Eleanor Jolliffe

The Spectacle is a superficial worldview which values appearance and image over reality, truth and experience. It manifests itself most apparently through mass media by portraying simplistic, homogeneous imagery with the intent of selling us products solely to enhance our image. It embodies a societal shift from having to appearing, where means equate to ends. In presenting one-dimensional imagery the spectacle lacks the nuance and subtleties of reality. The concept was founded in the 14th century where it’s meaning was based around the idea of a public show. However in 1957 Guy Debord and the Situationists revived the word in the modern context of post war Capitalism. They believed the pursuit of profit under capitalism was inherently monotonous and unfulfilling and that to find fulfillment sophisticated advertising deluded people into purchasing consumer goods. Debord made it clear that the spectacle extended beyond just imagery and media and went as far as to say that it is a world vision which has been objectified.

An example with very tangible implications is the effect that the spectacle has on politics. In politics there has been a shift in priority from the policies of campaigners to the image politicians present of themselves. This became most apparent during the Hilary Clinton campaign where the focal point was often based on her appearance and gender as opposed to her policies.

A contemporary artist who embodies the concept of the Spectacle is Vanessa Beecroft, whose work has been criticized for being a vapid fusion between fashion and art. The majority of Beecroft’s art consists of models who largely conform to the stereotypical eurocentric standards of beauty.

Vanessa Beecroft, 2016

Vanessa Beecroft, VB35, 1998
Photographer Paul Collier says her work explores ‘how women look when they are being looked at and her body-conscious projects encourage alienation between model, artist and audience.’ Arguably her work is a presentation of an idealised image which lacks any genuine truth or reality. Her collaborations with Valentino in particular tie into the concept of the spectacle due to the uniform swathe of models dressed in indistinguishable outfits. The intent behind her work often stems from the desire to sell a product as opposed to representing any authenticity or experience. However, perhaps Beecroft does this intentionally aiming to provoke us to think about the effects that the spectacle has on our own lives. Her work prompts us to reflect on our personal standardization of values as well as the dangers of the spectacle itself by valuing image above all else.