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October 7, 2011 / caswelld

Spectacle and Modernism

Modernism is not modern in the strictest sense; though it itself is obviously modern, the circumstances of modernism only became so through spectacle.  Clark writes, “I wish to show that the circumstances of modernism were not modern, and only became so by being given the forms called ‘spectacle’”.  Mass media for example, which according to Guy Debord is among the most glaring forms of spectacle, originated from the modern world.  As people learned how to read and became educated, they wished to know what was happening in their world.  As mass media was born, it ceased providing news as much as entertainment.  As more and more people begin using mass media, a form of spectacle, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”.  As even news became spectacle, society was no longer reading news to stay up to date but rather reading news because everyone else was, “the spectacle is not a collection of images but rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images”.  The society reads the news so the person reads the news and thus mass media becomes a spectacle and a form of modernism.

Modern art is not spectacle because, unlike previous art that strived for realism and could easily be glanced at and understood.  Modern art and forces people to observe, experience, and understand the art. For example, Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines and George Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à I’Ille de la Grande Jatte.  Spectacle, according to Debord, uses culture to bury all historical memory.  Monet’s painting shows rows of apartments built by Baron Haussmann.  Haussmann leveled entire districts of Paris’ medieval era winding streets to build the style of apartments show in the painting with accompanying boulevards, which made troop movement easier and resistance (blockades) more difficult, though it was done under the guise of making the capital more sanitary, beautiful and modern. Debord also states that modernism’s goal is to restructure society without community.  Seurat’s painting shows both the spectacle of modernism as well as the isolation.  In the painting no one is facing each other or even interacting in a meaningful way.  They seem to be going the Island of Grande Jatte for the sake of going and, more importantly for spectacle, being seen.  Both these paintings and many others are without a doubt modern, but point out spectacle rather then being part of it.



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