Spectacle : Reading

Bahktin and Carnival

“The grotesque bodily principle of the carnival is both positive and negative, it is the womb and the grave, shit and birth, piss and wine, the corpse and the seed, the old and the young.”– This refers to the fact that the ‘spectacle’ is neither negative nor positive , its an attraction , a kind of bait and is therefore seductive as viewers get pleasure from it. By using all these contrasts such as “the womb and the grave” and “the corpse and the seed” , Bahktin may be implying that the spectacle , although giving excitement and thrill to those looking upon it, is being used as a mechanism of control and a way to keep people quiet. The carnival gives the illusion of participation as people’s identities merge and they are entertained by the show but they are merely suppressing to the mechanism that has been put in place by those in power , so that they may relieve their stress and reduce the occurrence of riots or negative behaviour.

“Everyday Medieval life for the common people was short and brutal but during the carnival misery became laughter, hunger became feast, the fool became wise, the beggar became a king, the world was turned upside down and inside out” This quote reminds me of the creation of cinema , film is a spectacle especially when it first appeared in cinemas for the public to go and see. Every day mundane life was suddenly interrupted by this never before seen experience that was shared between the spectators . They were all marvelling in the experience together therefore making it into a spectacle. When getting lost in the spectacle of the film “the beggar become[s] a king” as the viewer is transported to the character and thing they are seeing . I believe that the spectacle of watching a film can have such a huge impact on a person and may even change their lives , something I have personally experience.

“Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because it’s very idea braces all the people” – Everyone shares in the marvel of the carnival , it is not the carnival itself that is the spectacle but the shared experience of the spectators viewing the Carnival . Therefore bringing this idea into the world of film implies that the film itself , although a type of spectacle, is not the spectacle in this context, but rather the shared experience of the audience when sitting in the cinema and watching the film as one body. Although people experience the film on their own through their own eyes and minds, they are actually taking part in the spectacle whether they are aware of it or not. 

Andrew Robinson:

“For Bakhtin, carnival and carnivalesque create an alternative social space, characterised by freedom, equality and abundance “ 

“Carnival contains a utopian promise for human emancipation through the free expression of thought and creativity “

– Robinson uses the word ‘free’ in both these quotes implying that the ‘Carnival’ or ‘Spectacle’ gives the people a freedom to be who they wish and have no limitations. However, it can be argued that the spectacle has been created by those in power to create limitations on the common man . This is evident in society today as news stories or events are made to seem more impressive and to have a greater significance than they actually do. This is because the media needs to sell itself ,so it creates theses spectacles in order to achieve high audience ratings and also sensor what these people see. The news is notorious for this , with the power bestowed upon the producer or editor of the program as they can decide what the rest of the world can see, therefore questioning the authenticity of such spectacles. This makes me question whether there is ever any free expression or freedom of thought in the spectacle, as what we the audience see and feel has been specifically constructed (a discourse has been created) . Stuart Hall supports the idea that “who says what, to whom, when, how , why and to what effect” is not neutral or random, adding to the falseness of the spectacle .

“One can also point to the carnivalesque aspects in practices such as graffiti, which may bring ‘down to earth’ such contemporary sacred as police cars, banks, or corporate logos” – This contradicts the idea that spectacle can be used to make people or objects seem to have a much greater power or significance as Robinson is stating that graffiti is used to disempower these people and objects. Graffiti seems to be a way of rejecting the discourse created by society as it is used to deface mechanisms such as police cars, institutions , etc that would otherwise make us into subjects. Foucault states that “Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines it and exposes it” , suggesting that the ‘rules’ that have been put in place by society or an unidentifiable entity , can be threatened by their own existence.



Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle

“All that once was directly lived has become mere representation”– This suggests that we no longer live an ‘authentic’ life , but rather one governed by images and representations . This is mostly due to the developments in technology and as Susan Sontag puts it “Today everything exists to end in a photograph”which highlights the dominance of the new digital world. Authenticity and reality are constantly questioned due to our online presence and fascination with television , film and video games. However, I believe that Debord isn’t simply talking about technology but life’s spectacles and how we live through the image of the spectacle rather than our actual reality. The spectacle creates mediated images and ways of seeing life and as Debord mentions “the spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” . As I previously mentioned it is the shared experience between people that is the spectacle, not the images and sights being seen but the social connection made by the images and sights.

By using the example of going to the cinema, I can understand the principles of spectacle a little better as “the spectacle thus unites what is separate, but it unites it only in it separateness” as people watch a film on their own , in their own minds , through their own eyes and believe that they are experiencing it alone. However, they may not be aware that a relationship has been created between them and the people around them, this is called the spectacle, it unities the viewers as although they are physically separate , they are all sharing the same experience of watching the same film, in the same environment. However , Debord goes on to say that “the spectacle’s function in society is a concrete manufacture of alienation” as although the spectacle creates this social relationship and connection , we experience it in isolation. In theory, the world should be a more connected place with social media and the internet allowing us to communicate daily, however we do these things in isolation , on our own laptops or phones , but we do share in the spectacle of the connection . This reinforces Debord’s first point that what was once directly lived is now mere representation as although the spectacle connects us it does so via our separateness.

