“The Society of the Spectacle”

I’m working on a video about this book, written by Guy Debord & published in 1967. The Kindle translation I have isn’t as good as the Audible translation, so I was going to type up some quotes/notes on the Audible version so I can compare the two more easily, since comparing two translations is often a lot more, uh, elucidating. I couldn’t think of a word that sounded less pretentious. Anyway. I figured, why not share it with you? So.

1. The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail, presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.

2. Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images of the world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.

3. The Spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification. As a part of society it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated, and precisely for that reason, this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness. The unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.

4. The spectacle is not a collection of images. Rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.

Okay. That’s enough for now, because that’s where things start getting more complicated. This is a good place to start, because there’s already quite a bit to unpack. I had a professor once who had us rephrase philosophy passages in the simplest terms possible to help us understand them better, which I always found really helpful, so here’s my attempt with these ones:

  1. The media is at the center of modern life. Instead of living life for ourselves, we watch movies and TV shows about life.
  2. The Spectacle (media/movies/TV/books/etc) chips off a piece of many different ways/aspects of real life and presents itself as the real thing. This new homogenized reality turns us into passive viewers of the version of life it presents to us.
    1. The second two sentences here are tricky, I’m not quite sure but I’ll give it a shot..
      1. These representations of life take on a life of their own… and begin to believe in their own validity.
      2. The spectacle prioritizes the general over the individual, which turns individuals into zombies whose real lives are lived in service of the spectacle, which is imaginary.
    2. It’s kind of hard because I feel like you could write a book just about what he means by “the spectacle” exactly, but imagine, like, corporations where the real people sacrifice their actual lives to this bigger idea of the corporation that doesn’t actually exist, and so the corporation, which isn’t alive, takes on a life of its own by siphoning life from the living people who compose it.
  3. The spectacle (for simplification purposes, let’s just say the media) – presents itself as both a part of society and all there is of society – as the means by which the different veins of social life become unified. But because it isn’t really society, but rather a sort of fun-house mirror that allows society to watch itself, the unification it purports to create is a lie.
  4. The spectacle isn’t just the amalgamation of all media (it isn’t a list of all the shows on Netflix and Hulu, all the videos on YouTube, etc., it’s the means by which those things mediate our relationships to each other on both the individual and the collective levels.

So this is kind of going to be the cornerstone, I think, for me, in thinking about the philosophy of the media, and I hope you can kind of see why. Because what’s completely bananas, is this dude wrote all of this before the internet even existed. Social media wasn’t even a thing – he was JUST talking about, like, cable news and sitcoms at the time.

But NOW the things he talked about are even truer, I would argue, and more obvious and pernicious, which is why we have such a bizarrely dependent/problematic relationship to the media. It’s why there’s so much drama about facebook and twitter, it’s why people get so deeply upset now in a way they never did before about, like, cultural appropriation and media representation of minorities. These things have become more real than real life, to most people.

Consider also how the pervasiveness, the inescapableness of media in every aspect of our lives, is also why it becomes so easy to manipulate people’s media consumption and put it to your own ends *COUGH* Putin *COUGH.*

AND this isn’t a dissertation or anything, obviously, but one last point I think is interesting is this: consider how the advent of social media, and the timing of its advent affected the way we think about “generational” differences, and the way people who were born, say, after 2000, grew up in a completely different social landscape than their grandparents did – making it impossible for either group to really understand the other’s fundamental orientation towards the world.

Spooky stuff.

Now, okay. With all that said. While it is true that there’s this weird paradox of social media making us at once eternally connected and even more deeply and intractably isolated from one another, and all the other problems he talks about in this book, I don’t think that social media is inherently bad. I actually think that in the long term, it could be incredibly helpful to us, but it’s a little like fire. Fire is an incredibly powerful tool, and when used properly, it can (and did) revolutionize human life. But it’s also not easy to learn how to control it, and the same goes for social media, as we’ve been seeing with the facebook scandals, Russia interference, and so on. Even the cross-talk between political parties has been so much exacerbated by social media that we now can barely have civil conversations with each other because we’re all so deeply encapsulated in our own little political bubbles.

