Dozens of police cars slowly following a white Ford Bronco broadcast live on television. A hearse carrying a flower-laden coffin drives by with hundreds of mourners watching and crying. Spectators in a crowded arena cheer as a presidential candidate shouts about restoring a country’s past greatness. These images, beamed to millions of television viewers live and repeatedly replayed in subsequent news reports and printed in newspapers and online, comprise examples of spectacles—characterized by simplified narratives, emotional appeal, and attention-grabbing visuals.

The concept of spectacle as related to mass media theory derives from the writings of French philosopher Guy Debord, whose highly influential The Society of the Spectacle, first published in 1967 and reprinted with an updated preface by the author in 1994, offered a series of ...

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