“The spectacle is another facet of money, which is the abstract general equivalent of all commodities”

– I found this to be an interesting point as it relates to Foucault’s ideas of the subject and power. Mechanisms (such as the spectacle) are used to make us the audience into subjects of a certain kind and those in power take advantage of the spectacle and the discourse set about for the subject and make money from it. Through discourse the audience naturally agree that the spectacle is worth something to them so they are willing to pay to experience it. This represents the use of internalised rules , where we are not told what to do but instead already agree , which questions the morals and mechanisms of control and whether we are targets or “active subjects ” (Mills 2003) as Foucault believed.

“The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere”

– The spectacle is a hard thing to grasp as it’s difficult to define due to the fact that it’s “everywhere” . All of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles reinforcing Foucault’s point that everything is now a representation . We presume that the word “spectacle” refers to big and impressive things such as shows , concerts, films, world events ,etc as they are indeed spectacles in terms of the word’s dictionary definition. However, the spectacle we are trying to define is that intangible thing that is created because of the show or event we are seeing. If everything is a spectacle  then is there any such thing as ‘real life’ ? life that has been untouched by mediated images and predetermined feelings and thoughts ?

Other useful quotes : 

“The spectacle erases the dividing line between self and world, in that the self, under siege by the presence /absence of the world, is eventually overwhelmed; it’s likewise erases the dividing line between true and false, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organisation of appearances”

“The spectacle appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification”

“The spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production”

“It is the very heart of society’s real unreality”

“The perceptible world is replaced by a set of images that are superior to that world yet at the same time impose themselves as eminently perceptible”

“The glitter of the spectacle’s distractions”

“Media Stars are spectacular representations of living human beings, distilling the essence of the spectacle’s banality into images of possible roles”

“The individual who in the service of the spectacle is placed in stardom spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual, and is clearly the enemy of the individual in himself as of the individual and others”

“A false consciousness of time”


Roland Barthes: Mythologies 

“The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences; what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees” – Here Barthes is speaking about wrestling as a spectacle, and why the authenticity of the sport is not questioned due to it being such a thing . Although the audience are not ignorant to the falseness of the event , they continues to watch it and take part in the spectacle of it because it is entertaining and is seen to be authentic in the contact that it’s in. The discourse of the situation makes the audience into subjects that agree with what they are seeing and therefore don’t argue with it’s morality or genuineness, as they believe what they are seeing to be true in the context that it’s in. The institution of wrestling is profitable because those in power take advantage of the fact that it “is a spectacle of excess” and such a spectacle is seductive and therefore pleasurable to the audience, which makes them come back for more.

“Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle” – This could be said for other activities that are classed as “sports” .Sporting events themselves create a spectacle, as those spectating share in the experience through cheering and booing , which results in them engaging in certain emotions . These events give the illusion of participation and even though something we know to be false (wrestling) is still being engaged with because it is the spectacle that is attractive, not the event itself. As Barthes mentions “the spectator is not interested in the rise and fall of fortunes; he expects the transient image of certain passions”, so it is not the wrestling that excites them, it is the excitement itself that makes them watch it. The temporary nature of these emotions is what draws us to events like wrestling and it is the same for films, we are able to lose ourselves not only in the thing we are watching but in the crowd we are surrounded by. We are taken out of ourselves and this experience is then lodged in our memory because it is different from everyday life , so these images and memories of the spectacle are implanted in us, so therefore have an affect on our lives.




Bahktin and Carnival (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2015).

Barthes, R (1973) Mythologies. London: Paladin

Bell, Michael and Gardiner, Michael (1998) Bakhtin and the Human Sciences .London : Sage Publications

Debord, G (1994) The Society of the Spectacle . New York: Zone Books

Hawkins, M (2015) Power, Spectacle and Memory [lecture] module 305MC, 30 September 2015. Coventry:Coventry University

Hawkins, M (2015) Spectacle [lecture] module 305MC, 7 October 2015. Coventry: Coventry Univeristy

Mills, S (2003) Michel Foucault. London:Routledge

Robinson, Ceasefire Magazine (2015) In Theory Backhtin: Carnival against Capital , Carnival against Power [online] available from < ceasefire magazine.co.uk/in-theory-bakhtin-2> [ 2 Oct 2015]

Stasi , M (2015) The subject and Power [lecture] module 305MC, 14 October 2015. Coventry: Coventry University

Sontag, S. (1977) On Photography . London : Penguin Group


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s