“The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”
—Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
“You can’t step in the same river twice.”
—Barack Obama (some speech or talk or something)
Who doesn’t love aphorisms? They are where truth resides, the house of “Being” (“and Nothingness,” for our French friends), a dwelling ever ungraced by the tiny-minded fact-checkers of the world. (“But facts are sacred!” you protest. Okay, fine, say whatever you like—“comment is free,” after all—but I squat heavily upon your imperialist empiricism.)
Who doesn’t love truth? Truth is better than a late-night jog around the Rose Bowl followed by an enchanting fantasy of a tryst with a polyamorous PhD with whom you’ve struck up a correspondence on OkCupid. Better than a baby-spinach-laced fruit smoothie made blue and silky with berries and organic nonfat Greek yogurt (a fine food invented, sort of, by the same people who came up with that shit about the river, though President Obama, like Ursula K. Le Guin before him, did in fact find occasion to use the river aphorism).
Back to my original point. Or, rather, Debord’s original point: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”
And nowhere is this more true than in the world of online dating.
First you see the photos, which are compelling or scary or ridiculous or just plain off-putting. It doesn’t get much more mediated than dating-site photos. (And it doesn’t get much more “social” than the dating site itself.)
Maybe there’s a candid shot, someone’s New York vacation, perhaps. “But wait!” you say. “Aren’t those the fucking Twin Towers in the background? That picture’s at least 11 years old! I don’t care what anybody looked liked 11 years ago! What do you look like now?”
So there you have it: a social relationship mediated (rather inelegantly) by images. The collection of images, however many there are, doesn’t actually mean too much. The meaning comes from a social relationship—and not just any social relationship, but one involving two hopeful people, each other’s other, judging and lying, judging and lying, till the cows come home and step into the river—that is the spectacle.
But don’t worry too much. It may be possible to mediate the mediation of the social relationships, which will give you a little control over the spectacle. Like don’t post New York vacation photos from early 2001.