Notes on Society of the Spectacle: Chapter 6

Society

Notes from chapters 1-3 can be found here.

Notes from chapter 4 can be found here.

Notes from chapter 5 can be found here.

Chapter 6- Spectacular Time

#147 The time of production, commodity-time, is the abstraction of irreversible time. Which means (I think), that Debord is saying what Marx said, in that when you are at work producing a commodity, you are embedding your labor in it, but the capitalist makes this process murky in that you feel like you are on the company time and that you are really just doing your job. You don’t necessarily realize that your labor power is being taken advantage of. Your boss will never let you know the point in the day in which your labor power has sufficiently paid for what you have produced and when you are supplying surplus value to the company. If you were to know that, you would probably request either more money or to work less time. The abstraction of this process keeps you naive, in the harness, and makes you devalue your time. 

#148 Within the spectacle, consumable time — i.e. the time you spend going to the grocery store every week — becomes a sort of pseudo-cyclical time in everyone’s daily life. My thoughts: Really, cyclical time hasn’t totally disappeared under modernity. Everyone falls into routines and habits. Sometimes it feels as if I wake up and do the same thing everyday. I get up at the same time, shower and eat, take care of my child, go to work, come home, take the dog for a walk, exercise, etc. There is definitely still a pseudo-cyclical form of time within the spectacle.

#149 This pseudo-cyclical time is “the consumable disguise of the commodity-time of production.” So, our time outside of work, becomes like our time inside of work. Where we have maybe 8 hours per day that we are expected to break up into units and complete certain tasks at work, our lives outside of work start to lose the qualitative dimension and get broken down into “exchangeable homogenous units.” We start to realize that we have about six hours after work to get done what we need to get done. And we start looking for ways to save time. Maybe we buy dinner rather than cooking it. This allows us to literally buy more time to do something else. Maybe we skip something totally. 

#150 Similar to my thoughts in #148, daily life is deprived of decision and pseudo-cyclical time develops these combinations that we become accustomed to: day and night, work and weekly rest, our yearly vacation, etc. 

#151 Just like Marx in the second volume of capital, Debord is emphasizing the control of capital (the spectacle) over people outside of work, in consumption, and not just inside of work, in production. Along with breaking down our so-called “free time” into exchangeable units, where we can buy commodities to free up more time, commodities are constantly being thrown at us to consume in our “free time.” Almost any way for us to enjoy ourselves is through purchasing a commodity. Watching TV requires purchasing cable. There are a few exceptions, like taking a walk. However, more and more it seems like we have to pay a subscription fee for anything we do to try to enjoy ourselves. 

#152 Capitalism’s turn from production to a service economy in richer countries has led to selling of commodities that are “completely equipped” or in which “everything’s included.” This is most evident when you talk vacations. Take a resort, for instance. Many people take vacations to resorts in the Caribbean or in Mexico. However, this is part of the spectacle. It appears as if you are getting the full cultural experience because everything is included: beach, food, drink, dance, etc. However, nobody ever ventures past the walls of the resort on their own. This is getting the full cultural experience, without actually doing so. My favorite part of this thesis, is where Debord says this type of thing only sells “because of the increased poverty of the corresponding realities.” 

#153 And here it is in the next thesis: “Consumable pseudo-cyclical time is spectacular time.” It is spectacular in the way we spend time consuming images and in the way we consume time. Most importantly, the socially dominant view of the consumption of time, is to spend it in leisure or on vacation. Leisure or vacation is sold to us as “real life” but “real life” that we have to wait for. We work hard in order to play hard. But that “real life” is a commodity that is produced to be sold to us. Work hard during the day in order to enjoy “real life” by consuming the commodity of your favorite TV shows. Work hard all year in order to enjoy the “real life” of your resort vacation that millions of other people enjoy in the exact same, all-inclusive fashion. This is the spectacle: selling us “real life” that is exactly the same commodity for everybody. 

#154 Moving back to talking about pseudo-cyclical time, Debord reminds us of traditional society, in which cyclical time also included all of the festivals that came around at the same time every year. Unsurprisingly, pseudo-cyclical time also produces pseudo-festivals. He argues that true celebrations of festivals are impossible in the spectacle because of the loss of community and luxury. The monetization of holidays, in which everybody has to go out and spend all their money in order to help fuel the economy, loses sight of the real reason behind the festivals; it causes deception. 

#155 Consumption of cyclical time in traditional society was consistent with  real labor of society; you actually consumed what you produced and needed it in order to survive. Consumption of pseudo-cyclical time under the spectacle contradicts the abstract irreversible time of production. You are no longer producing directly for your consumption in order to live. We act like we work in order to live, but we really live in order to work and even to consume useless crap that we actually don’t need. But we think we need it. This is part of the illusion of the spectacle, it keeps us from enjoying and living the actual irreversible time of the society by keeping us locked in this pseudo-cyclical time. We have the capacity to be free, but do not recognize it. 

