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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Consumption, Spectacles of

EUGENE HALTON

University of Notre Dame, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs216

The word “spectacle” means something that is viewed or seen, with the connotation of something impressive being displayed, a “show” to be viewed by numbers of people. The early spectacles of ancient Greece and Rome ranged from theatrical and athletic events, gladiatorial combats and wild beast shows, to civic commemorations. The Roman practice of “bread and circuses,” described by the satirist and poet Juvenal, where free wheat and entertainments were provided to curry political favor, may be an early example of spectacles of consumption in one sense in which it is used today – a medium of consumption-linked entertainment as a way of life. The rise of modern sports in the nineteenth century gave birth to the growth of professionalized spectator sport in the twentieth century as a form of consumption.

Both the terms “spectator” and “consumer” connote taking something in, involving a passive relation rather than productive activity or participation. Theater, developing out of ritual in ancient Greece, is another word related to looking at, and represents the transformation from what Lucien Levy-Bruhl described as participation consciousness characterizing tribal peoples, to more marked separation of the production of an event from its visual consumption by spectators in civilizations.

The term “spectacles of consumption” may refer to specific events linked with consumption ...

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