I've always been obsessed with ambiences and aesthetics as well as dérive, détournement and other ways of changing the tone of my everyday life. Guy Debord and the Situationists are my heroes. They were the first to sense that something had gone terribly wrong at the heart of our culture – that a stultifying boredom and sameness was creeping into our lives. They plotted a revolution to overthrow "the society of the spectacle." Their approach was very effective: don't argue with people, make them live!
And in 1968, people suddenly did. In Paris, they took to the streets, erected barricades, fought with police, occupied offices, factories, hospitals, railway depots and universities. They sang songs, issued manifestos, and sprayed slogans like ‘Live Without Dead Time' and ‘Down With The Spectacular-Commodity Culture,' all over their city.
"Art students demanded the realization of art; music students called for ‘wild and ephemeral music;' footballers kicked out managers with the slogan ‘football to the football players;' gravediggers occupied cemeteries; doctors, nurses and the interns at a psychiatric hospital organized in solidarity with the inmates," wrote Sadie Plant in The Most Radical Gesture. "People who had worked in offices and factories all their lives suddenly broke from their daily routines and… lived."
"People who had worked in offices and factories all their lives suddenly broke from their daily routines and… lived."
At the height of the uprising, people marched in Bonn, Rome, London, Tokyo, New York and dozens of other cities around the world; students in universities revolted. For a few heady weeks, a tantalizing question hung in the air: Could this be the beginning of the first global revolution?
But the spell broke. The moment passed. This revolt against consumer capitalism was not to be. And since then, for the past 40 years, we've descended deeper and deeper into the spectacle. It's omnipresent now. We're in it and it's in us. We're living in what Debord, in the last years of his life, described as the "integrated spectacle," characterized by "incessant technological renewal; integration of state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; an eternal present."
If we could see beyond the incessant commercial chatter of our everyday lives, we would realize that our Western way of life has reached a dead end… that the twin towers of our civilization – scientific rationality and individual freedom – crashed to the ground a long time ago.
And we would realize that the only thing that can save us now are infusions of new blood from other civilizations: heavy hits of spontaneity from Brazil, inspirational flows of group consciousness from Japan, fusions of filial piety from China and India and constant whiffs of religious devotion from the Islamic world.
In this issue of Adbusters, we sift through the detritus of Western civilization to see what we can salvage. If you find something, let me know.