But social media isn’t going anywhere. The society of the spectacle is here to stay. So as a person who presumably is stuck on this earth for another few decades, my question is, how do we get it to work for us rather than having us work for it? How do we toggle the levers behind the scenes (*COUGH* YouTube algorithm *COUGH*) to make it so that we can have rational, nuanced conversations rather than allowing the natural tendency of people to be drawn to what’s flashiest and most controversial to drive the entire global discussion of what kind of world we want to live in?

Related image
Jake Paul, Master Exploiter of “The Spectacle”

I dunno. Just some food for thought as I flesh out how I’m going to relate all of this to Jake Paul in a video (although honestly, I’d really rather not have to research him, which is why I’m doing a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the book, first, because, eugh. Anybody wanna volunteer to just give me the highlights? I watched Shane Dawson’s series and I feel like I’ve kinda already seen enough…)

Our economy has subjugated…

…all values to instrumental ones. If it isn’t of value to the economy, it has no value. 

Inherent value is either not recognized or simply ignored. 

This is how it becomes possible to have a healthcare system that operates on the assumption that the lives of people with money are more valuable than the lives of people without. 

This is how it becomes possible to have a justice system that operates on the assumption that the lives of drug addicts are less moral than the lives of people who only do as many drugs they can afford. 

This is how it becomes possible to have an education system that teaches children that their worth is not in who they are but in what they can achieve. That teaches children to value a letter on a piece of paper more than the process of educating themselves and becoming individuals. 

This is how it becomes possible to have “art” that exists for the purpose of making money, of gaining views, of rocking the boat enough to get people talking about it but not so much that it turns people away. 

THIS is how it becomes possible to have a political system that is so easily co-opted by a reality television star with no real values whatsoever other than the survival of his own ego. 

And this is also how we have come to see each other. Not as ends in themselves, but as purveyors of other ends. Money. Sex. Power. Exposure. Validation. Acceptance. Companionship. 

But the saddest part, perhaps, is that this is how we have learned to see ourselves. And so we’ll continue to try to fill the hole in our hearts with all these other values in an attempt to convince ourselves that WE have value, that WE deserve to be seen as more than just the goods and services we can provide, even if we live in a world that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it, that has trained us since we were children too see ourselves as vehicles of value, not as possessors of it. 

Let yourself be valuable just because you exist, and you become a subversive. Let yourself value others just because they exist, and you become a radical. Let yourself choose values that serve something other than the machine of production and spectacle that is the world economy, and you become a revolutionary. 

My Philosophy Video Plans

So far, my channel has involved a lot of, uh… goal-setting would be a generous way of putting it. I was sort of inspired by the story about how Jim Carrey wrote himself a check for a million dollars, in the sense that I kind of figured that if I say I’m going to do something, I’d be much more likely to actually do it just to prove that I meant it. 

Shaving my head comes to mind as a less labor-intensive example of the same principle…

Anyway, so I wrote myself into a corner sort of intentionally, I think, because I felt like that was probably the best way to motivate myself to work as hard as I can. I didn’t really imagine the corner would end up being as tight as it currently is, but… the point is, I have plans. Arguably, too many of them. But I’m going to tell you what they are in more detail, right now, in case anyone other than me cares. 

