Has Guy Debord's spectacle driven nation become 'The Society of the Apathetic?'

Chris Moody is chief design officer at Wolff Olins. Follow him on Twitter @MoodyThinking

Guy Debord is a figure well known to most students of design. He’s the archetypal pretentious dickhead; it’s why so many of us have been known to quote him.

Debord was the author of The Society of the Spectacle - a treatise/rant/chunk of proto-Russell Brand rhetoric that claimed the public is in awe of a shared fantasy of stuff we think we all should have. He blamed advertising and branding for this, of course.

To a degree, it’s proved prescient of our influencer-obsessed social feeds. However, in the last few weeks, things are getting even more meta, as even the more spectacular moments that we are plugged into every day are failing to hold our attention.

Even the genuinely gobsmacking has been demoted to an everyday occurrence in the daily news cycle. Brexit, Trump, global terrorism, climate change, Love Island, The GC. The world has become so unpredictable, unpredictability is now the norm. It’s hard to make a dent. Perhaps now we are just 'The Society of the Apathetic.'

Adam Curtis has a take on it which he calls ‘oh dearism’ - a resigned shrug of a world that can’t be fathomed and refuses to be shaped. A global meh, punctuated by the occasional uplifting sincerity of a #MeToo movement or a million strong march (for one day).

The pithy start of most creative presentations has always claimed ‘The World has Changed TM’, the inference being ‘for the better’, but it’s certainly not feeling like that right now. Cold War Steve’s twitter feed is increasingly feeling more like documentary than parody.

So how do we design for a country that can’t be arsed? Is it even possible to be nuanced, elegant or light-footed at a time when our leaders are slack-jawed and loose-lipped (I’ll give you ten quid if you aren’t thinking of Michael Gove right now)?

The short answer is we must.

The job of all design (and in particular brand design) is to rise to the challenge of the day. We’ve just forgotten because we are distracted by the Westminster dumpster fire.

Perhaps our focus is also distracted by the industry in-jokes of ‘design thinking’ or self-congratulatory ego rubs of design blogs, meaning the real job of communication has been put on the back burner.

Or maybe its because we’ve all spent too much time writing stuff like this. However it has happened, now is the time to re-engage with reality (Debord’s head would be exploding at the thought of this).

There is gold out there - the common link is it’s counter-logical, disruptive and most of all highly imaginative.

Monzo and Bulb continue to reinvent stagnant markets through fresh human thinking. Ikea’s endless collaborations and creative interventions make it not just relevant but more loveable. Even high street players like Greggs are upping sales by being smart with meta-marketing and product development.

Brand building is increasingly powered by metrics and autonomous processes. Understanding this is critical to stay afloat. But it’s baseline; hygiene. Creativity will always bring the edge. Non-linear thinking tops logic, it leaves data in the dust every time. Data nearly always takes you to a median point, and the median is the route to more apathy.

David Bowie, who didn’t see death as a blocker to creative thinking, was a great proponent of self-actualisation: the belief that if you imagine your future clearly enough, it’s more likely to happen. We are living in troubled times. The way out is to dream harder and set about bringing that alternate reality to life.

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