La Société du Spectacle: remediation as a political act in Guy Debord’s essay film

Written by: Alessio Casella

“Le monde est déjà filmé. Il s’agit maintenant de le transformer”
“The world is already filmed. It now must be transformed”

– Guy Debord

societeduspectacle

La Société du Spectacle is a 1973 essay film written and directed by Guy Debord, based on his 1967 book of the same name.

Debord’s film is a Marxist and Situationist critique of contemporary consumer culture, mass media and their influence on society. In his thesis, he argues that in contemporary society human interaction has been supplanted by the “Spectacle” (1967), mainly referring to mass media such as film, television, news, fashion, and advertisement. His critique makes substantial use of the détournement (literally ‘the act of rerouting’, ‘hijacking’), a typical Situationist approach to artistic production, which consists of integrating “present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu” (Situationist International Online, no date, b) – in other words, repurposing pre-existing artistic elements in a new unit, with clear critical purposes.

The détournement could then be identified as an early form of remediation, as firstly theorised by Bolter and Grusin (1999, p. 45). La Société du Spectacle is a perfect example of this, as it only employs remediated images – both still images (e.g., photographs, paintings), and moving images (e.g., film scenes, fragments of news footage), taken either from the 1970s or from earlier periods.

In the process of remediation, as Bolter and Grusin argued, the attempt is to “achieve immediacy by ignoring or denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation” (1999, p. 11). However, Debord’s political use of remediation does the opposite: in fact, the ‘first law’ on the use of détournement reads, “[i]t is the most distant detourned element which contributes most sharply to the overall impression [of the détournement]” (SIO, no date, a).

As we can see, the remediated elements in La Société du Spectacle often belong to very different worlds, and their juxtaposition creates friction and conflict. The process of remediation is therefore highly foregrounded, to estrange the film from any artistic aims and create a strong political message.

[the screenshots are taken from La Société du Spectacle]

References

La Société du Spectacle (1973). Directed by Guy Debord. Available from https://youtu.be/IaHMgToJIjA [Accessed 18 February 2017].

Bolter, J. and Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Debord, G. (1967). Society of the Spectacle. Available from Marxists Internet Archive https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm [Accessed 18 February 2017].

Situationist International Online (no date, a). A User’s Guide to Détournement. Available from http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/presitu/usersguide.html [Accessed 18 February 2017].

Situationist International Online (no date, b). Definitions. Available from http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline///si/definitions.html [Accessed 18 February 2017].

[note: originally posted on 18 February 2017. Edited on 2 March and split into two posts. The second post is here]

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2 thoughts on “La Société du Spectacle: remediation as a political act in Guy Debord’s essay film

  1. This is a really interesting take on media archaeology and remediation, via the example of Guy Debord’s film work. While not unique in making a political use of archival material, this was done in specific ways by this avant-garde group that are very interesting for exploring these themes.

    Michael Goddard

    Like

  2. Pingback: Guy Debord as a media archaeologist: excavating the past in La Société du Spectacle | Moving Images, Mulitple screens

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