SOCIETY AS A PERFORMANCE: to the 90th anniversary of the birth of the philosopher Guy Debord
Prominent and provocative French philosopher Guy Debord was born on December 28, 1931. This year he would have turned 90 years old. Debord is known as the creator of the political radical movement of Situationism and the author of the book The Society of the Spectacle.Guy Debord was a revolutionary. Much more radical than all the other revolutionaries known to the twentieth century, since he was a revolutionary of thought and a ruthless critic of all social movements familiar to mankind: both capitalist and socialist (first of all, Marxism in all forms).
Guy Debord recognized only one revolution – in the way of thinking and personal destiny. He viewed all the usual collectivist movements as illusions and manipulations that fascinate people, turning them into puppets of a bright, but meaningless performance. His famous book The Society of the Spectacle is dedicated to this topic. The philosopher endows the “society of the spectacle” with the following characteristics:
● The whole life of societies in which modern conditions of production prevail, manifests itself as an immense jumble of performances.
● A performance is not a collection of images, but a social relationship between people, mediated by images.
● The performance should not be understood either as an abuse of a certain world of visuality, or as a product of the massive dissemination of images. This is an objectified vision of the world.
● A performance taken in its totality is both a result and a project of the existing mode of production. It is not a kind of addition to the real world, its overbuilt decoration. It is the focus of the unreality of real society.
In all its private forms, information or propaganda, advertising or the direct consumption of entertainment, the spectacle constitutes the present model of the prevailing way of life in society. The form and content of the performance serve as a total justification for the conditions and goals of the existing system.
● Analyzing the performance, we, to some extent, speak in the very language of the performance, thereby moving to the methodological territory of the society that expresses itself in the performance.
● A society based on modern industry is not spectacular by accident or superficially – at its very core it is spectator. In the play, this image of the dominant economy, the goal is nothing, development is everything.
The play does not strive for anything other than itself. Thus, the play is “the main production of modern society.” It is nothing more than an economy developing for its own sake.
It is characteristic that Guy Debord builds his concept of the performance as a veiled criticism of the entire European philosophy. He declares the performance to be the heir of all the weakness of the Western philosophical project, which was an understanding of activity, in which the categories of vision were paramount, i.e. categories that fix and freeze the world.
The criticism that Guy Debord addresses to bourgeois society is even more emphasized in relation to a society built in the spirit of quasi-revolutionary ideals and giving rise to a primitive spectacle of a totalitarian bureaucratic society: according to Guy Debord, the proletariat has always been only a collective spectator of the revolution that was supposedly started for its sake.
Thus, the appropriation of the “voices” of the working class by a small group of “representatives” of their opinions created, according to Guy Debord, the greatest historical illusion, the fictitious world of the “state of workers and peasants”.
Likewise, the Western Revolution of 1968, in the lead-up to which this book was written, also culminated in “integrated theatricalization,” as Guy Debord writes about in numerous Commentaries to various reprints of the Society of the Spectacle.
However, according to Guy Debord, the potential threat of spectacularization has always existed – the power has never represented anyone but itself anywhere, although it would seem that the requirement of representativeness lies at the basis of the entire political system of society.
In fact, the goal of any political system is to falsify public life. Therefore, democracy is, first of all, an appearance of democracy.
Performance (as a spectacle) and power (not only in a bourgeois state) are two sides of the same coin, since both are products of “ancient social specialization”, which is to speak on behalf of others.
Guy Debord predicted that the society of the spectacle would over time swallow up the entire human civilization, turning it into a continuous sinister carnival. Moreover, he predicted that a planetary society, or even the civilization of the spectacle, would combine the worst sides of capitalism and socialism – unbridled consumption and a repressive apparatus. To which, alas, we are actual witnesses.