Society of the Spectacle: Thesis 60

Where I write for the sake of writing. No promise of quality. Here is an attempt at interpreting thesis 60 of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle.

The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embedding the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society -- unfettered, free to express themselves globally. They embody the inaccessible results of a social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. In one case state power personalizes itself as a pseudo-star; in another a star of consumption gets elected as a pseudo-power over the lived. But just as the activities of the star are not really global, they are not really varied.

Let's start at the beginning.

The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embedding the image of a possible role.

The celebrity is a famous person such as an actor, musician, athlete, or politician. This person is a "spectacular representation of a living human being" because what you see of a celebrity is not real. It is a life constructed (intentionally, or unintentionally) by the forces of the spectacle. This could be marketing pressures, or public relations, biographical narratives created by journalists.

The celebrity "embodies this banality" -- that is the banality mentioned in thesis 59. I take this to mean the dull life one lives when working under the spectacle. Working in a factory, or at a desk job, and consuming just as everyone else does.

"By embedding the image of a possible role" the celebrity offers an alternative lifestyle to the rest of society -- something all the more desired in a banal society.

Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived.

A star does not actually live the life we see, because it is a show. It is easiest to see this in terms of actors, who explicitly act out other lives. But celebrities act out other lives off the screen as well. You can find stories of celebrities starting businesses, or investing in nonprofits, or buying a family farmhouse as a romantic idea.

TODO: Find sources for the above.

I think the next bit tries to say that people living a banal life recognize that and so focus on the star as a way to imagine what their life could be like.

Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society -- unfettered, free to express themselves globally.

Here we say celebrities are there for us to watch. We can see them act beyond the limited actions of most people in society.

They embody the inaccessible results of a social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process.

I do not know what is meant by social labor here. Perhaps it means all the social actions people take are to meant to be taken as labor, upholding society as it currently is. The result is a society that is more beneficial to the type of person portrayed by celebrities.

The next phrase has some more information. The by-products of social labor seem to be power and vacations. This is an odd pair. Power is straightaway the ability to act in society in the banal day. Vacations offer an (illusory) exit from the banality of the spectacle. We later see that we can interpret power to be decision, and vacations to be consumption. These are for some reason the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. I certainly understand consumption being an end. I don't know how decision comes into play.

In one case state power personalizes itself as a pseudo-star; in another a star of consumption gets elected as a pseudo-power over the lived.

I do not understand this. State power personalizing itself might exist as a politician flaunting a new plan or maneuvering. A 'star of consumption' might be someone like Donald Trump before his election. I doubt 'elect' has the same meaning here.

But just as the activities of the star are not really global, they are not really varied.

The activities of a star are not really global because they are an image of other lives. They are not 'authentic' lifestyles. They are not really varied because all the options are constrained to those that give them stardom -- those that promote power and vacation, or the appearance thereof.

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