The “Society of the Spectacle”, published more than 50 years ago, scarily depicted a fundamental aspect of the 21st century: our social life turned into a spectacle of images. Still relevant today, Debord’s prophetic theories captured how technology is perversely interfering in our intimacy and interactions with others. By mediating reality and its representation, the modern spectacle is profoundly changing human behaviour. There’s definitely no turning back.
“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all life presents as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.”
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, 1967
Spectacle has become the dominant mode of our social world. We are obsessed with beauty, the marketization of our selves, and cosmetic procedures. Even medicine has deviated from its initial purpose, and now serves as a form of entertainment.
Welcome to Inside The Society of The Spectacle, a short documentary series about you, and all of us.
E P I S O D E 1
WHEN MEDICINE BECOMES ENTERTAINMENT
In our consumer society,social life is no longer modulated by the action of “living”, but of “having”. Along with the growth of social media, we consequently witness the rapid decline of “having” into “appearing”.
Our bodies, constantly under scrutiny, are dissected in images, over and over. They end up dominating our social life. Cosmetic surgery is a notorious example of the use of body image as a form of entertainment. With over one million followers on Snapchat, Dr. Miami is well-known for promoting his cosmetic surgery business on social media. In Dr. Miami’s everyday practice, the boundaries between advertisement and privacy, the product and the person, emancipation and dependency, are constantly shifting.
“IT MUST BE AMAZING TO BE IN MEDICAL SCHOOL AND TO THINK, ‘WHAT WILL BE MY SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY WHEN I GRADUATE?’ ”
Dr. Stephen Marche, Novelist, Essayist, and Cultural Commentator
HAS TECHNOLOGY BLURRED THE LINE BETWEEN MEDICINE AND ENTERTAINMENT?
E P I S O D E 2
WHEN SOCIAL MEDIA IMPACTS OUR PERCEPTION OF BEAUTY
Although human beings have always been obsessed with the quest for beauty, the modern spectacle has exacerbated it into an endless pursuit. Night and day, we are bombarded with images on social media that dictate what people must have and how they should behave. The growing influencer market benefits from this fierce competition by feeding aspirations of unattainable beauty standards to its audience. While certain influencers may find a source of empowerment in their work, followers may fall through the cracks into mental disorder.
“BEAUTY IS A LIFE PROJECT, IT IS A CONSTANT PURSUIT WITHOUT TERMINUS.”
Dr. Marc Lafrance, Associate Professor, Sociology, Concordia University
HAS THE PURSUIT OF BEAUTY TURNED INTO AN UNHEALTHY OBSESSION?
E P I S O D E 3
WHEN WE LIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
This new kind of human interaction, literally nourished by our social network “feed” on the latest trending platforms, is altering our self-perception. We cautiously filter our lives, extracting only the facets we want to show, and are thrilled to receive instant virtual gratification. In the absence of authentic human reaction, this meticulous representation of our social life is paradoxically leading to a sense of isolation. The birth of social media may have democratized the public space, especially for marginalized groups, but at what cost?
“THE AVERAGE PERSON WILL TAKE 25, 000 SELFIES OVER THE COURSE OF THEIR LIFETIME.”
Dr. Stephanie Duguay, Assistant Professor, Communication Studies, Concordia University
IS LIVING ON SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGING US AS A SOCIETY?
E P I S O D E 4
WHEN PEOPLE BECOME BRANDS
Neoliberalism paved the way for the emergence of individualism. While facing volatile economic conditions in the 1990s, precarious workers gradually had no other choice than to rely on their last asset: themselves. Today, this ongoing environment creates an enormous pressure on one’s identity to be constantly validated and productive. Not only must individuals sell their labor, but they are also required to offer up their all-encompassing self in the form of an image, i.e., their personal authentic brand.
“AUTHENTICITY IS NOW A SET OF INSTRUMENTAL STRATEGIES TO GET MORE VIEWERS.”
Dr. Alison Hearn, Associate Professor, Media Studies, University of Western Ontario
CAN WE BE AUTHENTIC SELVES IN A WORLD DOMINATED BY INFLUENCER MARKETING AND PERSONAL BRANDING?
E P I S O D E 5
WHEN COSMETIC PROCEDURES BECOME MAINSTREAM
In a highly competitive society, individuals are accountable for their successes and failures. This heavy burden, reflected in an aggressive quest for perfection, makes cosmetic procedures extremely appealing for those who wish to stand out in today’s crowded job market. To stimulate the insatiable desires of potential customers, sensationalist stories told by influencers are spread across social media. If patients undergo cosmetic procedures, they can also rapidly become disenchanted by the artifices of the spectacle.
“UNDERGOING THESE PROCEDURES CAN CREATE A BETTER YOU, AS LONG YOU ARE AWARE THAT IT IS PURELY SUPERFICIAL”.
Dr. Debra W. Soh, Science Journalist
IS COSMETIC SURGERY STILL CONSIDERED TABOO IN OUR SOCIETY?
“IT IS MORE THAN A FIXED COLLECTION OF IMAGES, BUT RATHER A SOCIAL RELATION AMONG PEOPLE MEDITATED BY IMAGES.”
The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, 1967
If the society of the spectacle is manifested through our relationships, it also means that we exert a certain power over it and, therefore, the capacity to shape its course. Various communities across the globe have subverted the mainstream use of social media by building bridges between marginalized groups and initiating social justice movements. Debord predicted our modern society in a pessimistic way, but can we still find hope in his social critique?