The political spectacle of the fashion industry

By Pavel Veraza Tonda

At a culminating moment in social criticism and the experimentation of everyday life, surrounded by the student protests of May 1968 in France, Guy Debord published “The Society of the Spectacle,” an emblematic book of ideas from the group of intellectuals and artists known as the “Situationist International.” Alongside Raoul Vaneigem’s “Treatise on Living for the New Generations”, Debord’s book expressed the foundations from which the Situationists critically understood the way of life in contemporary capitalist societies, reviewing the formulation of comprehensive alternatives.

Debord’s concept of the spectacle can be interpreted alongside the concept of fashion, understanding the latter as the dominant dynamic of the economy in which products are shaped based on three elements: seduction, planned obsolescence, and not just differentiation, as Lipovetsky would say in “The Empire of the Ephemeral”, but the heteronomous determination of individuality. This is because current industry products turn the consumer into their own object of consumption through the systematic manipulation of needs.

As Debord asserts, the visible image mediates all social relationships and individuals with themselves in contemporary society. Thus, if early bourgeois society had oriented itself towards having instead of being as its guiding principle, contemporary consumer society orients itself towards appearing instead of having. Consequently, appearance, the visible, becomes autonomous and governs the entire social metabolism. Fashion/spectacle not only defines the style and aspirations of society as a self-project but has also emptied any other aspiration, except fashion itself, of meaning. Fashion establishes itself as the only social project one can aspire to in capitalist society. Following fashion, social life has no alternative but to become appearance, an unreal image of itself. The production of spectacles or fashions is therefore strategic for industry to control consumers and convert politics into an autonomized, non-living movement of images.

The current digitization of communication has reinforced this process to the extent that fashion operates as the production of images capable of absorbing all political aspirations. When politics orients itself towards becoming a viral image, when it primarily seeks to become a trend in the digital world, it does nothing but attempt to exhaust itself in its own appearance—meaning the death of politics in favor of the life of the image.