Spectacle (Situationism)
The spectacle is a central notion in the Situationist theory developed by Guy Debord
Guy Debord
Guy Ernest Debord was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International . He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.-Early Life:Guy Debord was born in Paris in 1931...

. Guy Debord's 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle
The Society of the Spectacle
The Society of the Spectacle is a work of philosophy and critical theory by Guy Debord. It was first published in 1967 in France.-Book structure:...

, attempted to provide the Situationist International (SI) with a Marxian critical theory
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

. The concept of "the spectacle" expanded to all society the Marxist concept of reification
Reification (Marxism)
Reification or Versachlichung, literally "objectification" or regarding something as a separate business matter) is the consideration of an abstraction, relation or object as if they had human or living existence and abilities, when in reality they do not...

 drawn from the first section of Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

's Capital, entitled The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof and developed by György Lukács in his work, History and Class Consciousness. This was an analysis of the logic of commodities whereby they achieve an ideological autonomy from the process of their production, so that “social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them.” (Marx, Capital) Developing this analysis of the logic of the commodity, The Society of the Spectacle generally understood society as divided between the passive subject who consumes the spectacle and the reified spectacle itself.

History and influence

A long tradition of work exists in political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 on the "political spectacle" started with Debord; many literary critics
Literary criticism
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals...

 and philosophers in the 20th century contributed to this analysis. According to anthropologist Meg McLagan, "Debord analyzes the penetration of the commodity form into mass communication, which he argues results in the spectacle". Andrew Hussey claims in his biography of Debord that the term spectacle began life not in a Marxist context, but was first borrowed from Nietzsche and his concept of the mass secret. The critic Sadie Plant
Sadie Plant
Sadie Plant is a British author and philosopher.She earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Manchester in 1989, then taught at the University of Birmingham's Department of Cultural Studies before going on to found the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick,...

 argues that later theories of postmodernism, particularly those of Baudrillard and Lyotard, owe much to Debord's theory, and represent an apolitical appropriation of its criticism of the unreality of life under late capitalism. Debord was a rebel to his core and despised academic commodification of his ideas and their integration into the diffuse spectacle. Throughout his life he fought to make his ideas truly revolutionary. His ideas appear to be gaining more and more relevance and interest. Web sites such as the Bureau of Public Secrets which is maintained by Ken Knabb
Ken Knabb
Ken Knabb is an American writer, translator, and theorist, best known for his translations of Guy Debord and the Situationist International.-Early life:...

 and Not Bored are increasingly visited. Debord's ideas have also been used to interpret right wing and populist attitudes to mental illness.

Different forms

Debord later modified his argument, and claimed that the spectacle manifests itself in three different forms:

The concentrated spectacle

The spectacle associated with concentrated bureaucracy. Debord associated this spectacular form mostly with the Eastern Bloc
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

 and Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

, although today mixed backward economies import it, and even advanced capitalist countries in times of crisis. Every aspect of life, like property, music, and communication is concentrated and is identified with the bureaucratic class. The concentrated spectacle generally identifies itself with a powerful political leader. The concentrated spectacle is made effective through a state of permanent violence and police terror.

The diffuse spectacle

The spectacle associated with advanced capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 and commodity abundance. In the diffuse spectacle, different commodities conflict with each other, preventing the consumer from consuming the whole. Each commodity claims itself as the only existent one, and tries to impose itself over the other commodities:
The diffuse spectacle is more effective than the concentrated spectacle. The diffuse spectacle operates mostly through seduction, while the concentrated spectacle operates mostly through violence. Because of this, Debord argues that the diffuse spectacle is more effective at suppressing non-spectacular opinions than the concentrated spectacle.

The integrated spectacle

The spectacle associated with modern capitalist countries. The integrated spectacle borrows traits from the diffuse and concentrated spectacle to form a new synthesis. Debord argues that this is a very recent form of spectacular manifestation, and that it was pioneered in France and Italy. According to Debord, the integrated spectacle goes by the label of liberal democracy
Liberal democracy
Liberal democracy, also known as constitutional democracy, is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive...

. This spectacle introduces a state of permanent general secrecy, where experts and specialists dictate the morality, statistics, and opinions of the spectacle. Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

is the invented enemy of the spectacle, which specialists compare with their "liberal democracy", pointing out the superiority of the latter one. Debord argues that without terrorism, the integrated spectacle wouldn't survive, for it needs to be compared to something in order to show its "obvious" perfection and superiority.
We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience. (Larry Law, Images And Everyday Life)
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