Notes on Society of the Spectacle: Chapter 7

Society

Chapter 7: The Organization of Territory

#165 The globalization of capitalism under the spectacle is also a process of banalization. The extensive banalization takes place as the spectacle invades all countries no matter how far away they may be, and destroys their autonomy and quality. Their are still some small differences in culture between countries, but everywhere you go there is a system in place for the commodification of life. Big skyscrapers in big cities, with expensive shops, restaurants, billboards, tourist attractions, etc. 

#166 I may be misunderstanding this thesis, but I understand him as saying here: free space is constantly changed within the spectacle in order to become more identical and banal. If I am understanding this right, I would relate this to what David Harvey talks about in regards to public space within cities. And the fact that it is important, for example, for people in Gezi Park in Turkey to protest to keep their public space and not allow further banalization by letting them put in shopping malls. 

#167 More dialectics! “This society which eliminates geographical distance reproduces distance internally as spectacular separation.” As we become more globalized within the spectacle, we become more alienated from real living. 

#168 He sees tourism as “nothing more than the leisure of going to see what has become banal.” He says that the fact that visiting other places is economically organized that guarantees their equivalence, or their banality. I’m guessing he means because, most of the time, when you are traveling you are doing so because you know they have hotels, shopping, tourist attractions, etc. 

#169, 170, and 171 Under the society of the spectacle he says that capitalism has molded its environment into something for its use (urbanization). He says “Urbanism is capitalism’s seizure of the natural and human environment.” Urbanism causes a “visible freezing of life” which is needed by capitalism. Urbanism lies at the heart of the “technical forces” that allow capitalism to separate humans from real life. 

#172 Urbanism fulfills the “uninterrupted task”, protecting the power of the spectacle and those in charge of it by alienating, controlling, manipulating, etc. the dangerously large group of people that capitalism has brought together. This is an “uninterrupted task” because it is something that can never stop without having the crowd turn on the spectacle. This goes back to thesis #167, in which people are brought closer together under the spectacle (living on top of each other in the city, but are more isolated with technology like phones and today computers for communication. In order to maintain this isolation, individuals must be controlled and reintegrated into the system of production and consumption. 

Here is where he writes another great quote “Integration into the system requires that isolated individuals be recaptured and isolated together.” He goes on to talk about isolating people together in factories (or other work), tourist resorts, and housing developments (suburbanization and ghettoization). The act of isolating people by bringing them together in this manner is seen as a “pseudo community” to him. There is an appearance of community, but nobody really talks with their neighbors or anything. And at the end of this thesis he mentions “receivers of the spectacular message” or TVs and radios in his day, but also the internet today. He says that these devices allow for the dominant images of the spectacular message to reach us, even when we are in isolation. We internalize what we see in the spectacle of the media, rather than going out and actually living and interacting with others. 

This last thesis reminded me a lot of Durkheim’s work on suicide and anomie. The spectacle wants to cause a breakdown in the collective consciousness of society, because it needs alienated people in order to continue on, in order to keep up the appearance. Additionally, controlling the crowd of alienated people is important, just like with Durkheim, the spectacle cannot afford to have the collective effervescence of the crowd turn on it.

#173 Architecture is no longer only about satisfying the ruling classes the way it was in the past. No longer reserved for the building of ornate palaces, the spectacle now specializes in bland, apartment buildings and suburban houses that all look alike. The commodification of housing. “The same architecture appears in all industrializing countries… as a suitable terrain for the new type of social existence which is to be implanted there.” And even today, I see in suburbs popping up all around, where the same things go up: Suburban houses that all use the design and materials that are currently popular (fake stone facade, as I write this), multiple strip malls with the same types of services, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s or Wendy’s, and other chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Wal-Mart. This is what pops up as more and more development takes place. 

#174 This process of what we are always told is called “development” is driven by consumption. It is really just a commodification of nature, in my opinion, in which people buy up huge tracts of land and place shopping malls, housing, etc. on top of it. He mentions the “dictatorship of the automobile” in which it has been “stamped into the environment with the domination of the freeway” which creates more dispersion and, therefore, more urbanization. He mentions enormous shopping centers, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about malls or Wal-Mart type stores or both, but he calls them “temples of frenzied consumption” which is brilliant, as it reinforces the idea of consumption as a religion. And at the end of this thesis, he introduces the idea that the city is consuming itself, which begins to talk about in the next couple of theses.

