Guy Debord, Situationism, and the Occupy movement

Lots of pieces in the US press about Kalle Lasn, the brains behind Adbusters, which is the anarchist collective that came up with the idea of Occupy Wall Street. The latest profile of him is this piece the New Yorker. The NYT and the New Republic blogs both also carried profiles of him, and both were kind enough to quote this interview I did with him in 2002, during another financial crisis. Lasn told me in that interview that the chief inspiration for Adbusters was the Situationist movement, a group of French anarchists who provided the philosophical underpinning for the May 1968 protests in Paris. Lasn said:

The Situationist movement…was such a powerful intellectual force in the 1960s, and especially around 1968, when there was almost a world revolution. One of the big things the Situationists talked about was detournement – it’s a French word that means taking an existing situation, and in a deft, Judo-like move, creating a feedback loop that destroys it. So you’re a culture jammer and you’re facing Nike, which is a massive corporation that has all kinds of power on its side. But because you’re fleet of foot, and nimble, you grab them and throw them on the mat with a beautiful, aesthetic, intellectual tour de force that somehow outwits them. Many other activist movements before the Situationists have used that, like Dada for example. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the power, but they use their wits, and they find ways for making people laugh, and think about the paradigm shift just through the power of their wits.

The Situationists inspired many of the posters of Paris 68, which in turn inspired the Occupy movement, like this:

You can see the Situationist tactic of ‘detournement’ in Banksy’s art, and in some of the art at Occupy London, like the giant Monopoly board:

You can also see the influence of Situationism in some of the banners and slogans, like one that says ‘We are fantasy’ – which sounds like the graffiti slogans from Paris 1968.


And the Occupy London strategy of occupying land belonging to the Church of England was a really masterful piece of detournement. Anyway, all of this is a roundabout way of showing this excellent and weird film by Guy Debord of his Situationist book, The Society of Spectacle. You can see how it influenced Adam Curtis’s aesthetic – using archive material to jam people’s consumer sleep and wake them up. Have a look:

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