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Thread: Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

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    Post Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

    The Situationists were an avantgarde of artists, in the period before and around the 60's. They were Marxists, but developed several concepts and theories of use to anyone in understanding the present era.

    Central is the concept of spectacle, as in society of the spectacle. The society of the spectacle is filled with commodities, and advertisement for commodities. What matters in the spectacular society is not reality, but appearances. Situationists such as Debord and Vaneigem could only have dreamt about the spectacle of 2005, filled with reality-shows, constant coca-colonization, and "anti-racist" spectacles. Their analysis of politics as a spectacle is also rewarding, especially so in the era where differences between politicians have become superficial.

    The distinction between survival and life would also be important. The average man in the society of the spectacle survives, he has enough food, and he can consume as much TV as he wills, but he does not really live. A mass quantity of commodities hides the real poverty of life.

    The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world. Modern economic production extends its dictatorship extensively and intensively. In the least industrialized places, its reign is already attested by a few star commodities and by the imperialist domination imposed by regions which are ahead in the development of productivity. In the advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous superimposition of geological layers of commodities. At this point in the "second industrial revolution," alienated consumption becomes for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production. It is all the sold labor of a society which globally becomes the total commodity for which the cycle must be continued. For this to be done, the total commodity has to return as a fragment to the fragmented individual, absolutely separated from the productive forces operating as a whole. Thus it is here that the specialized science of domination must in turn specialize: it fragments itself into sociology, psychotechnics, cybernetics, semiology, etc., watching over the self-regulation of every level of the process.

    The spectacle is a permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival that increases according to its own laws. But if consumable survival is something which must always increase, this is because it continues to contain privation. If there is nothing beyond increasing survival, if there is no point where it might stop growing, this is not because it is beyond privation, but because it is enriched privation.

    More on Situationism can be found here, including online versions of the most important books:
    http://www.nothingness.org/SI/

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    Post Re: Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

    Quote Originally Posted by Oskorei
    Central is the concept of spectacle, as in society of the spectacle. The society of the spectacle is filled with commodities, and advertisement for commodities. What matters in the spectacular society is not reality, but appearances.
    I agree completely. Mainstream and much of so-called "alternative" culture is as spectacularly bourgeois as ever, in all senses of the word.

    But the problem I have with most neo-Marxist analyses of commodity fetishism is the assumption that a thing must necessarily become a commodity which must perforce be transformed into a fetish. Neo-Marxists then dance around the fire triumphantly, holding up their books and articles as proof of the degraded and unenlightened character of individuals and society as a whole.

    And thus these materialists succumb to a peculiarly 19th century form of spiritualism, differing from heathen belief in that they ascribe spiritual power to objects made by humans, while the ancients experienced spiritual power in what nature had created.

    My view is rather the reverse of the neo-Marxists: it is the character of the person that makes the thing, not the character of the thing that makes the person. If you were given a million dollars, I know you would use it in accordance with your ideals; but give it to Donald Trump, and he will just build another casino.

    Perhaps it is the absence of a genuine competitor to spectacularism on the spiritual level that accounts for its power in the world. In that context, the underlying spiritual ethos of National Socialism comes to mind as one of the few real, historical alternatives to commodity magicalism. One magic for another, one mythos for another, one set of values for another?

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    Post Re: Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

    Yes, situationists theories are important because regards a new and more important veichle of subjugation of the mass in the modern age. Obviously, they see from a marxist perspective, a powerfull form of alienation of working class in the decades after world war 2, characterized by a new general wealth. Wealth in everycase, is a sort of soporific factor over minds. And progress ("magnific progressive doom of human race") is stopped by a fast moral decadence. If we see all this in a more general perspective, we can note that Situationist apport is only one , the most recent, of a long series of critics to modern society and his rulers through all 20th century. This century of course, is characterized by an imponent technologic advancement, whom determines on the long term not a human society, but a "cybernetic" sociey based on mathematical sense; I can't forget "METROPOLIS" (Fritz Lang , 1926) a visionary (for his time) paradigm of all this. Returning to the begin of this post, i must do a precisation : i said "new" referring to modern spectacle-alienation; modern only in technological meaning of course : already at Roman Empire age, the Emperor usually gave "PANEM ET CIRCENSES" to the "plebe". (litterally "bread and circus to the people"). Circus, at that time was Colosseum fights between gladiators(during which, many servants launched pieces of bread amongst the people. The spectacles were much more frequent during difficult times or during times of contestation of imperial power. The best way to alienate the people. Mass- spectacle connection has long tradition. Modern tech has made it almost invincible.

