Debord observes in this writing that the post industrialization society is more a representation of life rather than living itself. He believes this to be a direct outcome of industrialization and subsequent mass production. His words point out that the spectacle is much more than something at which we passively gaze, it increasingly defines our perception of life itself, and the way we relate it to others. As his book puts it: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation of among people, mediated by images”. “Society of spectacle deals with the changing relation between direct experience of life and the mediated representation in modern times, and it asserts that “everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation”. For Debord the spectacle is not a mere collection of images, but “but a social relation among people mediated by images”. For Debord there is no separation between “real life” and the false representation of the spectacle which he believes are intertwined to such a degree that “the true is a moment of the false”. The spectacle has the capacity for dominating the realm of appearances, it demands obedience, seeing things the way they are represented, but are one-sided, meaning that we assign the meaning of our existence to something which is beyond our immediate life, which is enslaved to their representation.
One of the key takeaways from Debord is that spectacle is “the obvious degradation of being into having, and from having into appearing”. He notes that in the early stages of spectacle, mass amounts of capital are accumulated, here being replaced by having. In the later stages of spectacle the capital so amassed losses worth to the accumulator within the system, hence ‘having’ is replaced by the ‘appearance of having’. Capitalism he believes has turned the appearance into a commodity “Spectacle is the chief product of Capitalism”.
Debord suggests that the modern civilization has undergone a significant development post industrialization and mass production, that of mass consumerism and display. Industrialization and mass production has had a profound impact on the experience of living. Mass production enables mass accumulation of capital which leads to fetishism, consumerism and the need to make a show of this abundance. Hence the condition of ‘being’ is replaced by condition of ‘having’, which is then replaced by ‘appearance of having’. The collective socio-psychological condition where we don’t feel accomplished unless we ensure others have seen how we’ve lived.
What’s amazing is how well the book and Debord’s ideas explain the world that now we live in. The images that stare at us from magazine racks and our mobile screens prove this point. Fitting examples of Debord’s spectacle can be found in the popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, where users share selected visual representations of their lives on social media. This is done instantly using a variety of applications and gadgets that vary from a laptop to a smartphone and so forth. From mass production we have now moved to the current era of personal digital content production. Debord’s spectacle is a spookily accurate portrayal of our image-saturated, mediated world. Picture an archetypal modern crowd squeezed up against each other, all looking intently at the blinking screens in their hands, while their thumbs click out a ‘selfie’: an imitation of life that proves Debord’s point to the core.