information we allow ourselves to consume by allowing others to choose for us. We are essentially trading our ability to entertain provoked thought and formulate our own opinions for opinions already formed, thus prompting the “commodity of the spectacle.”
Now, commodity is defined as something of value, an article of trade. The “commodity of the spectacle” is what we as Americans are trading in order to receive the spectacle as it is being presented to us. “The spectacle is the stage at which the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life. Commodification is not only visible, we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of the commodity,” (Debord). In essence, America has, once again, become a system of bartering in itself. People give businesses their money and time, and in return, are rewarded with movies, television channels, books, music – and with it all, advertisements pushing certain products on Americans. But we, the people, are not realizing that the products they are funding come equipped with a pre-planned agenda that we not only buy, but buy into.
In a way, we are not only paying for the images we receive, but for a new pair of 3D glasses each time we go to see a movie. These glasses, coincidentally also known as spectacles in their own right, only allow us to see the world as these media conglomerates want the world to be portrayed to us. If we simply remove the glasses, we can allow our own minds to flourish and create ideas of our own; but as long as we continue wearing them, all we will know is what we accept, and what we accept is be only what we see - nothing deeper. As bell hooks rightfully puts it: “popular culture is where the learning takes place.”
These rose-colored spectacles allow people to view images in a certain light, failing to show them the layers beneath the images they are already accepting as truth.
This social and consumer agenda is revealed through the media; Americans allow the newest product to transport from the billboard right into their pockets each and every time a new advertisement is pinned up. But why?
“The spectacle is a permanent opium war designed to force people to equate goods with commodities and to equate satisfaction with a survival that expands according to its own laws. Consumable survival must constantly expand because it never ceases to include privation. If augmented survival never comes to a resolution, if there is no point where it might stop expanding, this is because it is itself stuck in the realm of privation,” (Debord).
Manufacturers produce a new phone, mp3 player, car, camera, what have you, on a basis that is almost too fast for the average consumer to keep up with. The minute you purchase an iphone 4s, it is immediately obsolete, because production on the iphone 5 is already underway. This type of production leaves consumers in a constant grey area with only two options: fight the media’s agenda and be one of the few remaining Americans struggling to be satisfied with their now-obsolete product, or buy the next one advertised, securing what we are brainwashed to believe is a better and more relevant position in society.
What so many Americans are failing to realize is that while each product might be better than the last, the improvements are too slight to waste their money on. So how do these manufacturers suck in the ones who have already had this epiphany? Use imagery to deceive.
These pictures illustrate how the media skillfully uses imagery to make their product appear as though it is “bigger and better” than it actually is. On top, you will see the structural comparison between the iphone 4 and the iphone 5, equipped with dimensions. On the bottom, you will see a picture that reveals a far greater structural comparison. The photographer has intentionally angled the devices in a fashion that makes the previous Apple smartphone appear tiny in size, leading consumers to believe spending hundreds of their hard-earned money on the newest Apple smart phone would successfully boost their egos, fulfill their pride, and lock them into society.
As I am writing this analysis of Debord’s philosophy, I’m listening to a song entitled, “Cough Syrup” by a band called Young the Giant. I hear the words, “I’m losing my mind, losing control,” and I can’t help but relate these lyrics to Americans today. We are, indeed, losing our minds - not in the sense that we are becoming insane, but in the sense that we are becoming further inclined to no longer using our power to think. In failing to put our thought-processes to practice, we are consequently relinquishing our freedom to have such thoughts at all.
The song talks about “restoring life to the way it should be," and the music video incorporates a heavy usage of color. Is the imagery deliberate? Is it pushing an agenda, perhaps one that is opposite of what most media outlets push today? Check it out here and decide for yourself.