Guy Debord - The Society of the Spectacle
The Society of the Spectacle – Guy Debord
At art school, we were exposed to the work of several critical theorists.
One in particular stood out for me as particularly interesting.
Guy Debord’s book, The Society of the Spectacle, is a critique of a society which Debord noticed was becoming increasingly obsessed with the value of images and appearances over reality, truth and experience. While this sounds like a familiar condition to a reader in 2020, it’s worth noting that it was written over fifty years ago, against a backdrop of a Paris aflame with the student riots of the sixties.
After the Second World War, Europeans had become gripped by consumerism. International markets opened up and citizens of a post-war world were exposed to a dazzling range of consumer goods, cars, home appliances, electronics. Flush with the rewards of booming economies, they simply filled their lives with things.
The Society of the Spectacle is a critique of that consumer culture and commodity fetishism. But what makes it interesting is that it deals with the consequences of this rampant materialism - issues such as class alienation, cultural homogenization and the dumbing down of mass media.
Debord argues, ‘the spectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual excess produced by mass media technologies. It is a world view that has actually been materialised’ Rather than being imposed upon us from above, he thinks the spectacle is diffused throughout our society and we all participate in it and are all responsible for sustaining it and I find his comment about us sustaining it, particularly interesting.
What would Debord think of Twitter, dating apps, Facebook, Instagram, the constant streams, the constant screams?
The distinctions between what we perceive as certain and what we sense, and feel, are such important elements of my practice. As an artist and as a sex worker, a person who studies human sexuality and behaviour, I am a constant student of the levels on which we interrelate and internalise.
From my point of view, the separation between what we know and what we think we know is vast. Our obsession with sex, desire and the fulfilment our fantasies, the continual need for release is an example of this. Is it a release from spectacles we have created ourselves? How much desire has been born from spectacles and as a result, how much dehumanisation has actually occurred?
On balance I would argue a strong proportion of subs I have sessioned with developed their respective fetishes and desires based on mass visual media, from a young age when their brain was forming. Of course, this is not always the case. From only what I have observed, It can also possibly be trauma, ego reshaping, exhaustion, power exchange, childhood related issues, repression/religion, addiction, release, being born in the wrong body, mental health, exploration or men just simply enjoying being anally penetrated as it’s an area of such pleasure for men and it’s all important, every part but I believe the spectacle does play its part in certain circumstances
My concern beyond all of this, is human relationships and the fragility of our connections. This is at the core and the heart of what I am trying to understand. I could literally writes pages and pages about lost love. It seems we hurt ourselves and each other until nothing is salvageable and we don’t even understand how it entirely happened. We are almost helpless. In the Guardian, Will Self explains ‘It is the spectacle’s genius to have turned life against life, and this effected, the separation and estrangement between man and man’
As a mistress I am aware that I willingly play into the spectacle and that I operate within it. The relationships I form, even personal ones, float seemingly in and out of me and I can never withstand them or them me for long. It feels like a fleeting exchange, lots of fuzzy complex moments of joining the dots and then they so quickly evaporate into another version of a spectacle.
Even tho I am part of the spectacle, I feel have found a genuine therapy, and in my opinion, a very much needed one. I feel the practise needs modernising and progression needs to be made and for it to be respected accordingly.
There is hope, there has to be and as a mistress I am leaning to slow down, even partially meditate with my subs in session. There is an easing, there has to be. We need to create more moments of absolute freedom from our fantasies, a sexuality that continually ricochets and most importantly from ourselves.
BDSM can, I feel, offer a different form of solace.
Guy Debord realised we needed to create very private moments.
The Situationist movement of which he was such an important member wanted to create moments in which monotony of everyday capitalism was disrupted. They wanted people to find truth, and real experience amidst the al-persuasive consumerist lie. The situations they created were small, an aimless wonder through a city, for instance, to come across new people, places and experience new things.
The Situationists rejected the idea that the apparent successes of advanced capitalism, such as technological advancement, increased income and increased leisure, could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of everyday life that is simultaneously inflicted.
I feel very aware of the spectacle myself, maybe too aware. I made a film at art school. I interviewed a transgender sex worker and layered footage of myself on top of this film -footage I took on my camera phone, for a man that I thought I was falling in love with. Well my idea of love, infatuation, desire but it was like I made a film within a film, an echo to a memory. It wasn’t even real, and yet it was.
I think Guy Debord really had something.