  • Introduction to Philosophy
    • What is philosophy? (ME LEAP)
    • Intro to…
      1. Metaphysics
      2. Epistemology
      3. Logic
      4. Ethics
      5. Aesthetics
      6. Politics
  • Drunk Philosophy
    • Jung & Jager
    • Kierkegaard & Kahlua
    • Lacan & L… 
    • These ones take a long time, so honestly, I don’t have to know all the details, yet. But the next two will obviously be Marx and Nietzsche… 
  • Philosophy of the Media
    • Philosophy of Television
      • Westworld
      • Rick & Morty
      • Bojack Horseman
      • Etc.
    • Guy Debord on the Society of the Spectacle
    • Noam Chomsky on Propaganda and Media Control
  • Philosophy of Music
    • Avett Brothers
    • Beatles
    • Cat Stevens
    • Leaning towards Don McLean but not sure?
  • Philosophy of Sex
    • Metaphysics of Sex: Is sex bad?
    • Epistemology of Sex: Are we having sex yet?
    • [Logic of sex = redacted because what would that be]
    • Ethics of Sex
      • Sex and Risk 
        • Pregnancy
        • Abortion
        • STD’s
      • Sex and Harm
        • Consent
        • Is it ever okay to have sex under the influence? 
        • Unintentional Rape
          • yikes that one could be a real doozy huh
    • Aesthetics of Sex
      • The history and philosophy of porn
    • Politics of Sex
      • Sexual Orientation & the Law
      • Gender and why it’s so damn confusing
      • Feminism (oh boy)
      • What about men?
  • Philosophy of Comedy
    • Theories of Humor (intro)
      • Superiority Theory
      • Incongruity Theory
      • Relief Theory
      • Benign Violation Theory
      • Humor as Play
    • Tipsy Transcendentalism
    • Plastered Poetry
    • Random Lists and Stuff
    • Blasted Book Reviews

And… that’s it for now. I’m not sure if I’ll end up going into more detail on the sub-categories of each brach of philosophy right away, or wait until after I’ve made the more basic introduction videos. But I’m planning to kind of just do whichever of these things I can finish first, and not worry to much about, like, controlling the order in which they all happen, if that makes sense. 

Anyhoo… I guess that’s it. Oh, and puppets. I don’t know. I really need to cool it, I’m gonna give myself an aneurism. Anyway let me know if you have any thoughts on any of those things, preferences about what to do first, etc…

Is this the best of all possible worlds?

I frequently think about the following bit of sass from a letter that Voltaire wrote in response to Leibniz’s rebuttal to his argument that our world was the best possible world. 

What is this, YouTube? Anyway in Voltaire’s response to Liebniz’s response to his response, he says the following: 

I just think this is such a fantastically pithy response to a LITERAL BOOK that Liebniz wrote about Voltaire’s arguments against him. Imagine writing an entire book arguing against someone who disagrees with you, only to receive THIS as a response. It just… it delights me, so I think of it often. 

Anyway it also highlights something about philosophy that I find both irritating and kind of beautiful, which is this: often, philosophers spend SO MUCH TIME hashing out the minutiae of their theories and arguments, splitting hairs and giving precise definitions, refining those definitions upon further investigation, then returning to the original definition having learned something new about where we started, and so on. 

There is a lot of ink spilt in the name of “rigorous philosophical argument,” is what I’m trying to say. But quite often, when it comes down to it, it would actually take far fewer words to express the same argument in a way that was not only less pedantic and tiring, but also more grounded in reality. So what Voltaire does here is take the pages of Liebniz’s argument, which I’m sure had redeeming structural and rhetorical qualities, as most philosophical argument does, and level it all out with a single blow, grounded absolutely in the actual world of lived human experience. 

When you have shown, in verse or otherwise, why so many men cut their throats in the best of all possible worlds, I shall be exceedingly obliged to you. He could have picked anything, but he chose his example perfectly, because it contains within it all the other evils of the world, supposing the primary reason people kill themselves is that they find the world to be inhospitable. 

But I also like the line “I assure you from the bottom of my heart that neither of us knows anything about the matter,” because this cuts to core of what makes long, academic arguments like Leibniz’s seem so… silly. To be fair, I haven’t read his arguments, and I think his philosophy was probably quite compelling in ways that Voltaire doesn’t admit, here. But so much of what philosophers do – actually, forget philosophers – so much of what PEOPLE spend their time talking about ENDLESSLY, is just… pointless.

Voltaire’s point, to me, seems to be… okay, Leibniz. Let’s suppose this is the best of all possible worlds. So what? What’s next? We kick up our feet and write a few more books about it while people outside of the academic tower continue to suffer? Who gives a good goddam if God included evil in the world intentionally when GOD isn’t the one down here trying to make the world he created better? 

