What Is "The Spectacle"?
An Anti-Naturals Primer
"The Spectacle" is a phrase coined in the 1960's by French theorist Guy Debord to describe a phenomenon of late capitalism. The Spectacle is the face of Capitalism, the interface between the machine (the system) and the people it needs to feed it. The Spectacle comprises the media barrage that surrounds us (which is becoming more ubiquitous) but also such institutions as Religion, Nationalism, and Racial Identity.
The System represented by the Spectacle wants you to label yourself so they can know what to sell you -- whether that be products or ideas advantageous to the continuance of the system as it exists. They will use your age bellious: SUVs, Rock 'n' Roll, Zen Buddhism. For those who are uncomfortable with their perception of the current society, there are conservative branches of religion, anything preceded by the phrase "good, old-fashioned," and whatever else the Spectacle wants to position as conservative. The Spectacle has no allegiances except to that of the Capitalist machine. It is freely adaptable. It can take in any radical impulse and neutralize it by turning it into an opportunity for selling something. (This is called recuperation.) Racism, brotherhood -- it is all the same to the Spectacle. All are transformed into identities -- consumer trends -- that the Spectacle can then market to. There is no inherent Morality.
Another function of the Spectacle is to prevent resentment by the general populace of the few who have substantial wealth. Since almost all media outlets are now owned by big corporations (or are beholden to big corporations because of the need for funding), all the bthose in charge, those with money. This wall of images and words exist solely to distract everyone from what is really going on. Why do so many people fail to complain about substantial tax cuts that benefit only a very small percentage of people? Some are fooled by numbers which average the cut over the whole population, implying that everyone will get something. But most people, upon hearing the truth, still believe that what is good for the rich, is good for the economy. Everyone is afraid to Rock the Boat, perhaps making the economy worse. Of course, the media supports these notions. But it is more than that: Everyone harbors a secret hope that they, too, could someday fall into that Big Tax Bracket, with a little luck and of course Hard Work. The Spectacle provides plenty of widely publicized examples of "regular" people winning large sums. There are lotteries galore, "win a million" game shows and "reality" shows where a person only needs to be able to answer some trivia questions or withstand grubs up their nose to make it rich. It seems tantalizingly close. These exceptions to the rule mollify people. No one knows how the top 1% has acquired their wealth. Everyone assumes it is "earned."
The Market is supposed to even things out but the Spectacle makes it much easier to skew the results. The recent dot-com crash was directly caused by individual greed that perverted the supposed reason for existence of the stock market -- to provide capital to companies. Many of the IPOs for these companies were undercut by the banks who sponsored them, selling the stock at a bargain price to their business cronies. Many of the fledgling underfunded companies then went under, precipitating a crash. More individual greed was at fault when CEOs and other highly placed company officials created conditions that falsely inflated the stock price of their companies -- giving them huge profits. Considering that one highly effective way to inflate stock prices is to lay people off, considering that many people who worked for Enron and invested in Enron lost their life savings, how could this system ever be considered a moral one?
And this is where the Spectacle once again takes over in controlling the perception of this situation. Individual greed is built into the system -- it is expected -- but here it spilled out in the public view. Of course, the representatives of the system had to publicly disavow these actions. The New York Stock Exchange even felt the need to run an ad on television saying how trustworthy their member companies were. Privately, it seems certain, the powers-that-be were more concerned that some few took it a little too far, spoiling it for the rest of them. Investor confidence (AKA the ability to be duped into thinking 'this is the way to the top') had to be restored. Of course, no one is suggesting that the many people who lost everything are compensated out of the pockets of the perpetrators. The Spectacle's false version of Morality will only go so far.
There is a battle going on right now, a battle to rebuild the standard view of society as propped up by the Spectacle. If we look beyond the veil, perhaps we can try to right the wrongs in a meaningful and decisive way. Let us strike while the iron is hot.