Civilization of the Spectacle – Mario Vargas Llosa

“What do I mean by civilization of the spectacle? That of a world in which entertainment occupies first place on the chart of current values, where having a good time, escaping boredom, is a universal passion. this life ideal is perfectly legitimate, of course. Only a puritan fanatic could reproach the members of a society who want to provide entertainment, recreation, humor and diversion to lives generally framed by depressing and at times numbing routines. But to convert that natural penchant for having a good time into a supreme value sometimes had unexpected consequences. These include the banalization of culture, the spread of superficiality, and, in the specific field of information, the proliferation of irresponsible journalism, which feeds off gossip and scandal.

What caused the West to slip into the civilization of the spectacle? The well-being that followed the years of privations of World War II and the shortages of the postwar years. A period of extraordinary economic development followed that difficult state, In all democratic, liberal societies of Europe and North America, the middle classes experienced effervescent growth and social mobility intensified. At the same time, a notable loosening of moral parameters occurred, beginning with sexual life, traditionally held in check by churches and the prudish secularism of political organizations, right and left alike. Well-being, freedom from customs and the growing space occupied by leisure in the developed world became an important stimulus for the unprecedented proliferation of the entertainment industries, promoted by advertising, mother and magic master of our time (…).

Another, equally important factor for forging the civilization of spectacle was the democratization of culture. Undoubtedly, this is a highly positive phenomenon prompted by an altruistic motive: that culture should not continue to be the patrimony of an elite class, that a liberal, democratic society has the moral obligation to put culture within everyone’s reach through education, but also through promotion and the subsidizing of the arts, letters and all other cultural expressions. This commendable philosophy has often produced the unwanted effect of trivializing and popularizing cultural life, where a certain formal triteness and superficiality of the contents of cultural products were justified by the civic goal of reaching more uses. Quantity at the expense of quality. This criterion, an inclination shared by the worst demagogues in the political realm, caused unforeseen reverberations in the cultural sphere, including the disappearance of high culture, which is necessarily of a minority because of the complexity and at times inscrutability of its keys and codes, and the massification of the concept of culture. Culture is now almost exclusively defined in its anthropological sense, in other words, culture reflects all manifestations of community life: its languages, beliefs, uses and customs, clothing, techniques, in short, all that is practiced, avoided, respected and abominated in the community.”

Mario Vargas Llosa, 2008

Mario Vargas Llosa is a Peruvian-Spanish writer, recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature.


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