#175 Economic history has been so successful that it has eroded what Debord refers to as “town and country” through interconnecting everything and urbanizing it so that everyone is brought together and isolated at the same time. The spectacle is so worried about continuing the “economy’s independent movement” that is has stopped total historical development, which ties this chapter back to previous chapters in which Debord talked about historical time and how the spectacle exploits the worker and keeps it from them, allowing only the elite to experience it while everyone else experiences pseudo-cyclical time. Debord doesn’t have a problem with the concept of the city, however, he just believes that it should be built upon the revolutionary spirit of the proletariat being able to use and experience actual historical time, rather than being trapped in the spectacle of pseudo-cyclical time.

#176 Here we start to understand why the city is important, even though it has been used to alienate us. He credits the city for giving birth to universal history, and notes that Marx felt the bourgeoisie did something revolutionary by moving humanity into cities and putting them in an environment that could liberate them (the “city concentrates social power that makes the historical undertaking possible” Debord says later in this thesis). However, that wasn’t the aim of the bourgeoisie and the city has also brought tyranny of the state (bourgeois) administration that controls the city and the country. Therefore, he has a great quote “The city could as yet only struggle for historical freedom, but not possess it.” The fact that the city is now being consumed by itself is just another delay in overcoming the economy (the spectacle, capitalism) and regaining revolutionary historical time. 

#177 Cities are important for the fact that they bring everyone together. In traditional society, the countryside isolated and separated everyone from each other. Urbanism, with it’s sprawling suburbs and isolated apartment towers, creates a “pseudo-countryside” with an “artificial peasantry.” It’s pseudo and artificial because it lacks the relations to nature and the social bond that everyone felt with a community. They create this world, but the artificiality of the spectacle is that the elite control it and the control feels out of reach to the masses in a similar way to the “natural rhythm” of tasks in traditional society. Cyclical time was literally controlled by nature, while pseudo-cyclical time feels as if it is controlled by nature, but really it’s socially constructed and could be controlled by the masses. Cities have the power to bring people together and liberate history, but that hasn’t happened yet, and Debord believes that the types of cities and towns we see today are the result of “historical absence beginning to compose their own exclusive landscape.” 

#178 He reiterates that the rediscovery of history can reintroduce people to actual lived-time and can threaten the spectacle. No longer is the fight just about the exploitation of a person’s labor, but the exploitation of the lived experience. Regaining history can bring back “the voyage” of life. 

#179 He proposes the idea of designing cities and living environments around Workers’ Councils. I’m not sure I totally understand this, but this may be a product of the time the book was written and the fact that a revolutionary idea like this doesn’t seem imaginable in today’s world. 

Summary- This is a fascinating chapter on geography that reinforces the idea of how the spectacle infiltrates and alienates all aspects of life. Despite the fact that people are always talking about development and adding new businesses to towns to make them more exciting, Debord argues that the spectacle infiltrates every city and town and makes them “banal” or basically the same damn thing everywhere you go. It erases any genuine authenticity or uniqueness — and also establishes uniqueness in spectacular fashion by saying “Hey, come to Bloomington, Minnesota, we have big ass mall — to a community, and through commoditization, it establishes the same Wal-Mart or Buffalo Wild Wings on every corner, while also having sprawling suburbs with houses that look almost exactly alike. We think of capitalism as giving us variety (that’s supposed to be a positive aspect of it), but it really gives us a bunch of identically mass-produced bullshit. 

The dialectical contradiction within this geographical takeover by the spectacle is that the more globalized and interconnected we become, the more isolated we also become. The city is supposed to be this bastion of freedom and revolution, but it has been used to alienate us from actually living. It does this through urbanism, which is “capitalism’s seizure of the natural and human environment.” Urbanism is the molding of society by capitalism in order to create the model citizen that can be alienated in all aspects of their lives. It has to do this because capitalism needs the city in order to bring people together to produce and consume commodities, but it  also needs to control them because having so many people that close together can lead to revolution and upheaval. The spectacle has to control people in order to make sure the collective effervescence of the masses doesn’t turn on it. 

The alienation and control of people within urbanization helps to create a “pseudo-countryside” and “artificial peasantry.” People feel isolated and at a distance like in the countryside of traditional society, but it’s pseudo because the relationship  that people had to nature and community in traditional society is not there. It also goes back to the idea of the “pseudo-cyclical time” in which people believe that their everyday routine is governed by nature, like it was under actual cyclical time in traditional society. But this is not the case, and that is an aspect of the spectacle. People create this modern world, but they feel as if they have no control over the world they create and that society is naturally built this way. Debord argues that history can liberate us from this illusion, but we have to take back public space and regain the proper use of the city in order to regain our historical time.  

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.

Notes from chapter 6 can be found here.

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