The Society of the Spectacle with Relation to Public Spaces | 20-22: Society of the Spectacle

I sent out this teaser of 20-22: Society of the Spectacle via Google Groups but was informed that the group was not yet fully activated so here it is on the blog:

I came across this new work as I was watching The Society of the Spectacle (1973) as a means to supplement our reading (and perhaps aid in decoding the complexity of the text!) You can read more about the film, which is expected to be released in late 2012, here:

The beginning chapters of Society of the Spectacle inspired an introspection and brief analysis of my weekend. I reflected upon my activities on Sunday and found that I am in a sense, a puppet in a representation of my life. To put this into perspective let me give you a quick description of my Sunday. I apologize in advance for boring you with my day, but believe it conceptualizes some of Debord’s ideas.

On Sunday morning I continuously consumed as I started off the day by meeting a friend for brunch, then took a walk which ended up in various purchases, whether it be items considered necessities, such as a bottle of water, to various unnecessary merchandise and services. Although I probably had the chance to obtain water via other means (a fountain), the notion of waiting till I come across a fountain did not cross my mind. My desire for instant gratification led me to a kiosk. My personal “commodities fetish” extended to also include vanities such as, a cup of coffee, to a pair of gloves, to a bottle of wine I purchased mainly due to the fact that it was on sale. I found that my social life was but a fragmented representation of reality which was ruled solely by my relationship with, or addiction to, commodities.

I realize how I’ve succumbed to what I had believed to be the owner of, when in reality it is what owns me. My socialization exists vicariously through possessions, as relationships with people have acceded to economic ties, in one sense or another. As I was buying my bottle of water, I interacted with the vendor in a minimal way. From a quick nod to the customary thank you, our encounter was a mere financial transaction. Our (non existent) relationship was reduced to a monetary exchange, where as we (I am loosely assuming he too had no interest in an interaction with me beyond my purchase as he refrained from verbal communication himself) failed to acknowledge each others being thus exemplifying in genuine qualities. Our existence was reduced to a spectacle represented and mediated by fragmented images. As I entered the bodega, my being continued to be not about living, but about having, and furthermore, appearing.

My day was mostly spent confined to a place of consumption, from a cafe, to an optical shop. I began to wonder why I did not spend more time interacting in public places like parks, and as appose to meeting friends for brunch at a restaurant, congregating on a bench in a street. This aroused a curiosity into the amount of public space available to the masses on a wide, but lose scale. I considered if there was relationship between financial means and the availability of the aforementioned, and/or perhaps a cultural linkage. I came to somewhat of a conclusion that it may be a combination of both. I would be interested to know your thoughts on this.

At first, I arrived at the premature assumption that there was a strong correlation between the commodification of private spaces and monetary means of the population. I thought; if one cannot afford a Starbucks coffee, then the chances of meeting a friend at a Starbucks are smaller, and thus the need for public space increases. This is of course not to say that they reverse is true. I know that in Egypt, my country of origin, there tends to be many more public benches and general spaces (squares, bridges etc.) where people congregate than in New York City for example. I asked my Kuwaiti roommate about the availability of public spaces in her hometown, and her response was that there was very little to no public spaces. She told me that people met primarily at malls, cafes, restaurants etc. Kuwait being a significantly wealthier nation that Egypt explains why one could assume that such is the case.

Then upon reexamining the issue, I realized that this hypothesis does not hold up when applied to various European nations such as France, and Spain, where public benches exist in relatively large numbers. Albeit being wealthier nations than places like Egypt, a large number of open and accessible places exist. This lead me to think that there must be a sort of cultural correlation to the amount of public space available. Another example of such that comes to mind is an experience I had in Hong Kong a few months ago whilst visiting a friend. While touring the city I noticed that there were almost no benches in the streets. After a long humid day on foot, I asked my friend how come there was no place to sit and convene in the street. Her response was particularly eye opening, and to an extent came as somewhat of a shock to me. She said, “Why sit? Why would anyone waste time in the street? It’s better to be inside getting a coffee or “window shopping” in a mall.” From what I had come to realize, social life in Hong Kong was an extreme case of a society taking on the role of a spectator that exists by appearance over living.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on whether you believe there is a linkage between the amount of public space available, monetary means, and cultural traditions, as we continue to appear as spectators colonized by commodities. Furthermore, has the commodification of our public sphere affected the ability and rights of protestors? How different would the Egyptian uprise have been if Tahrir square had not been a public space where citizens were free (to an extent) to assemble? In the case of Occupy Wall Street, much has been said about the movements dependence (or independence) from Zucotti Park. We witnessed the First Amendment right to peaceful assembly suddenly become threatened by the cities’ so-called obligation to “protect” its parks. Perhaps these contested spaces have become symbolic nerves of antiestablishmentarianism, and thus does their disappearance contribute to silencing the voices of the people?

Categories: Reflective Posts


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