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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Critique of our Consumer Society
"Religion served the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing what society could not deliver. Power as a separate realm has always been spectacular, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity...the modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can...
Published on June 15 2002 by James Pruett

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Primarily of Historical Interest
Guy Debord was a major figure in the student revolutions of 1968 Paris -- a French Abbie Hoffman, if you will, albeit far more intellectual ... as the French are wont to be. This is his major work, and it's definitely worth a read if you want to understand the '68 revolutions.
Some of Debord's ideas were interesting: his conception of the Spectacle is definitely...
Published on April 29 2003 by Kenaz Filan


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Critique of our Consumer Society, June 15 2002
By 
James Pruett (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
"Religion served the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing what society could not deliver. Power as a separate realm has always been spectacular, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity...the modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can deliver..."
And the Promised Land, as Debord sees it, is TOTAL CONSUMPTION. This is the edict and goal of contemporary consumer society. The fact that it has grown out of and usurped religious feeling makes the SPECTACLE a competitive product to formal religion. Certainly, Islam feels its power and threat. Certainly, the Middle East is reacting to it, through individual and state sponsored terrorism against the West.
Debord is a difficult read, but ultimately worth it. His insights are penetrating, remarkable, and have proven to be more acute with the passing of time. Private and public over consumption has become a disease and the hallmark of an age that has debt financed prosperity for too long.
For me, Debord's has number of chief insights that signify trouble ahead for our current economic system. One of them is the apparent and obvious falling use values for goods in abundance (many of them psuedo goods - things we don't really need). Having long fulfilled our need for food, clothing, and shelter, our current economic growth is contingent upon consistently manufacturing psuedo needs that must feed upon the boundless desires of persons in an unending pursuit of gratification through purchasing new products and services.
The problem appears when the next disillusionment, Debord tells us, occurs not with religion or politics but within the commodity itself. Product prestige evaporates into vulgarity soon after its purchase...at this point; the actual poverty of production stands revealed - but too late. By this time another product will demand attention...the continuous process of replacement means that fake gratification cannot help but be exposed as new models are released every year but yet remain all to similar. Why upgrade, we ask?
For the sake of Dell, GM, Microsoft, Target, Home Depot and so on, we had certainly better. Herein lies the rub picked off by Debord: "By the time that the society has become contingent upon the economy, the economy has in point of fact become contingent on society...he economy begins to lose its power."
A society/economy built upon an illusion of needs will certainly be a fragile on at best. Such a society/economy, whose growth rests upon expanding the market of pseudo commodities, has apparently developed a penchant for reporting pseudo revenue earnings (think Enron, etc). This is all very predictable and very much Debordian.
Debord is reminiscent of McLuhan, full of arcane wisdom and prolix, and a prophet of the current society nonetheless. He predicted our growing devotion to quantitative trivia that arise from a juxtaposition of roles and competing spectacles, and a never-ending succession of, what he calls, "paltry contests - from competitive sports to elections." All this, he says, fuels an abnormal need for representation, to compensate for the feeling of being at the margins of existence. This seems to be modern man, slavishly devoted to commodities, celebrities, politicians, sports teams and sports heroes, compensating for the loss felt by the dividing line being the self and the world that Debord calls THE SPECTACLE.
Although it is not for lightweights or the nonchalant, I do highly recommend this book as a guide to understanding some of the psychological complexes at work in the new society/economy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The master of Marx, May 31 2003
Marx remains the ne plus ultra of anti-capitalist thought. He criticized capitalism so strongly that to this day every time he is mentioned in the capitalist press, he is immediately denounced as a villain. Debord thought this is because he was mostly right. After all, if you are a ruler, you don't want people telling the people ruled that they should lop off your head because you're really a thug. (In both senses.)
The leading Situationist was not out to win friends and influence people. He was the Andre Breton of the Situationists and excommunicated people from the group because he didn't like their looks. He was also an alcoholic who committed suicide when the booze started to sap his health.
Regardless, his theory of the spectacle remains the only political idea in post-modernism that actually has some practical political uses. (Giorgio Agamben makes quite effective use of it in his Homo Sacer, even if he only mentions it twice.)
