The Spectacle

Aaron Labbé
February 26, 2018
4 min read
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Guy Debord, a French theorist, philosopher and filmmaker, described in his famous work, The Society of the Spectacle,that our society has fallen completely under the spell of “the spectacle”. Among other things, he describes this as a phenomenon where the “unrealism of the real society” becomes more desirable than the real aspects of the world (Debord, 1970). He points out the strong prevalence this has in the world of advertising, where products are associated with glorified aspects of our life, and strategic techniques are used to make our choices almost pre-determined. In his 1967 novel, Debord demonstrates this by showing several photographs of corporations that employed these concepts even within the architecture of their facilities, with massive fountains on their front lawns, large signs stating “Better Living” on the sides of their buildings and even giant cash registers on rooftops. This grandiose approach has certainly not lessened over the years since then.

A perfect example is Google’s ad campaign for their “Google Home Mini” product, which they proclaim is the “Size of a donut” and has the “Power of a superhero”. To promote the product, Google built a series of large donut shops that toured around major cities in the United States, and came to Toronto. The Toronto installation was set-up in Yonge-Dundas Square, where thousands waited in line to get free donuts and a chance to take a look at Google’s new product.

In the world of media and storytelling, this spectacle phenomenon is certainly quite prevalent as well. Especially in an exhibition context, audiences have come to expect a certain level of grandiosity. Whether it be showing a VR project or a mobile storytelling interface, users are demanding something else in order to draw them in.

This added level of audience engagement certainly comes with perks, as well. At LUCID, we have built this into our business model. Although the core of our work lies within explorations of brainwave-driven, personalized psychoacoustics, public installations remain a huge part of what we do. When I was building the LUCID prototype for my New Media thesis project at Ryerson University, I had a moment where I contemplated simply creating an app that would essentially render the same therapeutic results as the full installation. I quickly realized the downfalls: there would be nothing initially drawing my audience in, I would be throwing the experience into the highly competitive world of apps and all elements of the spectacle would be removed. Instead, I decided to build the system and then spend eight months building a large, glowing geodesic dome that users could enter at exhibition environments.

This added an interactive visual spectacular to the personalized auditory component of the LUCID experience, providing both a fully-immersive environment and something that externally drew audiences in. This has proven to be an extremely useful asset to us as a studio, which is why we will continue to build installations like this. The fact of the matter is, a lot of creators have developed apps and often their struggle lies with the pursuit of users. We are just now working on building our mobile experience, after spending months touring this installation and establishing a large network of users. Our installation served to both demonstrate that our experience works and provided valuable in-person interactions with several future users of our mobile system.

Our public practice has also stemmed some other exciting opportunities as well. Recently, we received press coverage from the CBC, who found us by looking over a bill for an art festival we were commissioned to work with, and were drawn in by the photographs of the installation. After clicking on our dome, the producer read the description of the project and immediately emailed us to request an interview. That initial spark would likely not have occurred without the full installation for two reasons: we likely would not have even presented at a festival of that nature, and it would not have looked nearly as impressive as a standalone mobile unit. Another example of an opportunity the installation brought us was representing Ryerson University at the TEDxYouth @ Toronto conference. At this event we even received feedback from the organizers:

“Thank you so much for your support at TEDxYouth@Toronto. The feedback we received from the delegates was overwhelmingly positive. One of the highlights from the day was seeing students literally racing each other up the stairs to try Lucid immediately after the Emcee announced it on stage! One student commented on how ‘zen’ they felt the rest of the day.”

I can’t help but think that the elements of the spectacle employed within our exhibit had a major influence on the buzz that was created at this event. Although the most essential element of the piece is the brainwave-audio interaction, users were all initially intrigued by the idea of getting inside the dome.

Overall, despite Debord’s overwhelmingly negative outlook on the phenomenon of “the spectacle”, as creators we should find it within ourselves to embrace it. If we use it to enhance our stories, we will quickly find that we can yield some incredible interactions with our audiences.

Read More :

Debord, G. (1970). The Society of the Spectacle [Zone Books Edition, 1994]. Black & Red. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from