The Society of the Spectacle
by Guy Debord
Originally published in 1967
Chapter 1 "Separation Perfected"
Undoubtedly our present age prefers the
image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the
reality, the appearance to the essence. Only the illusion is sacred, truth
is profane. Sacredness grows in proportion as truth decreases, until the
ultimate illusion becomes the highest degree of sacredness.
Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity
In modern industrial societies life is an immense
accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived is gone,
replaced by representations of things
The images detached from every aspect of life fuse
in a common course where the unity of this life cannot be restored any
more. Reality unfolds as a pseudo-world, an object of mere contemplation.
The accomplishment of the specialization of the images of the world is
the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has even lied to himself.
The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous
movement of the non-living.
The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all
of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification.
As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all
gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is
it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness,
and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of
The spectacle is not a collection of images, but
a social relation among people, mediated by images.
The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of
the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination
of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual,
materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified.
The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the
result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a
supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart
of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information
or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the
spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent
affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary
consumption. The spectacle's form and content are identically the total
justification of the existing system's conditions and goals. The spectacle
is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies
the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.
Separation is itself part of the unity of the world,
of the global social praxis split up into reality and image. The social
practice which the autonomous spectacle confronts is also the real totality
which contains the spectacle. But the split within this totality mutilates
it to the point of making the spectacle appear as its goal. The language
of the spectacle consists of signs of the ruling production, which
at the same time are the ultimate goal of this production.
One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual
social activity: such a division is itself divided. The spectacle which
inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived reality is materially invaded
by the contemplation of the spectacle while simultaneously absorbing the
spectacular order, giving it positive cohesiveness. Objective reality is
present on both sides. Every notion fixed this way has no other basis than
its passage into the opposite: reality rises up within the spectacle, and
the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and the
support of the existing society.
In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the
true is a moment of the false.
The concept of spectacle unifies and explains a great
diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances
of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself
be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation
of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as
mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle
exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life
which has become visible.
To describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions
and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must artificially distinguish
certain inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle one speaks,
to some extent, the language of the spectacular itself in the sense that
one moves through the methodological terrain of the very society which
expresses itself in the spectacle. But the spectacle is nothing other than
the sense of the total practice of a social-economic formation,
its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we are caught.
The spectacle presents itself as something enormously
positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than "that
which appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it
demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained
by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.
The basically tautological character of the spectacle
flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends.
It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It
covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own
The society which rests on modern industry is not
accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist.
In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is
nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than
As the indispensable decoration of the objects produced
today, as the general exposé of the rationality of the system, as
the advanced economic sector which directly shapes a growing multitude
of image-objects, the spectacle is the main production of present-day
The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to
the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. It is no more
than the economy developing for itself. It is the true reflection of the
production of things, and the false objectification of the producers.
The first phase of the domination of the economy
over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the
obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase
of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy
leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing,
from which all actual "having" must draw its immediate prestige and its
ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social
reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed
to appear only to the extent that it is not.
Where the real world changes into simple images,
the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic
behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world
by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped
directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which
the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most mystifiable
sense corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present-day society.
But the spectacle is not identifiable with mere gazing, even combined with
hearing. It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes
reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue.
Wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle reconstitutes
The spectacle inherits all the weaknesses
of the Western philosophical project which undertook to comprehend activity
in terms of the categories of seeing; furthermore, it is based on
the incessant spread of the precise technical rationality which grew out
of this thought. The spectacle does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes
reality. The concrete life of everyone has been degraded into a speculative
Philosophy, the power of separate thought and the
thought of separate power, could never by itself supersede theology. The
spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion. Spectacular
technology has not dispelled the religious clouds where men had placed
their own powers detached from themselves; it has only tied them to an
earthly base. The most earthly life thus becomes opaque and unbreathable.
It no longer projects into the sky but shelters within itself its absolute
denial, its fallacious paradise. The spectacle is the technical realization
of the exile of human powers into a beyond; it is separation perfected
within the interior of man.
To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed,
the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned
modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire
to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
The fact that the practical power of modern society
detached itself and built an independent empire in the spectacle can be
explained only by the fact that this practical power continued to lack
cohesion and remained in contradiction with itself.
