Society of the Spectator

You’ve likely heard or read about Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. She is the woman who calmly conversed with the two men who had just murdered a British soldier on the streets of London  for the nearly 20 minutes it took police to arrive on the scene. If you’ve not, you can read about the whole incident in this profile of Loyau-Kennet that appeared in The Guardian (link via ayjay).

I was particularly struck by the closing paragraphs:

Loyau-Kennett is deeply concerned, she says, about the direction modern society is headed. “I prefer the values of the past than the non-values of today, where most people don’t seem to give a damn about others.” The events of last Wednesday have magnified her feelings. She has particular disdain for some of the people who stood by recording on their phones, refusing to offer help.

“It annoyed me to see those people with mobile phones filming,” she says. “They were doing it for money, with the idea of selling the footage. I was annoyed at what must be in their heads that they just wanted to watch and record the unhappiness of others. And then there was the stupidity of the mothers who had stopped there with their kids. The man could have reached them in five seconds if he’d run at them. It would never cross my mind to show a heavily bleeding body to my kids.”

If people were scared, she ponders, why didn’t they just run away? That’s an understandable reaction, she says. “It’s a horrible mentality that some people have these days. I think we have this culture now – maybe started by things like soap operas – where we have this unhealthy curiosity about other people’s lives. You shouldn’t just be there watching like it’s on TV. By only watching they are actually interfering. Do something useful. Don’t just stand there. Move away.”

Thoughts? What do we make of her analysis? Is this a symptom of what Debord famously called the “society of the spectacle”? Or better, is this a symptom of the evolution of the society of the spectacle into the society of the documenting spectator?

5 thoughts on “Society of the Spectator

  1. I don’t think Loyau-Kennett’s intervention would have had the international impact that it did had it not been filmed, as it occurred, by a ‘passive spectator’. As a matter of course, professional photographers, war photo-journalists in particular, record trauma without intervening. It’s not pretty, but then, what they are recording is not pretty, and it gets the message across. We can now take pictures of, and publicise, things as they happen without the mediation of the mainstream tv and newspapers. This won’t last much longer, I am sure, and in a way I’m sorry. Does anyone remember Vietnam? Photo-journalism from there fuelled an anti-war movement. Since then war reporting has been strictly censored. I’m sure there are a lot of voyeurs out there but Loyau-Kennett’s way is not the only valuable response.

  2. Loyau-Kennett has spoken some of the words that are too often squeezed out of my heart.

    I firmly believe the increasingly pervasive nature of media – becoming competitive with itself, our attention spans, and our dwindling diet of not-for-profit stimuli – has blurred the distinction between experiences and ‘content.’ The people filming were obviously treating their experience as a source of ‘content’ they could mete out to the world. In this way, the tasks of questioning, reacting and internalizing are often left to be done by an online audience that receives only the diluted ‘play’ of a photo or video on-screen. Silvermud has an excellent point (the necessary counterpoint to my cynicism, I think), but I fear the sheer volume of content (journalistic or not) one is exposed to these days threatens more often to desensitize than to enlighten.

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