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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on April 4m, 2016

Society of the Spectacle

Different types of spectacles within cultures tend to reinforce the basic values of that culture.

[Roman Gladiators]

[Chariot Race]Ancient Roman spectacles included (Cartwright, 2013)


·       Chariot Races (“ludi circenses”)

·       Gladiator Contests (“munera”)

·       Wild Animal Hunts (“venatio”)

·       Triumphs (“triumphi”), Processions (“pompae”), and Re-enacted Naval Battles (“naumachia”)

·       Theatrical Performances (“ludi scaenici”)

·       Public Executions (“summum supplicium”) including crucifixions, burnings, and being thrown to animals.


These forms of entertainment helped to provide an “audience with an escape from the boredom of their daily routines” (Coleman, 1990, p. 59)

Frequency: Under Augustus (emperor 27 BCE-14 CE), public entertainments were presented on 77 days of the year; by the reign of Marcus Aurelius (emperor 161-180 CE), the number of days had expanded to 135 {W}

Roman values in the spectacles

Spectacles in Christian Europe

Notre Dame    Lucerne

Religious pageants & processions: Feast of Corpus Christi ("Body of Christ") in June, Carnival/Mardi Gras in late winter, Easter, local feasts of the saints

Church architecture

Christian values in the spectacles
  • God's Glory & Majesty
  • Divine work via Jesus Christ within human lives: salvation, redemption
  • Hierarchy in society

Spectacles in the Contemporary World
Guy Debord argues that today we live in a 'media and consumer society, organized around the production and consumption of images, commodities, and staged events" (Kellner, 2003). Such a society is
  • strongly connected to the notion of separation and passivity, and
  • uses "the cultural mechanisms of leisure and consumption, services and entertainment, ruled by the dictates of advertising and a commercialized media culture" (Kellner, 2003)

Values of contemporary society

  • Competition
  • Winning
  • Success
  • Wealth & Money
  • Leisure

Spectacles todayMajor Examples of Spectacle in today's world (Kellner, 2003)

  • Sports (Olympics, World Series, Super Bowl, March Madness-NCAA Basketball)
  • Sports Stadiums: filled with electronic reproduction of the action & advertisements
  • Film (Glamour, fashion, excess)
  • Comic Books & Films (Heroes, fantasy figures of power)
  • Television (sports, election coverage, "reality" TV, competitive shows, sex-dating shows)
  • Pop music (glamour, beauty, sexuality)
  • Musical Concerts as extravaganzas
  • Video & computer games
  • Eroticized & Merchandised Sexuality (soft & hardcore porn in multiple media)
  • Politics (campaigns, governing as continued campaigns...)
  • Terrorism (9/11, "shock & awe" bombing, ISIS, Boko Haram...)