hopefully spring break is faring well already. if you haven't already had a chance to read the article, I highly recommend checking out this past week's New Yorker cover story by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris on Specialist Sabrina Harman, who took hundreds of photos while at Abu Ghraib so that she could document (inevitably, to the world) what was going on. Exposure: The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib.
Grin without a Cat: A Look at the New Left Movements through Marker-Colored Glasses
“The Pen is Mightier than the Sword” - Edward Bulwer-Lytton
It does not seem that the three hour documentary, Grin without a Cat produced by filmmaker Chris Marker, is simply a recount of the New Left movements from 1967 to 1977. Rather than simply describing the progressive movement, Marker newly constructs the Leftist movement in the minds of the spectators. His editing acts as the mighty proverbial pen, leaving a more powerful and lasting legacy of the New Left movements then those revolutions of an era long died out. Although Marker’s film documents both the rise and fall of the New Left movements, he simultaneously presents the possibility of a new rise of solidarity among socialists and communists from the ashes of revolutions dashed. It seems that Marker’s proverbial pen (editing) paints a “grin”- the lingering revolutionary essence of the New Left- and poses a challenge to solidify the cat to which the grin belongs- Leftist revolution.
Grin without a Cat is certainly a cinematic tribute to the New Left movements from 1967 to 1977. French filmmaker Chris Marker released the French documentary in its original four hour running time in 1977 under the title Le fond de l’air est rouge. He re-released the film in 1993 to cater to an English speaking audience, cutting one hour from the previous release, adding English subtitles and voice-overs, and re-titling the film Grin without a Cat. The documentary is epic in length, running three hours (180 minutes) and breadth, touching on New Left movements across the globe. The documentary is self-described by Marker as “Scenes from the third world war” and is told in two parts: Fragile Hands and Broken Hands. The documentary ranges from Vietnam to Che’s death, to May 1968 and all that, from Spring in Prague to the Common Program of the Government in France, and onto Chile and what. From one clip to the next the spectator views Paris, Moscow, Berkley, Havana, or Prague to name just a few sites of the film, which continuously jumps back and forth in location and time.
The forefront of the film in my opinion is its style. Although Marker was dubbed writer and director of the documentary, his main contribution, his form of scripting, largely incorporated editing and music selection. It is through the clearly purposeful editing process and music selection that Marker makes his strongest subjective statements. Editing is Marker’s poetry, the unspoken but nonetheless powerful tool of political expression. His editing technique combines footage from a hodgepodge of sources: elements of Marker’s own filming, scenes from pre-released fiction films, raw footage taken on the ground, and unexpected events caught on tape. In the opening scenes, for example, Marker commences the film with outtakes from Sergei Einstein’s 1925 black and white film Battleship Potemkin , referencing the 1905 Russian mutiny. Marker makes the clips his own by coloring over the scenes in a rustic red and interjecting images from the late Sixties.
Marker’s editing style is choppy and his frequent use of scene cuts results in a montage of images, more emblematic than chronological, more poetic than organizational. Although images are grouped thematically, rather than in a clear linear progression, there is a lucid narrative. The film opens with the word “Brother!”; the music commences, and the film begins. Marker opens the film by setting up his most inclusive theme: the brotherhood and solidarity amongst all the New Left movements, whether practical or ideological. This solidarity is represented by Marker through a series of images of the fight against oppression, and then through a series of images of the call for revolution. Firstly, Marker shows, in rapid succession, different clips of police and military repression against demonstrators worldwide including but not limited to France, the US, and Japan. Although the clips span geographic location and time, connecting the images is a powerful aesthetic tool of association. The image of authority and oppression is drilled into the eyes of the viewer, as a function of all nations and societies, an oppression that unites all Leftist movements. Secondly, in the opening scenes of Part One, a montage of individual’s fists gesturing in a strong forward motion indicate that although the individuals hail from different histories and different nations, they all hail to the New Left movement. The succession of images creates the illusion of fluidity and memory, dictating a new reading of the Leftist movement through Marker-colored glasses.