That, to me, is the fatal flaw of a lot of philosophy. It’s all well and good, I think, to speculate about where values come from and wonder how to define exactly what a “good life” looks like, but if you’re going to dedicate your life to talking about values, you’d better also live them. If you’re going to write several books about the problem of evil and argue that the world is perfect the way it is, and God wanted people to suffer and for evil to exist, you’d better also do your damnedest to reduce that suffering and combat the evil that causes it. Otherwise, your arguments are worse than meaningless. 

Philosophy isn’t just about filling pages for the sake of cutting down more trees and selling more copies and getting recognition from whatever authority (in Leibniz’s case, the French monarchy) – you can’t measure the value of an argument by its word count. And that, I think, is the brilliance of this response. In a sentence, Voltaire evaporated Leibniz’s illusions about the importance of his own work. And that, my friends, is how to use your words like a loaded fucking pistol.

Here’s the plan.

While I’m unemployed (at least, after my stitches heal), I’m going to try to snap out of my depression by focusing exclusively on progressing my online content as much as I can. My ukulele is broken, so I won’t be able to do any music, but I’ve been working on a strategy that might, eventually, lead to a somewhat-workable schedule that I can adhere to. 

Okay so first of all, I do have a gaming channel and a second channel, but I’m gonna leave those alone for now, because the more complicated I make this for myself, the less likely I’ll be to actually do it. So. If you have not, for some reason, go subscribe and turn on notifications for… 

The Debaucherous Dweeb

FRIDAYS: new video, regardless of quality
SATURDAYS: new gaming video or livestream

Then I’ll try to post a few blogs during the week, and once I get my ukulele back/replaced, I’ll try to make Sunday the day for posting music. 

Also, if you enjoy my blog/philosophy content, don’t forget to check out the philosophy tab of this blog, as well as the philosophy index, resources, and branches, which I’m constantly updating as I chug along trying to prepare to make videos about all this stuff! 

Thanks for being here. Thanks for being awesome. Thanks for commenting and liking and encouraging me to keep going. I can use all the encouragement I can get! 

Eventually (like maybe when I feel I’ve earned it, more, I guess), I’ll start being more aggressive about linking to my Patreon and PayPal, like a big ol’ bag of typical, but for now, your kind words are payment enough! 🙂 

I’m great.

I’m cool. I’m great. I’m cool. I’m great. I’m cool. I’m great. I’m cool.

I’m smart and competent and happy and great. I’m a good person, I do my best, I’m a flawed but strong person who can be anything and believes in herself and is great.

Gotta start somewhere.

I’m okay.

I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.

I’m okay.

I used to have to write that in my journals all the time, or just write it on a piece of paper and throw it away, or on a whiteboard, whatever. I don’t really remember how many times I did it. There were on and off periods, when I was in puberty, and after that it’s just resurfaced every once in a while.

I actually had/have a lot of affirmations that I probably don’t do enough.

You’re good enough. You’re good enough. You’re good enough. You’re good enough.

You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re safe.

You’re calm. You’re calm. You’re calm.

You’re loved. You’re loved. You’re loved.

You’re safe. You’re safe. You’re safe.

You’re perfect the way you are. You are the Kesha you want to see in the world. And also the Sia and Miss Eaves and Lizzo and Regina Spektor and Sarah Bareilles and Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir and whoever else, obviously it’s a long list…

And then when that doesn’t work, I just breathe. Sometimes all you can do is remember to breathe.

On “Debauchery…”

It just occurred to me that if you read this blog before watching my YouTube stuff, you could very well think I’m, like, devoutly religious. Maybe.

I guess I’ve clarified that organized religion isn’t always my favorite thing, but a lot of religious people also feel that way.

Anyway just for the folks who wind up here, first, and wonder why I’m so into Jesus… I’m not a sex negative Christian, or a “drugs are bad” Christian. I wouldn’t even identify as a “Christian” necessarily, but that’s not because I’m not a fan of the J-dog.

Continue reading “On “Debauchery…””