Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle is one of the most influential pieces of 20th century cultural criticism. Born of the European Marxist/avant-garde revolutionary group Situationist International and conceptualized against the western social upheaval of the 1960s, Society of the Spectacle is a commentary on separation, unity, and the conditions created by advanced capitalism.
Debord argues that the capitalist system shrouds its many abuses (alienation of the worker from production/themselves, rigid class structures, the experience of isolation) by way of the "spectacle," a projection of social reality the omnipresence of which cannot be escaped by the individual.
The spectacle is produced by the mass media's presentation of externalized images as though they are reality. Such images are so ubiquitous that individuals come to associate themselves with the abstracted images instead of living experiences directly. "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images." Also important are the notions of commodity fetishism and alienation.
In this discussion I'd like us to stay away from arguing whether Debord's assumptions are right or wrong - he is an avant-garde Marxist and no amount of debate on our part will change his mind. Instead, I'd like us to focus on exploring the the social mechanisms he presents, their specific validity (or lack thereof), how we encounter them in our lives, and what kind of broader lived experience they amount to.
Reading: We will be reading Chapters 1 & 9 from Society of the Spectacle. The excerpted chapters are ten pages long and are available for download in the Files section. For the entire (short) book, check out nothingness.org (it sounds shady, but it's not). Please read beforehand and bring a copy to the discussion for your reference.