The oldest social specialization, the specialization
of power, is at the root of the spectacle. The spectacle is thus a specialized
activity which speaks for all the others. It is the diplomatic representation
of hierarchic society to itself, where all other expression is banned.
Here the most modern is also the most archaic.
The spectacle is the existing order's uninterrupted
discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait
of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions
of existence. The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular
relations conceals the fact that they are relations among men and classes:
a second nature with its fatal laws seems to dominate our environment.
But the spectacle is not the necessary product of technical development
seen as a natural development. The society of the spectacle is on
the contrary the form which chooses its own technical content. If the spectacle,
taken in the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring superficial
manifestation, seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment
is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self-movement.
If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed
can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of
this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except
through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication,
it is because this "communication" is essentially unilateral. The
concentration of "communication" is thus an accumulation, in the hands
of the existing system s administration, of the means which allow it to
carry on this particular administration. The generalized cleavage of the
spectacle is inseparable from the modern State, namely from the
general form of cleavage within society, the product of the division of
social labor and the organ of class domination.
Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle.
The institutionalization of the social division of labor, the formation
of classes, had given rise to a first sacred contemplation, the mythical
order with which every power shrouds itself from the beginning. The sacred
has justified the cosmic and ontological order which corresponded to the
interests of the masters; it has explained and embellished that which society
not do. Thus all separate power has been spectacular, but the adherence
of all to an immobile image only signified the common acceptance of an
imaginary prolongation of the poverty of real social activity, still largely
felt as a unitary condition. The modern spectacle, on the contrary, expresses
what society can do, but in this expression the permitted is absolutely
opposed to the possible. The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness
within the practical change of the conditions of existence. It is its own
product, and it has made its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity. It
shows what it is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth
of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of
labor into a parcellization of gestures which are then dominated by the
independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market.
All community and all critical sense are dissolved during this movement
in which the forces that could grow by separating are not yet
With the generalized separation of the worker and
his products, every unitary view of accomplished activity and all direct
personal communication among producers are lost. Accompanying the progress
of accumulation of separate products and the concentration of the productive
process, unity and communication become the exclusive attribute of the
system's management. The success of the economic system of separation is
the proletarianization of the world.
Due to the success of separate production as production
of the separate, the fundamental experience which in primitive societies
is attached to a central task is in the process of being displaced, at
the crest of the system's development. by non-work, by inactivity. But
this inactivity is in no way liberated from productive activity: it depends
on productive activity and is an uneasy and admiring submission to the
necessities and results of production; it is itself a product of its rationality.
There can be no freedom outside of activity, and in the context of the
spectacle all activity is negated. just as real activity has been captured
in its entirety for the global construction of this result. Thus the present
"liberation from labor," the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation
within labor, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labor. None
of the activity lost in labor can be regained in the submission to its
The economic system founded on isolation is a circular
production of isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and
the technical process isolates in turn. From the automobile to television,
all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons
for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of "lonely
crowds." The spectacle constantly rediscovers its own assumptions more
The spectacle originates in the loss of the unity
of the world, and the gigantic expansion of the modern spectacle expresses
the totality of this loss: the abstraction of all specific labor and the
general abstraction of the entirety of production are perfectly rendered
in the spectacle, whose mode of being concrete is precisely abstraction.
In the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the
world and is superior to it. The spectacle is nothing more than the common
language of this separation. What binds the spectators together is no more
than an irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their
isolation. The spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate.
The alienation of the spectator to the profit of
the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity)
is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he
lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of
need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The
externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the
fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents
them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the
spectacle is everywhere.
The worker does not produce himself; he produces
an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance,
returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the
time and space of his world become foreign to him with the accumulation
of his alienated products. The spectacle is the map of this new world,
a map which exactly covers its territory. The very powers which escaped
us show themselves to us in all their force.
The spectacle within society corresponds to a concrete
manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion is mainly the expansion of
this specific industrial production. What grows with the economy in motion
for itself can only be the very alienation which was at its origin.
Separated from his product, man himself produces
all the details of his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds
himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his
product, the more lie is separated from his life.
The spectacle is capital to such a degree
of accumulation that it becomes an image.