#156 Production constantly creates new things, while consumption does not. Consumption essentially kills embedded labor that was once alive. The spectacle ramps up the importance of consumption to the point that the dead labor dominates the living labor. Again, commodity fetishism, as we recognize and celebrate the dead labor (commodities) and not the living labor (the workers). 

#157 In the spectacle individual life has no history as of yet. These “pseudo-events” of history happen in spectacular fashions, and are not directly lived or experienced by those who read history. And they are quickly lost as machinery replaces them quickly. My thoughts: It sounds as if Debord is talking about history in the sense that today we frequently mention inventions of things like computers as history. These things become so popular, but are so expensive at first, that many people don’t get to experience them unless they have a lot of money. And once the common person can afford one, it’s no longer new, ground-breaking historical technology because machines have produced something newer and better for consumption. 

#157 cont’d More importantly in this thesis, I believe this sentence sums up this chapter: “What is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time.” This leads to an experience that the average person cannot explain. They are unsure how to explain what they are feeling or living. I feel like this has some similarities to Durkheim’s concept of anomie. 

#158 The spectacle is the false consciousness of time. Similar to the way in which we have a false consciousness about our relationship to our work, we also have a false consciousness about time and the experience of it.

#159 The first step taken in order to turn people from serfs into “free” producers and consumers of commodity time was the “violent expropriation of their own time.” Thus, spectacular time would not have been possible if labor power and it’s time had not been exploited into producing commodities for the capitalist’s profit. 

#160 I am unsure of whether I am reading this thesis correctly, but it sounds as if Debord is concerned with the way we view the journey of life under the spectacle. No longer are human beings working toward finding meaning in their lives. “The spectator’s consciousness… no longer experiences its life as a passage toward self-realization and toward death. One who has renounced using his life can no longer admit his death.” Again, humans have lost agency over their lives and are mere spectators. And really, all we seem to be working toward as we age is the financial security for us and our loved ones, or perpetuating the system once we are too old to work (so we can still consume) and so we can leave our family in a position to keep the system going once we die. Our goal is no longer to find meaning in our lives and to work toward a peaceful acceptance of death as the end of life. Our goal is to have a nice retirement fund and life insurance policy. Make sure we invest in the “youth-capital” of our younger generation so that the spectacle doesn’t die. “The social absence of death is identical to the social absence of life.”

Summary: Just as we are alienated by production time at work, so are we alienated by consumable time outside of work. Our mass consumer culture (also mixed with the fact that we are locked into menial work for at least 40 hours per week) creates a pseudo-cyclical time, almost reminiscent of traditional society. However, while it is reminiscent, it is not an actual cycle of production and consumption for physical subsistence, so much as it is a pseudo-cycle of producing and consuming a bunch of crap that we don’t need in order to keep the spectacle alive and well. 

This is best evidenced in things like vacations and holidays under the spectacle. Even these are no longer real life, but merely appearance. Vacations to fake places like Disney World or even a resort in Mexico, where you never leave the walls of the resort and experience the actual culture of the country you are visiting. Instead, you are consuming a commodity, a commodified pseudo-experience. And holidays are similar in this manner, because consumption of commodities have overtaken these as well. Holidays like Christmas aren’t about the celebration of living, so much as they are about giving and receiving presents in an attempt to provide the economy of the spectacle with a growth boost. Our worshipping of consumption is just another way in which we practice commodity fetishism, as we appreciate and even worship dead labor (consumption of commodities) over living labor (workers). 

The key sentence to this chapter is: “What is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time.” Actually living is in direct opposition to this system because it would require you to throw off the shackles of alienated labor and mass consumption, which would subsequently bring the spectacle to an end. Rather, the spectacle wants to constrain you by making sure that all of your time is spent in the harness of work or consumption. The ideology tells us that work is moral and keeps you a productive member of society. It also tells us that buying useless crap to support the economy does the same thing. So the spectacle does it’s best to make sure that when you aren’t constrained by work, that you your “free time” is constrained by the need to consume a commodity; watching cable TV that you pay a monthly subscription for, purchasing a fast food dinner because you are too tired from work to cook and want to save time to be able to watch your favorite show, etc. 

All of this has culminated in a life that has robbed humans of their agency. Instead of living a life in order to find meaning and a peaceful acceptance of death, we are living to work toward a monetarily-comfortable retirement, with a comfy life insurance policy. We are also worried about leaving our children in a better economic situation, so that they can do the same thing when they get older. All of this means we are living a life focused on reproducing the system. Which leads to perhaps the second best quote of this chapter: “The social absence of death is identical to the social absence of life.”

In order to reverse this, humans needs to overthrow the pseudo-cyclical time of mass production and consumption that dominates everyday life, and take power of the irreversible time that those in charge of the spectacle have monopolized by exploiting them. 

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