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    Post Re: Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

    Quote Originally Posted by Siegmund
    I agree completely. Mainstream and much of so-called "alternative" culture is as spectacularly bourgeois as ever, in all senses of the word.
    I think so too. Their criticism of established Leftist parties, as spectacles in themselves with Leaders and Roles, was one of the more progressive aspects of the Situs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Siegmund
    Neo-Marxists then dance around the fire triumphantly, holding up their books and articles as proof of the degraded and unenlightened character of individuals and society as a whole.
    Got a mental image of that...

    Quote Originally Posted by Siegmund
    My view is rather the reverse of the neo-Marxists: it is the character of the person that makes the thing, not the character of the thing that makes the person. If you were given a million dollars, I know you would use it in accordance with your ideals; but give it to Donald Trump, and he will just build another casino.
    Your view is in accordance with the traditional Germanic there methinks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Siegmund
    Perhaps it is the absence of a genuine competitor to spectacularism on the spiritual level that accounts for its power in the world. In that context, the underlying spiritual ethos of National Socialism comes to mind as one of the few real, historical alternatives to commodity magicalism. One magic for another, one mythos for another, one set of values for another?
    I agree wholeheartedly. What the Situationists, and many other bright analysts, missed, was that materialism is one of the most profound alienations. Alienate man from his divinity, "spark of God", soul, or whatever we call it, and the rest of the alienations (economical, political et al) follow naturally. So in order to combat the spectacle, and the ills of modern life in general, a mythos and a Weltanschaung, is needed. And NS is, though it had its short-comings of course, one of the closest attempts to get back to the traditional Indo-European/Germanic Weltanschaung this far.

    Situationism, with all its brightness, could never had transformed an entire Nation/Volk, the way that the Völkisch ideas did. And that eventually condemned it to disappear as a living, social force, and retreat into the library of ideas that is History.

    Quote Originally Posted by Northern Tiger
    If we see all this in a more general perspective, we can note that Situationist apport is only one , the most recent, of a long series of critics to modern society and his rulers through all 20th century. This century of course, is characterized by an imponent technologic advancement, whom determines on the long term not a human society, but a "cybernetic" sociey based on mathematical sense; I can't forget "METROPOLIS" (Fritz Lang , 1926) a visionary (for his time) paradigm of all this.
    Agreed. What made the Situs so useful is that they were equally influenced by Nietzsche (mostly Vaneigem) and Hegel (mostly Debord), as by Marx. So they could tap into a long tradition of thoughts on phenomena such as alienation and "the last man".

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    Post AW: Re: Situationism/Society of the Spectacle

    Quote Originally Posted by Oskorei
    What the Situationists, and many other bright analysts, missed, was that materialism is one of the most profound alienations. Alienate man from his divinity, "spark of God", soul, or whatever we call it, and the rest of the alienations (economical, political et al) follow naturally. So in order to combat the spectacle, and the ills of modern life in general, a mythos and a Weltanschaung, is needed.
    Exactly... which is why I think that bourgeois capitalism ultimately won out against communism on the human level. Each is hollow spiritually, but at least with capitalism there is the lustre of the vision of a pair of gorgeous Yves St. Laurent shoes; with communism, you don't even get the trendy shoes.

    I always think of the kids in Moscow ten years ago, stealing to buy a pair of Western jeans... while Marxist intellectuals huddled together, explaining in terms of evil commoditism a phenomenon that is simply an expression of a child's need to identify with and belong to a larger group. Such a pity that the idea - and even more, the reality - of Völk has been lost, again, to Europeans.

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