The situationist philosopher Guy Debord claimed our entire culture had become a form of performance or ‘representation’.
Sixty years after his analysis, mass culture is mediated by images and commodities. We are now immersed in serial spectacles.
The distinction between the symbolic realm and the realm of reality has been erased. They appear the same when networked by the mass media.
TV merges a proliferation of different images into a single plane of digital spectacle, creating a consciousness which operates solely according to the programming and structuring of televised media.
The spectacular shifts from its theatrical origins. It now carries with it issues of class ideology and modern subjectivity.
With the shift into modernity, the traditional notion of spectacle as a visual and affective medium becomes a more complex phenomenon.
The spectator not only watches but also participates. He becomes the modern or post-modern subject who adds to the performance by expressing emotion.
Inside the spectacle, avidly watching reality as spectacle. The simulacrum is the truth which conceals there is none.
Members of the Frankfurt School coined the term mass culture to indicate that a bogus culture was constantly being manufactured by a newly emerged culture industry (publishing, films, music, electronic media).
Artistic excellence was displaced by sales figures as a measure of worth. A novel was judged on how many copies it sold, music succumbed to top-twenty charts and films were admired for their box-office returns.
The artistic merit defining the vanguardist was abandoned and sales increasingly became the measure and justification of everything. Consumer culture now ruled.
The term ‘avant-garde’ has been appropriated and misapplied by various sectors of the culture industry since the 1960s.
It’s been used as a marketing tool to publicise popular music and commercial cinema. It’s now common to describe successful rock musicians and celebrated film-makers as avant-garde, stripping the word of its proper meaning.
All cultural products, including people, have become commodities with little or no meaning. The culture industry is so vacuous it leads to the belief that the individual’s an illusion, manipulated by figures of authority in the dominant class.