The media has continued to play an ever-escalating role in the modern society. Consumers of media products have been influenced by the multimedia image culture with its seductive spectacles fascinating denizens of them. Guy Debord, a French media theorist realized this interplay between the media and the society and this prompted him to come with his concept of the society spectacle.
This concept advanced together with his colleagues at the Situationist International has had a great impact on various contemporary theories on the society and culture. The concept describes how the media and the society are organized around the process of producing and consuming images, staged events and commodities. Spectacles are therefore those phenomena within the media culture that encompass the basic values of the contemporary society. These spectacles aid in acculturating individuals into the society’s way of life by dramatizing its controversies and struggles.
If the above introduction about Debord’s concept of the spectacle is anything to go by, experiences and everyday life are fashioned and mediated by the spectacles present in the media culture as well as the consumer society. The spectacle therefore substitutes the images from the media culture with the real experiences in the consumer society. As such, the spectacular society needs means of spreading its wares to the consumer. This is accomplished mainly through the leisure mechanisms and the entertainment culture. In this regard, the spectacle acts as a tool of pacification and depoliticization to stupefy social subjects and hence distract them from the more urgent tasks of real life. It therefore acts as mode of separating the consumer society from the reality by interrupting the normal view of life.
This nature of the spectacle to separate consumers from the lifeless consumption of media culture is a key factor in the production of mediated images such as movies. Movies are known to rely so much on their spectacular nature to attain occupation of the consumer. They do not alienate humans from their social life to a world of creating but make simple images into real things. They make the viewer view the world through the lenses its characters and thus engage the latter in the whole action.
For instance, The Hole (2001) a film directed by Nick Hamm is a psychological thriller that will leave lasting images of school pupils and their love life which turned tragic. The film represents a spectacle that is so familiar with modern student life that its images may seem to be a reality yet are a product of the producer’s creativity. It endorses a culture liked by many pupils and students of love escapades that many a times turn tragic when jealousy and competition sets in as the case of Mike, Liz, Frankie and Martyn. The film ends up with three of them dead and Liz as the last girl standing. Debord’s spectacle is in this case relevant in the essence that the images of this film tend to separate the viewer from the world of consumer to the world of the spectacle and provides a different view to such conflicts in the society.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) is a film directed by Todd Haynes that tells the story of a pop vocalist, Karen Carpenter. It highlights key points in her life from 1966 to her death in1983. These events include among others her initial success in the music industry, development of anorexia nervosa and the search for its treatment. It also features an incident when the vocalist collapsed on stage. The main interest in this film is not in the simple story line of a celebrity life given its short screenplay (43 minutes).The film has a form uncommon in films.
In place of normal actors, Todd Haynes uses modified Barbie dolls. One wonders why one would really embark on a creative endeavor and end up using dolls. Well, there are a number of reasons why Todd to choose inanimate characters. The first may be attributed to its length. As afore-mentioned, this is indeed a short film of 43 minutes screenplay and therefore it would have become monotonous were it to be acted by real actors. Still on its short nature, it would have been uneconomical to engage a full crew consisting of characters that in turn would have done so little.
The other reason why the form of this film is related to its content is its portrayal of the Carpenter’s family. Haynes insinuated that Richard was gay from a fight Karen (in the film) had with Richard. This was very demeaning of the real Richard family. Todd also portrayed Richard as being harsh to Karen in his lack of sympathy to her healthy condition but instead pressurizing her to dedicate more time to her career. Because of all these captions, the real Richard Carpenter sued Haynes for character assassination for portraying him as gay in his film.
Apart from this, Todd had made other production blunders like using the Richard’s music in his production of the film without their prior permission. This further irritated Richard who filed a lawsuit against Haynes and won it. This led to the cancellation and destroying of all the copies of the film. Though some bootleg copies of this film may still be surviving, its circulation is illegal. This explains why the film was not a hit, as after all, dolls cannot complain of getting a raw deal in the production.
Though this film may appear to be a total failure especially in its production, it nevertheless employs Debord’s concept of spectacle. This is because it portrays the life of Karen Carpenter from an angle the viewer is not familiar with and hence separates them from the normal consumer society to that of the spectacle. It substitutes the real image of the Richard family with that of the film, a situation that leads to the conflict that ensues between reality and fiction and ends in the cancellation of the distribution of the film copies. Regardless of this, Todd Haynes had already made his point in his creative work.
Comparing this film with The Hole as discussed earlier, the same phenomenon of spectacle creation is witnessed. The former was a representation of love adventure turned sour while the latter is a reconstruction of a vocalist’s life turned a failure courtesy of production blunders. Nevertheless, the two films leave an impact on the viewer as they take him or her to a world of extreme realities in contrast to the normal notions the consumer society has on such issues.
Modern capitalism with its spectacle allots everyone a part in the consumer’s general passivity. The student, being no exception, has found himself or herself on the receiving end to this rule. The situation is even heightened because the student lives a double life that is sandwiched between the present and the future. Such a dual life may cushion seen to solve his situation but unfortunately, this does not happen. The student still faces a hard economic life. There are various reasons that contribute to this hard dual life as shall be discussed below. However, despite all the justification that may be given for the student’s economic problems, the blame still goes back to him for his passivity.
On the Poverty of Student life: considered in its economic, political, psychological, sexual and particularly intellectual aspects and a modesty remedy proposal for it, a pamphlet published in 1966 by students from Strasbourg University cites several reason as to why are poor. The pamphlet identifies the failure of researches meant to unravel the cause of student poverty as on of the reasons. It points out that such studies have only being interested in a specific part of student life as pert of academic work instead of viewing the student in context of the modern society. This has left the student cope with hard times complacently.
The authority and the student unions are also to blame. The once thought of prestige of being in the university is over because the modern economic system has no demand for learned students but only a mass production of an uneducated lot who have been mentally incapacitated by the same institution that was supposed to empower them. On the other hand, the students unions have had their initial calls for reforms surpassed by time. This leaves the student to fight the mental fight. In fact, the student does not live he simply survives. Given his complacent nature, he goes on with life as if nothing is happening around him.
What the student in the contemporary society needs to realize is that his situation may be a blessing in disguise. Given the freedom he enjoys as contrasted to the totalitarian spectacle characteristic of the other members of the society, he can use it to his advantage. His flexible working schedule permits him adventure and exploration of new ideas. However, as mentioned earlier, the student is his own devil. He uses this golden chance to perform experiments that are to his own detriment leading him to the cells or better, to the police force of psychiatrists in university clinics.