One effective Marker cinematographic technique is the use of chaotic footage, which simultaneously shows the frenzy of the cameraman and embodies the impromptu or hectic moments when an unseen event unfolds. In many of the clips, filming was raw, chaotic, and seemed unfinished, allowing the spectator to truly feel the event. For example, a hand-held shaking camera reveals the rushing of the Pentagon in 1967 by demonstrators to end the war in Vietnam. The chaos of the event is relayed through the chaotic sharp movements of the film as it tries to capture the storming of the Pentagon steps as it unfolds. Likewise at one point during the film Marker remarks, “only looking at the footage now do I see how the camera trembles”. The footage catches the moment and is part of the movement. The spectator is allowed to see the cameraman as an active participant, the role documenting the Leftist events had in helping to create and sustain movements by capturing them on film.
Although the use of collected images could be construed as objective, it is clear that Marker uses speeches, interviews, and images to subtly express his subjectivity. Marker makes France the focus of the film’s attention, appropriate because Marker himself is a French filmmaker, but also because France had an enormously influential Communist Party in which Marker took part. One critic astutely discerned that Marker emphasizes “...radical movements in Vietnam, China, and Latin America, not so much in and of themselves, but as essential for the struggle in Europe” (Fletcher 176). This is an interesting analysis considering that France’s New Left was associated with the Communist Party, whereas American movements of the era were more focused on causes. This is denoted by Marker’s representations of Americans as largely student demonstrators, but including the one Nazi boy hustling demonstrators, and the one American pilot who expressed great joy in bombing the Vietnamese and the countryside. Yet, although Marker highlights the importance of the more Western intellectual movement, with references to Karl Marx and Regis Debray, he does note the suffering of the oppressed in the non-Western world. In a sarcastic moment about fifty-two minutes into the film, Marker states that activists from the Western world talk of pasting posters while he shows real footage of human suffering and prison torture in Vietnam. Marker effectively juxtaposes text and images to create this obvious but nonetheless poignant critique.
In a similar technique of juxtaposition, Marker effectively uses music as a medium of expression and connotation. If one is able to grasp the reference to the socialist soundtrack, the song “Les temps des cerises” was recognized in the credits. The main song of the French commune in 1871 is titled “The Time of Cherries” in English and alludes to a hopeful vision of springtime (Kaplan 241). Although the song itself is not explicitly political, the power of the song is realized in its context to socialist movements. The music choice is an ode, a memory which helps recollect the decade of New Left movements nostalgically.
The film is epic in images, context, and length. Despite the overwhelmingly poignant and poetic images, the film was extremely tedious to watch and even more tedious to successfully absorb. Marker’s extensive use of existing footage assumes that the spectator will pick up on references to both film and historical events, a tall order for one not schooled in the history of the era or a connoisseur of film and documentary. For one familiar with the era, it becomes a montage of familiar images which evokes personal or historical references. For those not as schooled, emotional images such as key Socialist and Communist leaders giving speeches, demonstrations, police repression, military training and images of mercury poisoned victims emphasize the symbolic, allowing for various levels of reading of the film. Perhaps a lack of political knowledge beforehand could lend a more abstract reading of the film, one not necessarily less interesting than an informed reading.
The editing in the film, Marker’s proverbial mighty pen, is his most powerful contribution to the revolution. Despite his portrayal of the rise and eventual fall of the New Left to capitalism, he paints the ‘grin’- remnants of the Leftist movement which still linger. Although many of the leaders of the movement died, including revolutionary leader Che Guevara, Chilean President Allende, and even Czech martyr Jan Palach among many others, the lingering story of revolution does not die with them. The title of the documentary reverberates a faith in the lingering revolutionary spirit. Marker’s film captures the essence of the socialist and communist movements of an era- the 'grin', but his most powerful contribution to the movement is the broader allusion to the cat (which cannot yet be seen)- a new revolution, one to revolutionize the revolutionaries.
Bevan, David. Literature and Revolution. Rodopi perspectives on modern literature, 2. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989.
Fletcher, Yael Simpson, Persaud, Nalini. “Scenes from the Revolution: A Dialogue on Film, Politics, and History.” Radical History Review 2005 2005: 171-181
Grin without a Cat. Dir. Chris Marker; Iskra Films, Paris, 1993.
Kaplan, Roger F. S. Conservative Socialism: The Decline of Radicalism and the Triumph of the Left in France. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003.
