Television, since being introduced into the modern household, has rapidly increased the mediation and disconnection experienced by a world that becomes more dependent on moving images. No longer are experiences being gained by physical interaction or travel. Now, all that is needed to go to Hawaii is one flip to the Travel Channel, and the majority of social interaction revolves around what spectacle might have been seen the day before on the channel 7 news. Additionally television has changed the very way viewers perceive what they are seeing. In Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, Debord discusses how the media has made life just one continuous stream of spectacles. It is this continuous stream that has created a disconnection in society. When watching something such as news on television, people becomes a spectators, no longer a part of this world. Viewers then comment, react, and think about the news they are hearing as if they do not live on Earth and none of those events can happen to them, or what they are seeing cannot be real. In his book White Noise, Don Delillo shows the disconnection spectacles create in several scenes. One scene in particular sees the family’s mother, Babette, on the news in a spectacle of her own. The family sees this and feels she is a stranger, observing her as if they never new Babatte. With this scene, Delillo is bringing Debord’s teachings to light. Television creates such a disconnection with spectacles that viewers become temporarily detached from reality, awestruck, unable to even recognize family members when they show up on the program that is currently being viewed.
Guy Debord discusses, in detail, his views on mediation and spectacles in his writing The Society of the Spectacle. The book is set up into chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of mediation and how society has changed. In the first chapter of the book, Debord defines the spectacle as a, “social relation between people that is mediated by images.” This quote explains that social interaction between people in society is now mediated television. Society, in general, is finding an increasingly hard time interacting without mediated images, or television, being involved. Debord states that, “The spectacle was born from the world’s loss of unity, and the immense expansion of the modern spectacle reveals the enormity of this loss.” Moreover, because television has become an integral part of the world today, people have become desensitized, or disconnected from the world at points because of TV. When watching a spectacle occur on the news, viewers become disconnected from the world. This disconnection is created by the mediation TV brings. When watching, viewers are transported into a different mindset. One that tells them they are no longer on Earth, but are merely spectators watching from a distance. This disconnection does two things: 1. Make the spectator believe whatever it is they are seeing, so matter the truth; 2. Make everything on television seem strange to the viewer if they have not seen the spectacle on TV before, regardless of their familiarity with the subject outside of television. Don Delillo shows these two qualities of disconnection and spectacles several times in his work.
In White Noise, Don Delillo uses one key scene to examine the disconnection spectacles on television has create among viewers. White Noise, written in 1985, follows the story of Jack and his family during a brief period of their life. The novel is filled with references and inferences of post modernism, attacks on capitalism, and examples of disconnection and mediation, and several spectacles. The strongest of these examples takes place when the family gathers around the television to watch the news. On the program they see their mother, Babette, being filmed while teaching her posture class. At this point, the family feels strange. They think the person they are seeing on TV is their mother, but since she is on television, she is almost a stranger, a character. Jack, the father and main protagonist of the novel, expresses his confusion when he states;”Was this her spirit, her secret self, some two-dimensional facsimile released by the power of technology, set free to glide through wavebands, through energy levels, pausing to say goodbye to us from the fluorescent screen?”(Delillo 102) Babette is just part of a spectacle, like any one else would be if they were seen on television. Because she is part of a spectacle, she seems like a stranger to her own family; someone they have no connection to other then knowing she was on a television program they watched. Jack further explains, “A strangeness gripped me, a sense of psychic disorientation.”(Delillo 103) Other scenes, such as times in which mud slides and toxic clouds are being shown on television, garner the same confusing, awestruck responses from whoever is observing the spectacle on their image box. All of these scenes stand prime examples of how spectacles create disconnection; furthermore, Delillo uses them to show the amount of mediation prevalent in today’s world.
When Guy Debord released The Society of the Spectacle in 1967, he had no idea the a radiant novel would bring his teachings to eighteen years later. With White Noise, Don Delillo does just that. With television being perhaps the most prevalent of themes in the novel, Delillo perfectly explicates in his writings how televisions constant barrage of spectacles creates a massive disconnection in the world. Soon enough, viewers will become numb to what they are seeing, and think of spectacles, no matter how true they are, as mere shows, no more real than their favorite sitcom. With mediation growing in the world so rapidly, that day may be sooner than initially conceived.
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Berkely, California: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2002.
Delillo, Don. White Noise. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1999.