In The Society of the Spectacle (Now in 3D) by Pascual Sisto, one views a version of Guy Debord’s 1974 film La Société du Spectacle in which the film’s original black and white images appropriated by Debord from pre-existing mass media are, then, themselves re-appropriated by Sisto.

He adds a layer of images tinted blue and a layer of images tinted red – each positioned slightly off of the original image – so that they resemble a 3D image requiring cheap 3D glasses.

(In fact, it doesn’t work as actual 3D imagery.)

This is ironic because it was Debord himself who was one of the great theorists of image appropriation and re-contextualization – he called his own strategy détournement.

Détournement is “to divert,” “to distract,” or “to re-direct” – the artist appropriates a media image and re-contextualizes it in order to negate its value as a fetishized commodity.

Debord saw the world increasingly mediating all of its social interaction through media imagery, e.g. quality time between lovers is spent flipping through magazines, watching television or going to the movies; and, as a reaction to this, he sought to create a form of auto-destructive artwork in which media images are appropriated and re-contextualized in order to unveil their operations as the increasingly universal mediator of human interaction.

The Society of the Spectacle (Now in 3D) is a textbook example of détournement:

An artist appropriates a piece of media and re-contextualizes it in order to negate it and refute its claim.

Sisto’s version both breaks apart the original imagery as well as points out its own spectacular tendencies by making his version 3D, the contemporary sign of spectacle in the wake of Avatar and other recent 3D blockbusters.

But, there’s a paradox here as the original film is executing the exact same operation.

Can one detourn a détournement?

Before getting tangled up here, though, it should be said that Debord himself provides an answer in his text “A User’s Guide to Détournement.”

He writes:

The literary and artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes. It is, of course, necessary to go beyond any idea of mere scandal. Since opposition to the bourgeois notion of art and artistic genius has become pretty much old hat, [Marcel Duchamp’s] drawing of a mustache on the Mona Lisa is no more interesting than the original version of that painting. We must now push this process to the point of negating the negation […] It is in fact necessary to eliminate all remnants of the notion of personal property in this area. The appearance of new necessities outmodes previous “inspired” works. They become obstacles, dangerous habits. The point is not whether we like them or not. We have to go beyond them.


What Debord is saying here is that the history of the avant-garde is not so precious for it to be above contemporary critique.

Duchamp was once radical, but is now safely absorbed into the fables of academic art history – the point is not to fight against this unfortunate reality, but to carry on the fight into the future, responding to one’s own time.

Looking back at Debord’s career and his careful framing of his own work reveals him to be a great showman – his polemical texts and romantic tilting at the windmills of post World War II media culture is today as easily sentimentalized as Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. was in Debord’s day.

That doesn’t mean, though, that his ideas are suddenly irrelevant.

On the contrary, while Sisto negates Debord’s claims, he carries them forward.

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