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Society of the Spectacle

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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  16,268 ratings  ·  648 reviews

Few works of political and cultural theory have been as enduringly provocative as Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle. From its publication amid the social upheavals of the 1960s up to the present, the volatile theses of this book have decisively transformed debates on the shape of modernity, capitalism and everyday life in the late twentieth century. Now finally ava

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Paperback, 120 pages
Published 1983 by Black & Red (first published 1967)
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Benoit Lelièvre
Re-read this bad boy for research purposes. The spectacle is a concept that's very swanky to talk about in dinner parties like George Orwell's 1984, but it is often simplified and, ironically enough, objectified by its debaters. Everybody acknowledge we live in the society of spectacle, but either don't believe its rules apply to them or adopt a defeatist attitude towards it.

What is the spectacle, then? Debord has a great way of summarizing it: the colonization of human life by commodities. It's
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Szplug
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
I never went to university—nor did the majority of my friends—and so never received any manner of guidance or instruction, or even bar table theoretical bullshitting, at the academic level to go along with my burgeoning interest in philosophy, politics, and culture. For better and for worse (and mostly the latter) I have carved my own path through the tangled thickets of critical genius and doctrinal snares, a haphazard sampling of great minds from across the ages, non-systematic and initially s ...more
Clif
Apr 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
I gave this Guy a chance.

In any expository writing, particularly when persuasion is the goal, the writing should be as clear as possible to reach the widest audience.

This essay is laid out in numbered statements. Some are only a sentence long, others may run a page or two, but all are written in a style that tells me the author is more concerned with his style than the content. Perhaps this is the thing to do in intellectual circles, where stylish profundity that requires effort to decode is val
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Ryn Shane-Armstrong
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I read Society of the Spectacle way back in college -- when one is young and naive, and you're supposed to care about heady, outdated French philosophy that is utterly disconnected from the real. But now that I'm older and I have a world of experience to draw from, I'm fairly certain it wouldn't resonate as it once did. To wit, the so-called "radical" situationist ethic is now a totally mainstream, mass media commodity in and of itself. Beijing hosts pillow fight flash mobs in Tian'anmen square, ...more
kelli anderson
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very difficult to read for several reasons:

• It is a very direct translation from the original French text.
• The Situations had developed their own vocabulary to describe what were then new and unidentified sociological phenomena (we now have a different lexicon to describe this more widely acknowledged phenomena today.)
• Debord, in this book, practices what he preached with the Situationists in his use of detournment (the reuse of elements of well-known media to create a new work w
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Tosh
Sep 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who think this election will make the big difference
Shelves: books-bought
It only took 154 pages to change our world. Guy Debord's manifesto/book length essay that is truly a masterpiece of political writing that borders on the poetic. It is also a crystal clear view how culture is formed in the 20th (and of course the 21st) century.

The theater is built in front us and we are lead to believe that we actually participate in its adventure. As Johnny Rotten said at the last Sex Pistols concert in the late 70's "Have you ever felt the feeling that you have been had?" Wel
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Fede
Spectacle is the image society creates in order to contemplate itself and legitimate its existence. When the abstraction is made real by the dissolution of reality, what we have is a Society of the Spectacle, where images are no longer the product but the producer of their own market.
In this beautifully written essay, poetic and conceptually rigorous at a time, French theorist Guy Debord demonstrates how and why economy has autonomously generated a dimension parallel to reality (the Spectacle)
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Hugh
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most important and scathing critiques of a pervasive culture of consumption, a disintegrated language and a unified series of isolated unseeing workers. I totally get why this dude killed himself.
Miquixote
THE book about how the technological spectacle consumes us and gives us A.D.D. Excellent to accompany Manufacturing Consent and its analysis of information control?

The thing is Chomsky wouldn't recommend it.

Many of us are well-aware of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman and the Propaganda Model presented in Manufacturing Consent, of how the media is pure propaganda. But the idea of 'spectacle' being something part of our daily lives, not just in the media, of our consumer society as one of consumin
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jeremy
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
9. in a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.

20. ...the absolute denial of life, in the shape of a fallacious paradise, is no longer projected onto the heavens, but finds its place instead within material life itself. the spectacle is hence a technological version of the exiling of human powers in a "world beyond" - and the perfection of separation within human beings.

67. ...a use of the commodity arises that is sufficient unto itself; what this means for
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Feliks
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
A strange work of social criticism. The cover is deceptive--this is not a book about mass media or audience behaviors. It is more like a history of socialist ideas; the author spends most of his time in this little volume analyzing subtle strands of Marxist thought. The format is also odd--the author writes in a 'diary' style, like a Wittgenstein or a Lichtenburg. It is not a continuous narrative, but rather a collection of tiny notes organized around the theme of consumerism and consciousness. ...more
Simon
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Just as Fight Club can be described as Twilight for boys, Society of the Spectacle can be described as Fight Club for young adults who have renounced their membership of Anonymous in order to focus on their careers as Social Justice Warriors.

Interesting for the historical context, but nothing more really. A redundant midway point between Marx and Baudrillard, in which the former's ideas are obfuscated for the purposes of pretension. Though I imagine translation is partly to blame for that. Its
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Greg
In theory I love this book, in it's actual form with words and a seeming intentional difficulty (ya know to avoid being co-opted by the spectacle of the totality of consumerist society) I'm only lukewarm about it. Give me Adorno any day over this. ...more
Emma Sea
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Eerily prescient, and still a brilliant read about the alienation of labor, the advertisement of time, and the banalization of space.
Eadweard
42
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
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Lee Foust
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
My reading and studies in philosophy aren't really in-depth enough, I don't think, for me to say anything particularly enlightening about Debord's most famous little book here. What I think I've understood from it is fascinating and I think still quite relevant--if not even more so than at the time of the book's composition. I think that the spectacle is still growing in its reification of social life, if perhaps a tad more interactive in the age of the web--or at least I hope that's the case.