What is the spectacle? Debord writes that it is a social relation mediated by images. What the heck does that mean? If you look at modern consumer societies, immense efforts are undertaken by the people in them to keep up appearances, to look healthy and upright. (There are best sellers with titles like How to Win Friends and Influence People.) Debord, like WS Burroughs, says it's all hogwash. It's sort of like in JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, where the protagonist's main complaint about everybody is that they're phony. This remains a vital insight and will last. If you listen to the gangsta rappers right, they're making the same point. (They're just murdering the wrong people. (Just joking, we should ALL get along.))
As for Nicholson-Smith's translation, I can't say I actually like it. He reverts back to the Fredy Perlman translation from Black & Red in some parts, a translation which Debord denounced. A case in point is the mistranslation of Debord's sampling of Hegel that "In the world which is on its head, the true is a moment of the false." It should read, and would be a lot more accessible as, "In the world which is upside down, the true is a moment of the false." This is the translation which is used in the later Comments to the Society of the Spectacle. And you can find a similar phrase in Hegel's Phenomenology. (Just look up "truth" in the index.) If you can find it, buy the far superior and much cheaper Practical Paradise chapbook of this classic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant critique by a brilliant mind, Jan. 29 2005
By A Customer
I consider "The society of spectacle" as one of human greatest mental (and not only) achievements. The mechanisms of spectacle in retrospect together with the ingenius (deep) denial of marxism and post-marxism ideology (better:crisis), are analyzed under the impressive prespective of Debort. Moreover, Debort brilliantly handles the matter of "time", something where (every?) previous philosophical work fails in the most dramatic way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Modern Critique of our Consumer Society, June 15 2002
By 
James Pruett (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
"Religion served the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing what society could not deliver. Power as a separate realm has always been spectacular, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity...the modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can deliver..."
And The Promised Land, as Debord sees it, is TOTAL CONSUMPTION. This is the edict and goal of contemporary consumer society. The fact that it has grown out of and usurped religious feeling makes the SPECTACLE a competitive product to formal religion. Certainly, Islam feels its power and threat. Certainly, the Middle East is reacting to it, through individual and state sponsored terrorism against the West.
Debord is a difficult read, but ultimately worth it. His insights are penetrating, remarkable, and have proven to be more acute with the passing of time. Private and public over consumption has become a disease and the hallmark of an age that has debt financed prosperity for too long.
For me, Debord's has number of chief insights that signify trouble ahead for our current economic system. One of them is the apparent and obvious falling use value for goods in abundance (many of them pseudo goods - things we don't really need). Having long fulfilled our need for food, clothing, and shelter, our current economic growth is contingent upon consistently manufacturing pseudo needs that must feed upon the boundless desires of persons in an unending pursuit of gratification through purchasing new products and services.
The problem occurs when the next disillusionment, Debord tells us, takes place not with religion or politics but within the commodity itself. Product prestige evaporates into vulgarity soon after its purchase...at this point; the actual poverty of production stands revealed - but too late. By this time another product will demand attention...the continuous process of replacement means that fake gratification cannot help but be exposed as new models are released every year but yet remain all to similar. Why upgrade, we ask?
For the sake of Dell, GM, Microsoft, Target, Home Depot and so on, we had certainly better. Herein lies the rub picked off by Debord: "By the time that the society has become contingent upon the economy, the economy has in point of fact become contingent on society...he economy begins to lose its power."
A society/economy built upon an illusion of needs will certainly be a fragile on at best. Such a society/economy, whose growth rests upon expanding the market of pseudo commodities, has apparently developed a penchant for reporting pseudo revenue earnings (eg. Enron, World Comm, etc). This is all very predictable and very much Debordian.
Debord is reminiscent of McLuhan, full of arcane wisdom and prolix, and a prophet of the current society nonetheless. He predicted our growing devotion to quantitative trivia that arise from a juxtaposition of roles and competing spectacles, and a never-ending succession of, what he calls, "paltry contests - from competitive sports to elections." All this, he says, fuels an abnormal need for representation, to compensate for the feeling of being at the margins of existence. This seems to be modern man, slavishly devoted to commodities, celebrities, politicians, sports teams and sports heroes, compensating for the loss felt by the dividing line being the self and the world that Debord calls THE SPECTACLE.
