The Awe-full Spectacle of 'Nope'
Jordan Peele's latest movie and our modern Society of the Spectacle
“The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.”
― Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
If you’ve yet to see Jordan Peele’s Nope know that there are spoilers ahead.
If you haven’t seen the movie and would like a recap before reading my piece, click here for a recap, as I won’t be summarizing the film’s plot here.
Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie, Nope, has several thematic layers, but it is primarily about spectacle. About watching and being watched, and how an obsession with spectacle drives people insane. Every character in Nope is engulfed in spectacle in some way.
Of course the blockbuster film, Peele’s most CGI packed movie to date, is itself a spectacle.
The film feels at times more like a taunt than it does a criticism of spectacle-obsessed society. It opens with the Bible verse:
And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a spectacle.
- Nahum 3:6
While many analyses of the movie claim that Peele is critiquing spectacle culture with Nope, the reason the film didn’t strike me as such is because the only indication of parody I detected was with the TMZ paparazzi cameraman, whose behavior we were intended to see as absurd. The audience are outsiders looking in at this ridiculous man who is a stranger to the cast of main characters.
But with the main characters, however ridiculous their actions may be (such as Antler’s self-sacrifice for the “impossible shot”) the audience is meant to be invested emotionally with the characters on their journey throughout the story. Including Emerald’s dream of fortune and fame that comes from capturing the UFO on film. Even OJ, who supposedly doesn’t want to part in spectacle culture but, by the end of the movie, is leading the charge to get the impossible shot of the UFO.
Sure, you could say Peele is laying bare our spectacle culture for us to confront head on. But how many Tik-Tok or Instagram obsessed Westerners do you suppose would come away from this movie reflecting on their own attitude towards spectacle?
How many more viewers might come away from this film empathizing with the main characters, viewing them, or the celebrities who play them, as a sort of role model?
Of course, most simply, a spectacle is that which is spectated. But it has a number of more nuanced meanings.
a: something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining
especially : an eye-catching or dramatic public display
b: an object of curiosity or contempt
You could say a spectacle is full of awe. Or awesome, in the words original sense meaning “inspiring awe or dread.”
Defined by Guy Debord, the author of The Society of the Spectacle, spectacle is…
not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society.
To Debord, spectacle is the ultimate distraction from the real world we live in. A juggernaut of brainwashing. From the time of the Romans and gladiators and before, empires do spectacle very, very well.
As my good friend Colton Z says of spectacle:
It’s the oldest magician’s trick. Look over there while we trick you over here.
This is also the process of hypnotism, whereby the subject narrowly fixates on something (such as a swinging pendulum) and loses sight of their surroundings, making them more suggestible.
Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.
This is a society that worships image over the real. A society that is so lost in image it cannot differentiate between the imagined from the real. A society that denies reality. It may sound like a curious statement. But it is the world we live in. So many people are lost. There’s never been a time in human history when so many fantasies were available for consumption.
It is no coincidence.
Spectacle must channel basic human instincts and urges in a way that is non-threatening to the status quo.
Spectacle must give the public its role modeling of social behavior. This has been its role in all ages. Monkey see, monkey do.
So the question, what sort of behavior is the spectacle modeling for you?
Do you want to be confined to the choices it presents to you?