I'
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David M
Finally got around to reading this book. I was afraid it would seem horribly dated, but in fact not at all. In my opinion, large segments of the left have dropped the ball this past year, but Debord is a Marxist who makes me hesitate to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Steven
Sep 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
Can't imagine what put me on this book now except some weird venn-diagramish intersection of things I was reading about Trump, Suburbia, and Reality-TV, plus it was right there on one of my bookshelves with its seductive title. It's abstract and abstruse, full of dialectical jujitsu and Situationist private language, which makes it a difficult read. And it is oh so circular in its argumentation. Still, some nice turns of phrase, especially in the 50 or so statements about what the Spectacle is: ...more
Patrick McIntyre
Nov 09, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Do not follow my example
We're all duped by the illusions produced by contemporary consumer society. But fear not: simply utilize your free time creatively and grant autonomous political and economic powers to self-governed workers' councils within every vestige of society and all will be well. Best quote: "Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it." (p. 145) ...more
Walter Schutjens
I have long wanted to read about the Situationist movement, after having read some radical socialist texts and some radical postmodern texts... what better synthesis is there to be found? "Society of the Spectacle" is a philosophical work that describes the working of the "spectacle" as a product of modern consumerism that exists in social interaction through means of pseudo -representation (if that doesn't mean anything to you, dont worry it didn't to me either at first). In essence, everything ...more
George
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very difficult book to read. Lots of re-reads and focus and translations if you are not a native English speaker. But very rewarding! I found myself lost so many times but when you remove the words that are used to emphasize the message, you will find yourself saying what is actually happening to us.

A new project is underway. The spectacle! The spectacle supported by capitalism tends to overwrite our own history and place new foundations. That is shocking. Ultimately the message is that the s
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Malcolm
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's quite short (at only 150 or so pages) but it ain't snappy - Debord manages to excoriate ideology, alienation, much of the Old Left, almost all of the New Left and provide us with a circuitous and at times dense analysis of the emerging consumer society of the late 20th century. I keep coming back to it, and I keep finding turns of phrase and pieces of an argument that make me revisit and revise my political sense of the world around me. A deserved classic. ...more
Alex Obrigewitsch
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An essential work for living thoughtfully within this fractured and ficticious world of alienation in which we are all unmoored. Like a breath of fresh air - a pneumatic refreshment for the psyche.

I hope to compose a proper review in time - once I am not about to get on a plane and travel to some other voidal non-situation mediated and formulated by a variety of spectacluar fictions.
Elisabeth
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bright sunny styles starting at $8 are spectacle. Tanning beds and stairmasters are spectacle. Sonny and Cher are spectacle. Sonny as mayor is spectacle. Any mayor “cleaning up” Times Square and polishing it with corporate spit is spectacle. Little New York in Las Vegas is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai is spectacle. Little New York in Vegas in Dubai inside Tokyo Disney in a feature-film starring a topless Nicolas Cage saving the natives with guns in a Gatorade jihad is spectacle. ...more
Jimmy
Aug 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leftist-studies
Even for a theoretical text written by an extreme leftist, in the late sixties, in Paris, this is a convoluted read. The chapters seem to demarcate different aspects of the idea that is the spectacle. There is a lot of debate over whether or not this book had much political influence over the events of May 1968 in Paris. If nothing else those same student activists had to have had some faith in the ideas put forth here. The structure seems haphazard. There is a very aphoristic, almost Nietzschea ...more
Karellen
Oct 04, 2010 rated it really liked it


This book describes the problem : defined as The Spectacle. But how many of us dare to challenge the hegemony of the image obsessed society we have created? Debord wrote this tract in the sixties before the consumer society really took off. It was a prophetic warning.
Ask yourself this : aren't we all guilty of creating this monster? And how are we going to stop it?
The truth is in this book. Read it and weep.
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Chris
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Debord elaborates on the organic unity of the spectacle, just as Marx does with capital. The spectacle is not simply advertisements, 24-hour news cycles, celebrities, and reality television, but is rather a social relation that constructs our spatio-temporal reality around its own biases for time-disciplined labor and strip mall architecture.
Mira
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing. Read this for research purposes while writing thesis "Perception and the spaces between art". I don't want to ruin this by reviewing it in a highly analytical manner, so I'll just say that it applies as much now as when it was written. A great text about the repackaging of culture and the coersion of visual freedom. ...more
Caleb
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pol-econ, crit-theory
Debord's cogent and illuminating text employs Marxist idealism to expose a plane of unreality. By realizing the void between subject and spectacle, we find a new affirmation of Nietzsche: that a will to (or realization of) nothingness is better than no will at all. ...more
Tuğçe Kozak
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To be or not to be artık to appear like or not to appear like
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Guy Ernest Debord was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, hypergraphist and founding member of the groups Lettrist International and Situationist International. In broad terms, Debord's theories attempted to account for the spiritually debilitating modernization of the private and public spheres of everyday life by economic forces during the post-WWII modernization of Europe. Alienation, ...more

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