Tube Of Plenty, The Evolution of American Television
by Erik Barnouw
“Historians saw in the trend a peril to American democracy. And it was one in which television and its progeny had a dangerous complicity.” (p 543)
Much has happened since Guglielmo Marconi set sail for the United States in 1899, precipitating the “wireless mania” that ultimately gave rise to television as we know it. This epic journey saw boundless ambition meet American corporate determinism. It saw dreams realized and hopes shattered. It brought about suicide and it portrayed murder. It battled communism and it inhibited freedom. It elected presidents, and ensured their downfall. It told stories and it revealed lies. For, as Erik Barnouw reminds us in his masterly account of the evolution of television in America, the journey was about far more than the innovative use of a vacuum tube—it was about the birth of modern-day America. But what of the plenty?
Barnouw divides his account into six stages, giving a detailed and near encyclopaedic account of American broadcast media’s evolution. In Forbears, the dreams of those who imagined a world with television are recounted, with French artist Albert Robida making surprisingly accurate predictions about the portrayal of wars in the living room. We learn of the discovery of radio, and the assent Congress gave in 1918 to an oligopoly of corporate stakeholders who founded Radio Corporation of America (RCA).
In Toddler, we learn of the development of the new technology, as wireless mania develops. Radio sets become the must-have possession of all households. The airwaves are commercialized, as then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover allows “ether advertising.” The National Broadcasting Company was founded as a subsidiary of RCA to populate the radio waves.
And then, television. With the formation of RCA came the early realization that television may soon be possible. Barnouw engages the reader as he describes the earliest programs to populate both mediums as the technology was put in place. The boom in American media was well underway.
Plastic Years sees the effervescent consumption of televisions ensue, where through the late 40’s and early 50’s, the nation heralds its new plaything. Entertainment forms the primary focus for the emerging audience. The Hollywood studios, initially up in arms at the perceived threat to movie theaters, began to work with the emerging television networks. The race was on: Barnouw’s account is no longer confined to the slow development of the new invention and corporate struggles to bring it to market. Rather, with the growth of television, we learn of the rich changes in American culture that followed as the lens was turned on society. The growing audience created a new collective consciousness; as America’s attention shifted to the small screen, the then three major networks, NBC, CBS and ABC, found themselves at the center of a new cultural dominance. And with this, television quickly became a major part of the establishment, with its funding entirely derived from commercial interests. And all this facilitated the exponential growth of a new phenomenon—consumerism.
Thus, in Prime, we see how, from the 1950’s onwards, television became core not just to the culture of the United States, but also to the key developments, debates and controversies. For example, the witch-hunt against ‘communists’ started by Sen. Joseph McCarthy found a particular focus in television, where key personalities were forced off air for their perceived dangerous influence. This trend tended to gravitate against brave and independent journalism, the networks favoring a safe, established line.
Yet despite these problems, the growth of network television gave rise to certain key individuals who resisted the cautious, pandering trend. For example, CBS’s Edward R. Murrow used his position as host for current affairs show See It Now to levy an attack on the rise of McCarthyism in America, illustrating the inconsistencies and ruinous effect it was having on society. Many, including Barnouw, attributed McCarthy’s demise to Murrow’s courageous attack.
But journalism such as this was, throughout the 50’s and 60’s, was not favored by the key decision-makers in America’s corporate media. See It Now lost its primetime slot after CBS executives realized the far more lucrative potential of shows like The $64,000 Question. American telefilms boomed, and soon the television entertainment industry became a major export. To Barnouw, the mid-1950’s became the new missionary expedition, where (at page 233) it “seemed to serve as an advance herald of empire.” Americans and their allies abroad had assumed these exports, be they telefilms, radio transmitters, consumer goods or military bases, would facilitate global peace. But not the Russians.
In an intelligent twist of events, Russia’s then leader, Nikita Khruschev, negotiated an interview with CBS, which both paved the way for a new kind of televised journalism, where it was not the stars of Hollywood, but the old men of Moscow and Washington who took the limelight, and facilitated the Russo-American dialog that brought the beginnings of the Cold War into the full-focus of the American television audience.
At this stage Barnouw questions America’s new love affair with television, revealing the networks' complicity in the censorship and government propaganda that resulted. But the challenge in controlling television output soon became virtually impossible as innovation allowed for live coverage, and again it was the President of the United States who became the star of this new show, as John F. Kennedy played host to the first live press conferences. Yet, as JFK was the first president to truly embrace the new media, live coverage took a sharp and tragic turn as he became the first ever person to be murdered live on television, sparking a similarly novel period of four-day, non-stop coverage. The nation was gripped, and the innovation that had seen the rise of arguably the first populist president then saw him abruptly put to rest.
