“The Commodity as Spectacle” by Guy Debord

Guy Debord considers the product as his show in chapter 11 of The Society of the show. Commodities have shifted beyond capitalism to form the spectacle where a set of commodified behaviors arising from capitalism are replaced by real world. "The commodity world therefore becomes evident for what it is as its movement is the same as the alienation between men and their global product" " (110). From the Marxist point of view, the capitalist mode of production is committed to the accumulation of products, a series of displays, from Debord's point of view. Debord discusses the Marxist development of commodity in which economic growth liberates societies from the act of surviving only to be enslaved by what liberated them in the first place. To Debord, “Spectacle is when commodity has attained total occupation of social life” (111). He points to the fact that in the first industrial revolution, humans denied the wages of their own labour. Further as capitalism developed, they became alienated to living their own lives. This reflects how capitalism after the industrial revolution focused on the producers’ leisure time, and how it turned them into a consumers. Contrastingly, while the worker is treated scornfully in the capitalist economy, as soon as there is development and abundance, the worker is “treated as a grown up, with zealous politeness under the mask of the consumer” (112). The leisure and humanity of the worker instead of creating real human existence becomes a commodity. This is where consumerism came in and it resulted to privatization which sought to produce illusions and have the society as its consumer. Illusions of reality would make people consume what had been commodified, though in reality they were not actual needs. In Debord’s words, “The real consumer becomes a consumer of illusions. The commodity is this factually real illusion, and the spectacle is its general manifestation” (113).

Money decides what a society can be and can do. Money change representation of social life and all reality of life is interpreted using money. Pseudo-needs are fabricated to maintain the reign of economic development. In turn, the society depends on the economy and the economy on the society. “When providing for a society is being replaced by the need to provide for the economy’s growth, the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo needs” (114). In this case, Debord argues that the society of the spectacle is one that does not need a developing economy for its survival, rather, one which has to meet the needs of the ever-developing economy, a phenomenon, he terms as continuous.

The consumerism megatrend is well indicative of Debord’s description. While labour and production were the instruments of capitalism in the past, consumerism and pseudo needs which have been fabricated by the media have been used to sway societies. A look at television programming and advertisements portray ways in which the commodity is the spectacle. The media spectacle has reduced life’s reality into commodifiable needs and solutions and appeases to the masses to focus on appearances. As described by Debord, this is a degradation of lives. For instance the media promotes the use of some products like ‘natural products’ and ‘green products’ for health and wellbeing, while on the real sense, this has the interest of producers to sustainably use natural resources.

This article is indicated of the modern popular culture especially the celebrity culture and the way celebrities portray life – far from the everyday reality. As Debord says, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” (111). This spectacle, in the form of commodities that the consumer culture has created, alter the way humans interact as well as their relationships. The images spread through the media influence societies’ day-to-day lives and the belief systems. In a way, the society is enslaved by advertising manufactures’ aspiration and desires. The media solely interprets the world for any society and what is valued is that the media decides to place value on. Things like film, photography and social media gives the illusion of universal connectivity promoting the idea of the “global village.”

The reliance of technology in current times amplify Debord’s notions. For instance, anyone can access any place in the world through Google Maps. In this regard, there is no need to interact with people asking for directions. Although this technology is useful, it has distorted people’s behaviours and relationships. Although Debord’s arguments were made a decades ago, they were so predictive of the current social media trend. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook monetize people’s interactions, emotions, opinions, and friendships. Just like Debord saw “commodity as the spectacle” people’s experiences, beliefs and thoughts have now become commodified assets. This phenomenon matches what Debord says, “The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. The relationship of the commodity is not only visible, but one no longer sees anything but it” (Debord, 111).

Work Cited

Debord, Guy, “Commodity as Spectacle”, Zone Books. 1994.

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