Guy Debord as a media archaeologist: excavating the past in La Société du Spectacle

Written by: Alessio Casella

In my previous post on Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle, I argued that the use of détournement could be regarded as a form of remediation. Debord’s 1973 essay film – and the use it makes of remediated images – can also be observed as an example of media archaeology.

Although Debord’s intents seem to be strictly political, we may indeed identify an archaeological approach in his discourse. By editing together La Société du Spectacle’s dissonant images, the theorist-turned-filmmaker is excavating and critically examining images from the past, in order to reflect on the contemporary social and political situation. We can find the remark of a similar concept in Parikka’s claim that “all archaeological excavations into the past are meant to elaborate our current situation” (2012, p. 6), moving from Foucault’s idea that “archaeology is always, implicitly or explicitly, about the present” (cited in Parikka, 2012, p. 10).

societe3

The ‘Odessa steps scene’ in Battleship Potemkin and footage of the riots in Paris (1968).

Throughout the film, hundreds of images are taken from a diverse range of sources and made to be clashed against each other: film sequences (from Sergei Eisenstein and less-known Soviet filmmakers, to Orson Welles and John Ford), fashion shootings, lifestyle TV ads, news footage, propaganda films, industrial films, as well as paintings and still images of celebrities. No chronological order is respected, and the editing style reminds the Eisensteinian montage, based on analogies, rather than on narrative causality. Parikka notes that in media archaeology “notions of old and new at times become indistinct” (2012, p. 3), and in Debord’s film the feeling sometimes is in fact that of not knowing where these images place themselves temporally.

Debord’s point is made explicit both in his arguments and in the way this heterogeneous range of images is edited and presented to us: the Spectacle, no matter whose medium’s shape it takes or the period in which the images were produced, manipulates the habits and opinions of the masses, and therefore is to be accounted for a political agenda.

[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].

Parikka, J. (2012). Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and the New. In: Parikka, J. (ed.) What is media archaeology?. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1-18.

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One thought on “Guy Debord as a media archaeologist: excavating the past in La Société du Spectacle

  1. Pingback: La Société du Spectacle: remediation as a political act in Guy Debord’s essay film | Moving Images, Mulitple screens

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