Debord, Rutherford and Giroux

 Phenomenology: Debord, Rutherford and Giroux


The essay begins with Gramsci’s impression of hegemony that he defined as rule of the dominant over the subjugated. Next it moves on to DeBord who looks upon a worldview that is a sort of consumerism that is maintained by Capitalism, the hegemony in his instance, to oust the Left from the world stage and sustain its unrestrained rule. Next, Rutherford is touched upon and it is found that he seconds DeBord’s view of a mass consumerism that is sustained by the media to propel a hegemonistic force to power on the world stage. Giroux is touched upon next and he seconds all these views and adds that the worldview presently is much influenced by terrorism and its counter-measures that have since sponsored wide alternating bands of violence and fear in the spectacle – as DeBord defines the world view or even experience – a barrage of images and impinges upon the individual itself and draws it away from itself in the present and, thus, in the future whose past it is.


Nothing, not even an essay into the general nature of meaning of things, should be viewed out of its context. Thus, at the very onset, this essay admits that its purpose in being is to examine the political nature of the present age through the light of communication media. Probably the most emblemic symbol of the present age of international development is the media – electronic and otherwise. This is because the media sells things – goods, services, ideas, opinions, etc – all that is necessary to sustain this present generation of enhanced civilization in the present day and well into the future. Whether it is a commercial enterprise selling biscuits for profit or a politician selling him- or herself for self-aggrandizement the media is there to help do the job. Thus, it is necessary to know how the media views the nature of things and influences it so that it can be better understood how the media’s pervasive influence on life in the 21st century moulds its modes of epistemology.  This shall be done so now with the views of three European thinkers – Debord, Rutherford and Giroux – on how the individual consciousness thrives or languishes amid the greater world at large.

The essay shall begin on the following very germane note – Hegemony, the rule of the dominant, in the individual consciousness is the subjectivity that the hegemony itself has instilled psychologically in it. This is so according to Louis Althusser (Lecture Notes 2) and quite in line with what Gramsci thought of it as the subjected class accepting the values and mores of the dominant class as ‘common sense’ and ‘natural’ to sustain hegemony – Gramsci’s definition of the rule of the dominant class over the subjected one (Lecture Notes 2). The hegemonistic rule is thus natural and second nature in the subject, who may have been subjected to its influence right from birth, though it may not stand in his or her stead.

   DeBord and the ‘Spectacle’

To understand DeBord better it is necessary to understand his conception of what he terms as the ‘spectacle’ better – “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images”. And, – “The spectacle cannot be understood as either a deliberate distortion of the visual world or as a product of the technology of the mass dissemination of images. It is much better viewed as a Weltanschauung that has been actualized, translated into the material realm – a world view translated into an objective force”. (Lecture Notes 2)

So what do these two statement signify? In terms of mass communications DeBord can be correlated with Gramsci in the following sense – The spectacle is the otherness that is imposed around the individual consciousness, the being-in-itself, that it must acknowledge all the time as, perforce, partly even its own objective reflection. Thus, all that the itself had experienced in life becomes a mere spectacle, an objective history of itself that itself cannot wholly dissociate itself from as that would be negation of its own historicity. This negativity can be traced in DeBord to the fact that he holds that Capitalism, Gramsci’s hegemony in this particular context, allows multiple attractive images to impinge upon the itself thus seducing it to consume that which is not exactly itself  both in the present and the future. This is the particular negation of the future and this is the way, according to DeBord, that Capitalism steals the show from Socialism, or the Left (Lecture Notes 2).

In this context, for students of media, it is to be said that Debord suggests that consumerism is an universal present-day phenomenon that seduces the itself to eschew what is its true nature to allow compulsion, almost a neuroses, to consume a products-based lifestyle that not only negates its present but also its future.

    Rutherford and Behavior

Rutherford is of similar view to DeBord. He says – “Marketing is a way to direct behavior” (Lecture Notes 6). In his logic the present situation in consumption is created through the media through means of communication and propaganda whereby consents are acquired from the consumer through means of constructing needs that make the consumed product desirable and essential. Thus, instead of coercion, which is frowned upon in a knowledgeable society, consent is acquired through insecure means. The means are insecure simply because sometimes there are not enough funds, knowledge and credibility to allow the marketing of the product or service to come to successful fruition. Example, the total lapse of security at 9/11 when all of the USA was shown to be extremely vulnerable even at home. The marketing of the American ideal of a totally secure state collapsed because reality revealed otherwise. Consequence – The average US citizen’s behavior could no more be canalized into buying the incumbent administration for providing security. The marketing technique had to be hyped and amplified. More and diverse communications and propaganda was then required to do the same job. Thus, Rutherford, in contrast to DeBord who holds that only the consumer is driven, believes that both the consumer and the marketer is driven and the producer is too in association with the marketer, who is its intermediary (Lecture Notes 6).

    Giroux and the Marketing of Security

While DeBord  defines the ‘spectacle’ and Rutherford explains the means of its sustenance Giroux adds a new feature to it – the world experience of terror and its antithesis in fast-being-established government action against it. This syndrome of violence and counter-violence, the second albeit government and thus society sponsored, has began to pervade the media communications and propaganda mechanisms and instilled an amount of expectancy of these actions in the incumbent individual itself of the post 9/11 21st century (Lecture Notes 11). Giroux notes that the individual of the 21st century does not have to leave the confines of home to mix in society as electronic means of communication and propaganda are constantly available there making it possible for him or her to avail of social interaction without physical involvement (Lecture Notes 11). In this spectacle of violence which governments use for propagandizing their efficiency in dealing with terror and entertainment agents use to distribute pleasure, aside from others who also utilize it for their own purposes, an element of fear is constantly evident. This then is also a part of the world experience in the present age – an association with constant fear. What Giroux and, to some extent Rutherford, wants to make clear is that this fear is being constantly used by those in charge of society to eschew accountability. Actions are constantly without prior consensus though such consensus is considered necessary for such action. This is all in the name of providing security. Thus, Giroux likens this ‘spectacle of terror’ to a regime similar to Nazism and a sort of neo-authoritarianism that is particularly suited to capitalism wherein media are constantly in search of higher ratings. He essentially accuses the media of being irresponsible in fuelling this particular spectacle whereas it should be minimized by allowing more ethical content to supplement mere propaganda and communication (Lecture Notes 11).


To a student in communications media it is best to realize that whatever is set forth before the public should be desirable in a wholesome sense and essential. For this, particular attention should be paid to the essence of the goods or services being communicated of in the sense that it conforms to what are essential to the individual and common good. Only, as these philosophers state, the individual and common good varies from time to time. Yet, there is some good that is axiomatic and this should get targeted.


Sartre, Jean-Paul, Being and Nothingness (Whole Book Concept), Translated and Introduced by Barnes, H. E., Washington Square Press Publication, 1966, ISBN: 0 671 49606 9.

Martin, William Alejandro, (University of Windsor), 2005.

Lecture Notes 2, 5,6,7,8 and 11.

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