In Elder, Barnouw continues to chart the rise and rise of commercial television, dealing with developments such as the Vietnam War, the growth of cable television, and the invention of the laser. His historical account across these sections, while leaving great chunks out simply as a result of the space constraints inherent in his ambitious goal of condensing the development of television into a single volume, manages to maintain a subtle blend of narrative and fact. His commentary is neutral, and he gives balanced weight to the opinions of the stakeholders he features in his account, while telling the stories of those involved.
Yet in Progeny, which draws the book to a close, he makes some solid conclusions about the undesirable side-effects that result from the development of a commercial broadcast media. Of particular significance is the effect that Barnouw perceives this to have on news coverage. His book is peppered with examples of the networks tip-toeing around their sponsors, usually at the expense of balanced reportage. The earliest example of this is the Camel News Caravan on NBC, where as a result of the sponsorship of Camel Tobacco, only Winston Churchill was allowed to smoke in any of the reports (due his exceptional iconic status), and cancer coverage was forbidden. The visual requirements of a new televised news service also meant great restrictions in content, for there was simply not the infrastructure to obtain film coverage of events taking place across the world. Rather than summarize them vocally, they were omitted.
This problem diminished as more portable means of recording video were devised, but the commercial unpopularity of news coverage was still a problem in the sixties. CBS Reports, which President of CBS Fred Friendly had once promised to keep on air, was threatened by his successor, James Aubrey, who reportedly said in a board meeting: “You can see, Mr. Chairman, how much bigger our profits could have been this year if it had not been for the drain of news,” (at page 346).
In the midst of the Vietnam War discussion, Barnouw cites Canadian journalist Neil Compton, who after comparing US television coverage to Canadian, observed both that the “great networks” seem to express a “massive political consensus,” and that “they are commercial to a degree which even an outsider used to television finds overwhelming,” (at page 381). To Compton, these two phenomena were “not, of course, unrelated,” and he concludes that anyone relying on US network coverage of the Vietnam War “would have been far less well informed than his Canadian counterpart,” despite US coverage being more frequent.
In his most eloquent epilogue (at page 524), Barnouw attributes the failure of television news to its “eruption” amid an aesthetic medium where “havoc was more photogenic, and quickly perceived.” And through this havoc, the words needed to “clarify causes” and illustrate the “historical context” of events had been suppressed on television. A 23 minute news bulletin simply did not have time for elaboration, especially in the foreign context. What’s more, from the start of the Reagan presidency, “the White House became determined to shape this segment to the fullest possible extent.”
In his conclusion Barnouw points the finger at the excessive commerce of the American broadcast media—not only had advertising stood in the way of the development of a truthful and objective news media, but it had become a necessary mouthpiece for those seeking political office, obscuring open debate with financial pandering. Before giving his assent for an unregulated, commercial broadcast media in the 1920’s, Hoover had spoken of the distasteful nature of excessive commercialization, adding he hoped there would never be the “sandwiching” of Presidential addresses with adverts for pharmaceutical patents on television. Self-regulation was, to him, the answer. In a sorry twist of fate, when Hoover died, a dedication to his life aired on CBS was followed by a cigarette commercial and a political campaign ad. Not only had Presidential coverage become sandwiched, but it was no longer possible to reach the office that Hoover had once occupied without engaging in the sandwiching!
Barnouw finishes his book by asking if it is possible for the television industry, which has had a dangerous complicity in the perilous trend seen in American democracy, to help the nation face the dilemmas of a new millennium. It seems that, at the end of the long journey that charts the evolution of television, Barnouw has lost faith in its capacity for democratic good. This bleak outlook forces the reader to reconsider the book’s title, Tube of Plenty, which at first seems a simple reference to the rich content the television-tube has facilitated. But is Barnouw instead making oxymoronic reference to the tube’s vacuum, where there is no plenty, but in fact nothing at all?
The First Casualty, or "The Journalist's Job is Never Done."
