Spectacle: This is a visially stricking performance or display. i.e ( display, show, performance,presentation,exhibition,pegeant,parade,extravaganza.) An event or scene regarded in terms of its visial impact. ( sight, vision, view,scene, prospect, vista, outlook, picture)

A spectacle is something you watch

• not something you take part in.
• While you are watching a spectacle you are not doing anything, you are merely passive.
• Spectacle serves to keep people quiet.


A spectacle is something big and impressive and overpowering
• Spectacle impresses us and transports us.

Spectacle can give the illusion of participation.

Sporting events make us feel as if we are taking part because we cheer and boo, we engage with our emotions. This can
be enhanced by betting on the result as in horse racing or by identifying strongly with one side as in football.


Sometimes the spectacle is something we know to be false – eg wrestling.
• We know the match is fixed but we still engage.
• Roland Barthes on wrestling.
• Pantomime. Heʼs behind you! Oh yes he is! Oh no
he isnʼt!

Why do we like spectacle?

We lose ourselves in crowds.
• We merge identity.
• We are taken out of ourselves,
• freed from the burden of existential anxiety.

Spectacle lodges in the memory

• It is different from everyday life
• Mnemonics – memory based on VIVID

Spectacle and Theatre.

Theatre engages the mind and then the emotion.
• Spectacle engages emotion and overrides the mind.
• Aristotleʼs Poetics
– Tragedy.
– Pity and fear.
– Catharsis.
– Purging/discharge of negative emotion.


Catharsis occurs when analysis reveals the repressed trauma.
• So tragic theatre works to release trapped negative emotion in a similar way to analysis.
• Oedipus begins as theatre and ends as therapy.
• Deleuze and Guattari. Anti Oedipus.
• Schizoanalysis. A schitzo out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic on a couch..

Death of Diana.

A neuroticʼs death transformed into spectacle.
At first the spontaneous action of the mob threatened to destabilise power but the intervention of Blair (Peopleʼs Princess) recuperated the mobʼs anger into spectacle.
Massive outpouring of vicarious emotion.

Ancient Rome.

Bread and circuses.
• Roman empire worked on warfare at the borders and a placid population at the centre.
• Subsidised food prices and lavish entertainment. Gladiator fights, wild animals, reenactments of battles.
• All worked to distract the mob from challenging the dictatorial nature of the imperium.

Spectacle has a political function.

Spectacle is usually – butnot always – made by the powerful for the consumption of the disempowered.
• Spectacle can be used by the disempowered to make points or claims about the powerful. The most obvious form of this
is the “terrorist atrocity”

Spectacle is allied to ritual and to

Spectacle can be used to make people or objects seem to have a much greater power and significance.
• For example, Royalty is largely sustained through spectacle. Bagehot on royal mystique.


Political and royal
Spectacle is a form of mythologizing (in the Barthian sense) It is used to make us think that people or institutions are special and different. This means it can be countered by demythologising.

Opposing power groups may have
a common interest in resisting

Thus both the Western leaders, Bush, Blair, etc and Al Quaida reinforce each otherʼs spectacle and mythology.
• Although they are enemies, they have a common interest in making the rest of us feel that they are special.

Mikhail Bakhtin and The

The Carnivals of Medieval Europe were occasions in which the political, legal and ideological authority of both the church and the state were inverted – temporarily – during the anarchic and liberating period of the carnival.

The carnival is alternative, it lies outside and opposes the official and serious culture of both the Church and the nobility.
• It is participatory , there is no border between the audience and the performance, everyone and anyone can be the carnival.
• It is ambivalent, it contains both the positive and the negative, a diversity of elements in combination but it does not end this diversity by imposing authority, it celebrates ambivalence, it mutates and transforms. It is material, it degrades the abstract and the ideal and celebrates the body and the life of the people.

• It is utopian, the carnival liberates the imagination and experience from the orthodox  and the conventional and reveals the possibility of change and the relativity of existence.
• It is anarchic, there can be no central or single control over the carnival since it is the sum and diversity of its participants.It is transgressive, it transposes, inverts and subverts.

• It is unfinished, the carnival is always in process.

In summary

Spectacle is something you watch passively
• Although often with the illusion of participation
• It affords us a means of escapism

Spectacle is a way of distracting the mass audience from the realities of power
• It is linked to POWER and to MEMORY
• It is analogous to theatre and to analysis

Spectacle is timeless

We see it in news events today and in depictions of antiquity
• It always has a political function, allied to ritual and magic
• It is a form of mythologising


Spectacle is usually created for and by power but may sometimes be detourned – taken over by oppositional groups, when it is often called terrorism

The Carnival 

The carnival serves as both;
• A form of social control, through visceral experience
• A site of rebellion and subversive expression

Key Terms 

• The Carnival
• Memorability
• Theatre
• Catharsis
• Bread and Circuses
• Myth
• Terrorism