The Ultimate Spectacle

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“Who wants a world in which the guarantee that we shall not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom?”  Raoul Vaneigem,The Revolution of Everyday Life 1967

“In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.” Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 1967

In 1967 the French film-maker, writer and head theorist of the Situationist International (Moving ImagesThe Hacienda Must Be Built), Guy Debord published an influential book of Marxist critical theory, The Society of the Spectacle, consisting of 221 thesis. Within its elegantly written and rigorously argued pages Debord advanced the theory of the Spectacle. The Spectacle has degraded authentic life and replaced it with mere representation, a decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing. The Spectacle has supplanted relationships between people with relationships between commodities and we passively identify with the Spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images,”  Debord notes,  “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”  The Spectacle obliterates the past and annihilates the future so that we live in an never-ending present. In this affect-less neuter-time there has been a systematic degradation of knowledge and we are incapable of critical thought, unaware that we are living in a moment in history.

In 1992 Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, announced that Western neo-liberalism was the final point in human evolution; it wasn’t going to get better than this and that we were living in a post-historical period: the Spectacle had won.

But of course the statement by the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem quoted above holds true, and after a period when the Spectacle lacked a certain zest and an inability to hold our complete and undivided attention, the world has really turned upside down again. The true is a moment of the false. And we watch and wait with bated breath, in a rapt trance, with a horrified fascination as to what comes next. Maybe this time it will be the Ultimate Spectacle?

The Hacienda Must Be Built

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In A Cavalier History of Surrealism, one of the leading member of the Situationist International (see Moving Images), the Belgian Raoul Vaneigem states that for all the revolutionary intentions expressed by the Surrealists in their manifestos and publications, they were still haunted by the old dream of Château living. The above statement written by Ivan Chichegiev in one of the earliest SI texts Formulary For A New Urbanism also explicitly references the SI’s forebearers, ‘We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That’s lost.’

The SI suggested that it was futile to be looking nostalgically back at a lost Golden Age that never existed, instead we must build the Hacienda for ourselves. Tony Wilson, a Manchester TV presenter, music critic and record label boss (the independent  Factory Records, home of Joy Division and New Order), did exactly that when he opened the legendary nightclub The Hacienda in the mid 1980’s which was the centre of Manchester night-life for over a decade. Wilson was long familiar with the Situationists International as he had previously promoted punk bands on his TV show and had even ran his business ventures  (unsuccessfully, from a purely financial standpoint) along lines suggested by the Situationists.

Ironically, yet somehow grimly predictable, the defunct Hacienda was recently converted into a luxury apartment block. Regardless of this recuperation, we must demand the impossible and make the dream of the Hacienda a reality.