At present we are living in convulsive moments at the level of society, politics and economy . It is assumed that part of the global financial crisis that has beset us for exactly ten years, but it also points to another reason, one more psychological or, rather, psychosocial. A lack of understanding about the society we are and the society we want to be. “A crisis of values”, say philosophers and sociologists from all over the world. Economic activity in times of prosperity would have been a mirage of what we thought it had to be, and now all that remains is its more kitsch facet .
The concept of the society of the spectacle is more than twenty years old since it was devised by the French author, thinker and philosopher Guy Ernest Debord (1931-1994). This author wrote a book of less than 200 pages to describe what he saw as the new deception of the twentieth century. He compared the model of society, the emerging capitalist, with what became religion in times past: a mere control of people creating a fictitious reality that has never existed, such as that of consumption.
What is the Society of the Spectacle?
The idea of the society of the spectacle arises from the situationist thought of the fifties of the last century. Guy Debord was influenced by modern cinema, European lyricists and the most radical Marxist and anarchist thoughts. Thus, in 1952 he founded the International Lettrist , a magazine critical of the urban model that was being forged after the period of World War II.
Just five years later, in 1957, the Situationist International (SI) was founded, an organization of revolutionary intellectuals and artists who went against the capitalism that was being implemented in European society. Furthermore, it represented a fierce demand against class society and against the culture of Western civilization of capitalist domination. This movement was nourished by the extreme left ideologies of authors such as Georg Lukács or Rosa Luxemburg.
A decade later, the founder of the Situationist group, having gathered enough information and observations of daily life, wrote his most famous work: The Society of the Spectacle (1967). This book was a masterful thesis of critical debate against the society of modern capitalism, as well as its impact on people’s identity. “Everything that was directly lived, is today distanced in a representation”, said the writer of the work.
The values of postmodern society
The situationists of the time made great contributions to the cultural and intellectual revolts around the world, from the Western to the Eastern world, paying special attention to the Spring of 1968 (Prague Spring), putting up great resistance to the values that were being instilled in modern societies. Capitalism, consumption, image, status, materialism. The aim was to break with these predetermined and artificial values in order to create a purer, more sentimental and humanist model.
For Guy Debord the advanced capitalist production model marked our lifestyle, our way of relating to others and the values acquired based on the spectacle . Of spectacle, we understand as the representation of those values by the media, the cinema, the advertisements and advertising banners that magnify false ideas and feelings, according to the critics.
The values of the society of the spectacle that are still present today, suggest the belief of an artificial reality as if it were our natural environment. The normalization of these precepts as a method of coexistence. The vehicle, the devices, the types of trips we make, all of them mercantile concepts that respond to an erroneous idealization of what life should be based on the image we give to others .
Psychogeography as a breakthrough method
One of the keys to overcoming some of the stereotypes marked by Western capitalism was what Guy called the “deviation” method, a way of charting a different direction from what society has accustomed us to. Thus, psychogeography was a very effective experimental method that aimed to mark an indefinite route wandering through urban environments and not predetermined by the pace of society.
It was about walking, generating natural situations and experiences that were typical of chance (that’s why it was called Situationism). According to another expert in the field, the Spaniard Luis Navarro, a situation can be a spontaneous or constructed moment, according to how each person wants or needs to create his or her own reality . From this point of view, this is one of the master lines of the society of the spectacle, that of questioning the scheme created for a society to be “functional and civilised”.
Many social movements today are direct heirs to 20th century Situationism. The global crisis of the financial system that erupted more than a decade ago is a direct crisis of the current capitalist system (also heir to the last century). For this reason, platforms such as “Occupy Wall Street”, the world-renowned website “Wikileaks” or the activist hackers of “Anonymous” are presented as tools for fighting against the culture of the established .
At a national level, in Spain it has translated into the so-called “Movimiento del 15M”, peaceful protests that began in the country’s large cities to demand salary cuts, the regression of civil rights such as housing or a stable job, or the political disaffection felt by citizens against their representative leaders. Corruption has been the last pillar of this phenomenon, which continues to be reinforced today.