Der Derian and Santos
Lit Review for 3/19/08
The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq
By Phillip Knightley
In The First Casualty, Phillip Knightley seeks to address the way journalists have failed the public in reporting every major war of the last century. He attributes the war correspondents’ inability to adequately inform the public to both the government-military propaganda machine and a partial failure on the part of the journalists. Knightley’s primary concern is to illustrate both the impossibly daunting task of attempting to report during wartime and the history of lies the military and the government have spewed at the public in an effort to justify what he says were often senseless wars. In doing so, he essentially bludgeons the reader with historical data, statistics, and anecdotes that demonstrate how corrupt and manipulative governments have been during wartime. In this sense, Knightley’s argument reaches a somewhat annoying level of repetitiveness, until he leaves the reader saying: I understand, enough now, the government is corrupt, the military is manipulative and brutal, the media is powerful, and the journalist’s job is never done. He argues that wartime journalists, even those who were most successful, often relied too heavily on facts and figures or complete fabrications handed to them by the government and the military propaganda machine. He goes on to say that these journalists should have probed more; they should have attempted to glean the truth from the mass-distributed military lies and to moralize the war according to their own standards. On the whole, Knightley sees the efforts of war correspondents as both inadequate and futile; most of them did not go far enough, and those who did were suppressed by the government.
In chapters fourteen through eighteen, Knightley addresses the Korean War, the Algerian War, the Vietnam War, and various British wars in the 1970s and 1980s, focusing mainly on reportage in Korea, Algeria and Vietnam. In these chapters, he begins to see some merit in one group of reporters: the Vietnam War correspondents. He identifies a shift in war reporting in the reporters beginning “to question the ethics of their business” (448). However, Knightley fails to recognize that while he criticizes the Korean War and Algerian War correspondents for not pushing far enough to report the truth, he hails many of the Vietnam War reporters who, though they faced similar obstacles to that of the Korean War reporters, were not censored by the United States government. Though he eventually expresses the idea that all the wartime reporters, including those during Vietnam, had failed in some sense, he gives the Vietnam War reporters higher accolades than they may deserve considering the fact that they were granted access to a much more wartime information.
Knightley begins the section with chapter fourteen, a look at the United Nations’ invasion of Korea from 1950-1953. In the early stage of the war, he notes, there was no censorship, so correspondents were free to write the truth (367). But the government soon caught on to the problem of maintaining its image, and cited the “bad moral and psychological effect” the reports could have on UN troops. They began to invoke the idea of the wartime journalist’s responsibility “in the matter of psychological warfare.” Since the army was essentially the correspondents’ lifeblood and supplied communications, transportation and housing, journalists found it difficult to get their story out without government intervention (368). The press were seen as “natural enemies” by the military. Censorship began more heavily on December 21, and Knightley cites several examples of journalists expelled from Korea and placed under jurisdiction of the army. One such journalist was Peter Webb of the United Press, who was suspended from working in the country. Correspondents were threatened with deportation and trial by court-martial if they criticized allied conduct (376-77). When John Colless, an Australian working for AAP-Reuter, tried to report on South Korean atrocities and mass murders, he was also censored. Some correspondents began to question if South Korea was even worth saving, especially in the face of the corrupt police force, whose officers would leave soldiers to die of starvation, blackmail citizens with the threat of labeling them communists, and bring refugee girls to brothels (374).
Knightley goes on to argue that the press during the war relied too heavily on censored military sources and false press releases and allowed themselves to be intimidated into suppressing the truth. In Korea, he posits, “too many were prepared to go along with whatever the military told them, getting their stories from handouts, which were not military documents but were filled with the phrases of advertising copy writers, not only misleading but often wrong” (379). Often, correspondents would print stories they knew were false because the United Nations press releases reported them as such (386). This denial of the truth and refusal to deeply investigate, “helped delay for years a proper examination of the reasons for a collapse of morale unprecedented in American military history,” Knightley says (384). So although the correspondents were courageous in battle, “they failed to show equal moral courage in questioning what the war was all about,” he says. Knightley goes on to say that more correspondents should have challenged censorship and misinformation, criticized the United States’ dominance in the campaign, and questioned the morality of the war. Instead, he posits, they became too wrapped up in telling the details of military gains and losses, rather than in evaluating whether the intervention was justified (389). At this point, Knightley expresses his opinion that a war correspondent’s responsibility is to “tell the truth as he sees it, even if that truth appears at the time to be against the national interest,” and he casts some of the blame for the 2 million civilian deaths on the Korean wartime journalists. Essentially, he claims it is the journalist’s job to evaluate the morality of military decisions during wartime. But according to Knightley, isn’t a correspondent’s role to present the facts as accurately as possible and to leave the evaluation to the public? Knightley’s comments earlier in the text call his argument against the Korean war correspondents into question, as he details the Spanish civil war correspondents as having reported “with the heart” and subsequently misled readers with undue optimism (234-35). In chapter eleven, the Struggle for Mother Russia, he again suggests the undesirable nature of the biased war reporter, quoting Henry Shapiro as saying “the minute a newsman takes sides, he stops being a reporter” (291). In this sense, it would seem Knightley might be more lenient in his analysis of the Korean correspondents, as his text abounds with examples of reporters who attempted to glean the facts from the military propaganda machine and to release them to the public without injecting their personal opinions. But instead, he rails against the correspondents in both his chapter on Korea and in his section on the Algerian War.
