In Society of the Spectacle, Thesis 17, Guy Debord writes “an earlier stage in the economy’s domination of social lif entailed an obvious downgrading of being into having that left its stamp on all human endeavor. The present stage, in which social life is completely taken over by the accumulated products of the economy, entails a generalized shift from having to appearing.” Within the spectacle, we lose our authentic selves. Neoliberal capitalism has stripped us from being. We cultivate a personal identity through the commodities we consume–the spectacle has taken over all aspects of life. It transforms reality into a series of commodifiable pieces, emphasizing the importance of appearances rather than authenticity. It is capitalist alienation and commodity fetishism universalized in every area of human activity.

I think the focus shifting to appearances is illustrated by celebrity culture and how celebrities are embodiments of the spectacle. Debord writes in Thesis 60, “As specialists of apparent life, stars serve as superficial objects that people can identify with in order to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations that they actually live.” The celebrity is seen as a commodity, we desire what they have and the curated life that they portray. Ultimately, it contributes to the alienation of life that is caused by neoliberal capitalism. The spectacle teaches us what to think and believe about ourselves and the world, it serves as a distraction from the exploitation we experience by the current system and hinders us from finding ways to escape the capitalist system.

The alienation makes our understanding of reality, authenticity and connection really muddled and distorted as our relationships and life are mediated by images. There is a tension between separation and connection with the spectacle. We are hyper-connected yet hyper-individualized. Our experience of reality is increasingly filtered by media, making it hard to even decipher what is an authentic and real connection. The spectacle intervenes between authentic and real relationships. With social media we have an illusion of connection but it is all commodified–our friendships, comments, posts, likes–by the tech companies. Our behavior is engineered by the spectacle.

The dominance of the spectacle and neoliberal ideology can feel inescapable. It does a good job of tampering down people who have awakened to the injustices caused by the current system. People don’t believe in this official myth and ideology of the spectacle and yet we still live our lives by it’s rules. The spectacle keeps us passive. It completely dominates us and our understanding of reality. Because of its all-encompassing nature, it can feel impossible to find a way to overturn it and so we just take the spectacle as fact. The spectacle isn’t some greater being. Humans created it and that means we can find our way out of it. But, the spectacle is also really good at taking revolution and radical ideas and recuperating and incorporating them into the spectacle. This can be seen throughout history, for example last summer with the commodification of Breonna Taylor and in some cases, the performativity of protest. How do we make sure to not fall into the traps of the spectacle’s attempt to appropriate revolution?

Engaging in modern day detournement through memes is an interesting way to raise consciousness among young people. Memes are used to express radical thoughts and discontent with the current system, appropriating popular images and changing their meaning. Debord said that this plagiarism is important because it “embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.” How far can this act go? Can it lead to true revolution? Or is it just a lazy way to discuss complicated political issues?

In conclusion, to produce a reality different from the current conditions of neoliberal capitalism requires collective action. Something like the aesthetic(s) of the common(s) creates and strengthens experiences of solidarity, democracy and liberation and imagines hopeful possible worlds. It won’t be easy and will require a conscious struggle against reproducing within the revolutionary groups the dominant conditions of separation and hierarchy that define the capitalist system we are trying to escape.


Jane Bennet, “Modernity and its Critics”
Ignacio Valero, “How Free is Free? Property, Markets, and the Aesthetic(s) of the Common(s)”
Guy DeBord, “The Society of the Spectacle”
Jason Netek, “Revenge of the Spectacle: This Time it’s Personal”