Friday, December 3, 2010

The Spectacle

The spectacle cannot be abstractly contrasted to concrete social activity. Each side of such a duality is itself divided. The spectacle that falsifies reality is nevertheless a real product of that reality. Conversely, real life is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle, and ends up absorbing it and aligning itself with it. Objective reality is present on both sides. Each of these seemingly fixed concepts has no other basis than its transformation into its opposite: reality emerges within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and support of the existing society.

-Guy Debord, "The Society of the Spectacle"

The notion that we live in a reality which produces something which seeks to falsify itself is not without a biological foundation. Consciousness as experienced through our senses seeks to reduce the amount of irrelevant information that can be perceived since it is basically inefficient to perceive irrelevant things. How awful would it be to see air? Is it really a coincidence that we can't? Air is clear because our eyes need it to be so in order to see. Still we can sense its presence.

The reductions that falsify reality allow us to see. But also, the spectacle seeks to supplant reality, not merely to become reality or to become a part of reality, but to replace reality's role in our construction of the objective, and what is objective if not objects void of meaning; having property, location, duration, but in essence mere objects that don't refer to anything but themselves. What is it that the word tree conjures if not the image? We see in pictures. We remember in pictures. But what we are describing (so far) is a world of things. A spectacle is more than an object. A spectacle can be an event.

The spectacle transmits reality, encapsulated and reduced. It hones reality. It sets precedent. It focuses on specific values and either unconsciously or consciously transmits them to an audience of passive observers hypnotized by the splendor of the spectacle.

Well, maybe that happens. The power of images is that they take on the properties of language. They refer like words and with internal logic can have a grammar. So what emerges out of images, is a language, as in, a picture's worth a thousand words, and refers like a Symbol to something more than the Symbol.

The faculty which Symbolizes in the spectacle is itself anti-metaphoric. Part of the game is that we can't recognize the spectacle as a game.

Take Wife-Swap for instance. We enjoy watching people from opposing walks of life irritate and confound each other. We enjoy watching others being judged.

Personally, one of my favorite programs to study is Judge Judy. Judge Judy has a master class bullshit detector, and if you pay close enough attention, you can pick up her tricks. I believe she sees her job as a both a fake and a real judge, and her courtroom, which is dialectly committed to the cleansing power of humiliation. Judge Judy believes that she protects women from their own stupidity, and she accomplishes this by humiliating them, and those men who would take advantage of them.

By making a spectacle of their stupidity in a public forum, she educates people on making the proper choices. So in our culture the spectacle not only transmits cultural values, but educates people on a diverse number topics, including, but not limited to, seeing through peoples justifications.

Another great show which educates the viewer in the same way is Lie to Me, which based on the science of Paul Eckman, a body language specialist who understands the signifying capacity of facial expressions to refer to internal processes of the mind, and its reflection on body language.

So, the idea that the Spectacle is by nature false is to me reductive and prejudicial. Of course, the way that the Spectacle transmits data, and is constructed via cutting and pasting, forces us to consider it in terms of a voice, or a perspective with an intent.

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