With and against Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle: a case study of Live Earth, its politics, its contradictions, and its political potential




North, Jasmine

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This thesis explores the environmental movement’s controversial use of spectacular media to incite socio-ecological change. An analysis of Al Gore’s 2007 Live Earth event forms the basis for an exploration, critique, and reformulation of spectacular theory within the context of the climate crisis. An exploration of Guy Debord’s influential theory of spectacular society, as articulated in his 1967 text The Society of the Spectacle, engages Live Earth’s spectacular environmentalism with the following theoretical problem: does the spectacle simply reiterate a discourse and mode of interaction that re-inscribes the destructive network of capital and consumption by existing as a consumable object, or are the effects of the spectacle less predetermined? In the first part of this thesis, Debord’s understanding of spectacular organization provides a forceful critique of an event such as Live Earth; however, three limitations to an Debordian understanding of the contemporary spectacular commodity are identified: the suggestion that the spectacle, in the last instance, produces and reproduces a universal homogeneity that erases and negates its underlying difference; the elision of the particularly ecological question of the technology of the spectacle; and the failure to adequately theorize human agency. Given these limitations, a turn to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s 1987 publication, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as well as Anna Tsing’s 2005 text, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection, is initiated in the second part of this thesis in order to construct a more fluid understanding of the way in which spectacular forms might disassemble and reassemble in both form and content. While still acknowledging the destructive influences of corporatized spectacular logic within the contemporary context of late capitalism and post-modernity, this alternative understanding of spectacle favors a more indeterminant understanding of society and spectacle. A spectacular event, such as Live Earth, is reformulated as an assemblage that contains both territories of capture and lines of flight that escape dominant codings. Contrary to Debord’s claims, a spectacular environmental event is consequently identifiable as a site of domination and oppression, as well as a site of resistance and escape.



spectacle, environmental movements, media, revolution