The Tripartite Self
Contemporary western society is dominated by spectacle. This has been the case for a long time and, judging by its present dominance, appears set to remain so for the forseeable future. Guy Debord brought this concept to the forefront of radical social analysis in the 1960s, but much has changed (and worsened) since then, and I doubt even he could have foreseen the developments that have followed.
Particularly since the 1990s and the development of the internet and mass instant communication protocols, the spectacle has developed into an even more absurd and oppressive state of dominance; and while there had existed for centuries iconic figures that were well-known, and whom stood out from the masses, the increases in the power of communications technology that occurred during the 20th century have accelerated – and at the same time broadened – what has become known as ‘celebrity culture’. But since we cannot explain culture purely as a result of technology, this begs the question: what ethological processes are at work behind this trend?
In recent times, ‘celebrity culture’ – the adoration, ‘celebration’ and even worship of those individuals considered (by programmers) worthy of mass broadcast – has moved into a new realm of absurdity. There now appears to be a plethora of ‘celebrities’ who are celebrated for no other reason other than they ‘are’ celebrities. Having been thrust into the spectacle without reason – whether by opportunism (e.g. a prostitute ‘caught’ servicing another celebrity decides to take advantage of the publicity and sell herself as a product) or by the more usual means of vacuous ‘talent shows’ – they simply remain there.
This is spectacle in its purest form – new developments in the ‘narrative’ of the spectacle are derived (or recycled) from previous elements of the spectacle itself. Indeed it is no longer so much the abilities of the celebrated persons that are lauded as it is their ‘platonic selves’: the images of them that are pumped through the veins of the media and dripped into the mouths of those in a mindless state of open-mouthed awe.
Furthermore, it is not so much what the individual in question does (in terms of career, vocation or activity) but rather the mundane ‘private’ – or ‘real’ – life of the person which garners interest from the public and cements the dominance of spectacle. This move towards the popularity of ‘reality’ derives from a desire not for spectacle but to experience The Real: authentic life outside of the process of spectacle. This trend in the motivations of the public is actually encouraging because it demonstrates the beginnings of discontent with pure spectacle. However, as an immune response within the paradigm of the spectacle, what is presented to satiate the desire for The Real is spectacular ‘reality’ – a commoditisation and further expansion of the spectacle, as I shall explain. Continue reading