Oct. 28, 2011
Greil Marcus: Legends of Freedom
Guy Debord: Society of the Spectacle
I try to facebook minimally, and I believe I can give myself credit for saying that I rarely do use facebook, and only really do because school somewhat requires me to, but I kept connecting everything in the presentation on Marcus and Debord to facebook. Maybe because facebook is used in every possible example in theory class so it’s just automatic now.
Let’s begin with Debord’s theory of Dérive. The idea is that every urban space has a psychogeography, and by engaging in derive, or drift, one can escape the mundanity of everyday routine by following the route of least resistance, which is drawn out by the city’s psychogeography. Through derive, people are able to live in their own utopia and escape the effects of spectacle.
Here is the first example where facebook offers itself as a contradictory space. I use facebook as an example, but this applies to internet surfing in general. People who “surf” the internet engage in a form of derive. It does not occur in physical space, but derive is a mental state, so theoretically it can occur online, as long as it is occurring in the mind. Although the internet is surely part of the “spectacle,” while “surfing,” people glaze over pages; scan past images and text without really seeing them. They escape the spectacle in this way. They also escape the spectacle of “real life.” We can agree that the internet is a method of escape for many. Furthermore, while scanning through pages, something catches our eye: a link. We click on it, without purpose, and sometimes not fully conscious of where we are going. We browse from page to page in a dream-like state, until we awake and wonder whose picture we are looking at, or how we ended up reading about “Günther von Etzel” (I don’t know who that is either). Is this spectacle or derive?
Furthermore, we engage more intimately with people online than we do in “real life.” We message people that we would otherwise never see or talk to. It is true that real relationships are much more overwhelming and a burden to maintain than the derive-like facebook relationship. If you disagree, consider this: someone might have 1000 “facebook friends.” Even if they talk to 1/10th or 1/20th of them, that is still 50-100 somewhat-active relationships. Imagine maintaining 100 active relationships in real life. There is a huge gap in effort. Do real relationships become part of the “spectacle” that we are trying to escape from?
If we follow the way of derive in relationships, and use detournement as a defense, it is likely that “the way of least resistance” would be to have as many meaningless relationships as one would like, and as few meaningful relationships as possible. This might be the closest to a struggle-free “utopia” as we can get.