The French philosopher, Guy Debord wrote a famous book, The Society of the Spectacle, in which he described the way spectacles have taken over reality. ‘The SPECTACLE’, he wrote, ‘ is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.’ He also wrote that the SPECTACLE replaces the faculty of encounter with a social hallucination.
Since 1967, when the book was first published, the level of SPECTACLE has spectacularly increased. There’s a world cup or yacht race or world title fight or grand prix every week. Fans travel the world to attend. Countries and cities compete for the hosting rights. Digital platforms fiercely compete for transmission rights. Capital becomes image. National pride becomes a social hallucination, for players and competitors are mercenaries.
The current Rugby World Cup is a perfect example of the SPECTACLE.
Yet suddenly, NATURE intrudes. A typhoon bears down on the host nation. Citizens are evacuated, rivers flood, seas pound coastlines, winds howl, infrastructure is destroyed and worst of all, the SPECTACLE is interrupted at a crucial moment.
Immediately a new theme emerges, aligned with the climate crisis, a theme which is loosely called climate justice. The wealthy northern countries start moaning. Why was the tournament held in a country prone to natural disaster, that is, a country situated in the central portion of the globe most vulnerable to the climate crisis? Two northern countries, Italy and Scotland, who might now miss out, play victim. How good they are at sulking. Fans’ travel schedules are turned topsy turvy. But already there had been complaints of the injustice experienced by second tier nations from the Pacific or marginal European countries at their unfair treatment by world rugby. The world cup becomes themed with injustice.
But above all, there is fear and outrage that NATURE is bigger than the SPECTACLE, and that it refuses to be, in itself, a SPECTACLE. NATURE will destroy capital, NATURE breaks through the social hallucination to produce the implacable encounter with the wind, the rain, the earth, the river and the sea.
We’d better get used to this sort of thing, because it isn’t going to stop.