Media and the Spectacular Society by Gillian McIver

Media for a Spectacular Society

Situationism: Create and Arm Your Desires

Lefebvre's critique of alienated man was taken up by the Situationists of the 1950s and 60's. The Situationists were concerned with recapturing the arena of everyday life and most importantly recapturing the spirit of desire unfettered by the artificial desires created by commodity culture. [10] They called the commodity culture, which forced the worker into passive consumption of leisure, and deprived him of any real opportunity to participate in the construction of his own reality, the "society of the spectacle" and called for the creations of "situations" outside the spectacle to challenge its domination. Guy Debord was one of the main theorists of the "society of the spectacle" in his 1967 work of the same name, which followed many essays and pamphlets developing these ideas. He begins by asserting that "In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation." [11] The spectacle, he goes on to say, "presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as the instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and consciousness" but "the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalised separation." [12] To challenge the spectacle, Debord and the Situationists believed, nothing less than popular action to reclaim creative control of everyday life as well as political control of the means of production, would be needed. To the Situationists, the real horror in the society of the spectacle was its boringness. The dialectic of alienated Labour in the workplace and alienated leisure, made a dreary, mundane substitute for reality, lacking passion, desire and joie de vivre. As Ivan Chtcheglov wrote, "it has become essential to bring about a complete spiritual transformation by bringing to light forgotten desires and by creating entirely new ones. And by carrying out an intensive propaganda in favour of these desires. [13] And Vaneigem promised that "we have a world of pleasures to win, and nothing to lose but boredom." [14]

From the New Left to DIY culture and Beyond

Vaneigem said, of romantic individualist liberalism and revolutionary communism, that "too many corpses strew the paths of individualism and collectivism. Two apparently contrary rationalities cloak an identical gangsterism, and identical oppression of the individual man." (p. 23) The course of political movements in the latter part of the twentieth century has shown the truth of Vaneigem's assertion. Following the events of 1968 it started to become clear that the intellectual critiques of modern culture that took into account how mentalities and perspectives are created and perpetuated, were legitimate analyses on which to base radical action. Radicalism in the contemporary period shares several things in common: criticism and suspicion of democratic political systems as they exist today; suspicion of the media and "big business" interests and perhaps most significantly, the idea that "everyday life" can be reclaimed by looking at the smaller issues which then build into a comprehensive challenge to the status quo. Contemporary "alternative culture" is deeply suspicious of the work/leisure dialectic. For the dialectic no longer works in reality: in this "post-industrial" society of structural unemployment, underemployment and deskilling, "work" is no longer the assured centrepoint of most people's lives. However, our "leisure" activities predominate in our consciousness, and most of them appear to be based around the media. Contemporary alternative culture is largely concerned with creating viable alternatives to the mainstream culture of media and commodity exchange, and framing their protest in terms of these alternatives.

Media for a Spectacular Society

Lefebvre had noted the importance of the passive media as early as 1947:

Television - the sudden violent intrusion of the whole world into family and "private" life, "presentified" in a way which directly captures the immediate moment, which offers truth and participation, or at least appears to do so. (p. 41)

Arguably, all forms of media are entertainment, even if not overtly "entertaining." But crucially, they also offer information, and we base most of our knowledge about the world and ourselves on the information supplied to us by the media. What is "the media" and how does it work? There are essentially three types of media available in Western society: public service media, which is usually broadcast media (but also includes newsletters etc.) which are produced by State-owned, tax-funded bodies which may or may not be responsible to the governing Party; Private enterprise media, which today are deregulated conglomerate media, often encompassing the whole range of media, from broadcast to print to music to digital media in one multinational corporation; and alternative or Do-It-Yourself (DIY) media, in which individuals or small independent groups take responsibility for creating and disseminating their work with no recourse to either of the other two media, examples include fanzines and small magazines, underground film and music, video journals, pirate radio, the Internet.

In this paper I am going to concentrate on the efforts of alternative media to challenge the society of the spectacle by creating and representing themselves as an alternative culture based on desires, and disseminating their ideas through the use of carnival and pleasure, while at the same time overtly challenging the dominance of ideas about culture, economics and society portrayed in the mass media. In part 4 I will look briefly at the history of popular radicalism and the media; in parts 5 and 6 I will look at television and the uses of video; part 7 will describe the relationship of activism and the media; part 8 will present a case study of Small World Media, an alternative media company struggling to survive by creating Undercurrents "alternative television"; and part 9 will consider alternative futures promised by the fusion of television and computer. Concluding , in part 10, will be a discussion as to whether alternative culture and alternative media is fated to recuperation.

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