Although it is not for lightweights or the nonchalant, I do highly recommend this book as a guide to understanding some of the psychological complexes at work in the new society/economy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars hegelian/marxist dialectic is hard to follow, but great, March 4 2002
By 
if you're not very familiar with the dialectic of hegel and marx, a lot of this book will be lost on you, but the effort is worth it when you realize the enormity of what debord is saying about our society. it becomes even more relevant when, surveying your own environment, you recognize that he is for the most part right.
the personalities of the people who surround us, debord believes, are not their own, but are acquired through images made by pop culture, which replace whatever the person might have become free from these mediated images. they identify (and this usually happens unconsciously, so maybe this isn't as 'radical' a thought as it might at first seem)with characters on television, in movies, and believe that the cultural lie of this or that period is the absolute and metaphysical truth of existence, ie, everyone goes to school, tries to fit in, is happy, gets a family, tries to have a lot of friends, etc. the reason people reject debord's ideas is because they think of them as too radical and abstract, like marx. and yet all this is chillingly consistent with the concrete, everyday reality of our lives.think about most of the people you know and see if you find any of these herdlike qualities in them, and if you're looking at things truthfully, a bell rings.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Never work!, April 22 2000
By 
L. Hillsbery "Thorn Kief Hillsbery" (New York City) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The only new beauty is the beauty of situations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars evolution of Marxism, Sept. 9 1999
By A Customer
Society of Spectacle has sometimes been characterized as a kind of dated meditation on consumer society and media, a diatribe on popular culture and pop psychology. It in fact, a far more important book of political and philosophical thought. Debord eposes the fallacies and perceptions of society and its manipulation and subjegation. In part a revision of scientific Marxism, necessary to account for the divergence (or at least the anomalies) in the path of 20th Century capitalism from that predicted in Capital (as perhaps moderated by the socialist movement), and also a critical response to the utter failure of established communism to produce a free society. The brutal ideological bureaucracy and dictatorship in China and Russia had fully embraced capitalist methods of imposing the illusionary ideals of Debord's thesis on its people, but without capitalism's productive success. This was too much to ignore in the exhilarating, if naive, atmosphere at the barricades in the 60's, which accounts for this books appeal at that time.
Society of Spectacle is existentialist Marxism, buttressed by Freud and the behavioural sciences maybe, but still one which retains the fundamental qualitative legacy of Marx and the philosophical thread begun with Hegel. Its a fascinating and challenging book on political theory, one which is an authentic attempt modernize classic communist and anarchist dogma into a theory which fuses with and responds to history and society as a whole. Few people are going to be convinced by this now, but there is a strand of irrefutable truth in its analysis of the consumer society, and the predicament of the individual caught up in our commodity and market driven culture, which makes for a penetrating and worth while read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book..., July 21 1999
By A Customer
...though perhaps not one for the faint-hearted (good lord, and to think someone translated this prose from French?!) Few other books have matched this one for me in their being able to grasp and articulate things that many of us have thought but we always thought were ineffable. Debord is proving to be even more prescient with the passage of time. To think that this book came out of the classic crass Leftist period of the late 1960's, when many college professors were making pro-Chairman Mao diatribes to their freshman sociology students, makes it even more amazing. Yes, the Marxist influence is not lost but this is _not_ some crass rehash of leftist student pamphlets of the 1960's. Some passages are so poignant in their effect that they take several readings to sink in. This is a book for thinkers: not a book for holier-than-thou Lefties or any number of our current slew of 'capitalism gurus' or 'market experts' which are still attempting the Sisyfus task that Marx failed at. Debord is the biggest true believer of the Unbelievers and he truly defies classification. If you wanted to get into Baudrillard but found him too droll, or are searching for an excellent introduction to the current psychology of the mass consumer market that avoids all of the hyperbole, this book is for you. If only Debord would have written as much as he drank - the number of books about him versus the number he actually wrote is a testament to the clarity of his thought.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A radical & influental critique of modern culture, Jan. 29 1999
By A Customer
A brilliant critique on our materialistic, culture of consumption. Every bit as authoritative now as it was when it was first published in 1967. Not the easiest book to follow (there are some poetic ambiguities), but stick with it. It's worth it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars situationist source, Dec 4 1998
By A Customer
This version is the more accurate translation of the seminal text of the mid-century French radical movement known as the Situationist International. Remains an important document of modern political and philosophical thought. review by: Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac and Should You Leave?
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