Op-Ed: The Society of the Fashion Spectacle

“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, …illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”

These words were written by the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, in the preface to his book The Essence of Christianity, reborn as an epigraph to Guy Debord’s famous critique The Society of the Spectacle, first published in 1967. In it Debord, one of the most famous French postmodernist philosophers, posited that we live in a world where the only thing that matters to us are appearances, which leads to an alienated existence, mediated and untethered from a lived reality. We conduct our lives for the sake of appearances. The result is a postmodern (Debord would say post-capitalist) personality in which acting takes precedence over living, appearing over being. To anyone who’s partaken in the contemporary culture driven by the social media, this is felt intuitively and does not require much persuasion. But it’s worth delving into the mechanics of this cultural system and fashion’s role in it in particular.