Chapter fifteen, Algeria is French, details the Algerian revolt against the French government from 1954 to 1962. Ten years after the revolt, the French people were still confused about what had happened during the war. Knightley’s culprits are both the military-government machine, which “harassed, expelled, gaoled, and tortured” any correspondents and editors who tried to get the truth out, and the press, which he says “failed in its duty.” This initial analysis seems the perfect springboard into a deep engagement with the correspondents’ cowardice in the face of the government propaganda and their refusal to dig deeper, but Knightley presents a rather favorable picture of the wartime correspondents. He offers several examples of journalists who defied government attempts at smear campaigns and intimidation techniques, including that of Georges Penchenier of Le Monde, who refused to accept that civilians killed, including women and children, were non-combatants, and challenged the government by writing further to insist he was correct (397). Penchenier, “one of the most courageous correspondents of the war,” was in the company of Georges Chassagne, a French correspondent who caught an execution on video and spoke out against an attempted government smear of his name. Knightley seems to further support the idea that the journalists had done the best they could with a justified demonization of the government’s role in suppressing the truth: “There appeared no limit to the government’s determination to suppress news that it did not like and to discredit or destroy professionally any correspondent who resisted this policy” (396).
That said, Knightley does provide some examples of journalists who simply went along with press releases and allowed the government to dictate their message to the French public through “censorship, propaganda, and political pressure” (400). However, he rebuts his own argument with further anecdotal evidence of correspondents who courageously faced death-threats, hostage situations, and risk of injury by the government, such as Jean Daniel of L’ Express, who was shot by paratroopers and given the wrong blood type at the hospital (403-404). In summarizing the chapter, Knightley proposes, “In France, no one wanted to remember. The divisions were too bitter, the scars too fresh, for any examination of the role of the information media, the effect of political prejudices on newspaper policy, the bias in the reporting of the war” (407). But his analysis begs the question, where are the abounding examples of correspondents who could have done more? From those examples presented, it seems they did the best they could manage with what they were getting from the government, which sought to intimidate them and suppress any dissent. So though Knightley effectively argues that the government was utterly corrupt, he falls flat on his initial assertion that the Algerian War correspondents failed in their duty. And once again, his accusation of the newspapers’ “political prejudices” and “bias” contradicts his previous assertion that Korean War correspondents should insert their moral judgments into their reportage. Either reporters should be biased or they should be neutral, and it appears Knightley analyzes the journalists of each war according to a different scale, as evidenced in his support of Vietnam wartime journalists.
In chapters sixteen and seventeen, Knightley presents his analysis of the war correspondent’s coverage of the Vietnam War in its entirety, from 1954-1975. He begins in 1954, when most of the articles written about the war played up the “Communist menace” of North Korea and cast Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of non-Communist South Korea, in a favorable light. Not until after 1960, Knightley argues, did journalists begin to demonstrate the principles that would characterize much of the Vietnam War reporting, including a general unwillingness to submit to pressure from the Diem government and from editors at home. A small group of journalists, including Homer Bigart of the Herald Tribune and Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press, formed the major press corps in the region at the beginning of the war, and they often faced intimidation by the Diem government similar to that used in Korea and Algeria (410). The United States Military Assistance Advisory Group attempted to make correspondents “accomplices” in deceiving the American public, and the reporters were not happy about it. Knightley quotes Homer Bigart as having said, “We seem to be regarded by the American mission as tools of our foreign policy” (411). Responses to the correspondents’ efforts to tell the truth included government appeals to their patriotism, efforts to freeze their sources and pressure their editors, and attempts to discredit their reputations and the quality of their reporting (412-415). American correspondents were either expelled or had their copies changed by editors under political pressure from the Kennedy Administration. Often, editors would use official military versions of events that were false rather than the reporters’ version, so as not to upset Washington (412). And John Mecklin, Time’s bureau chief in San Francisco, called the correspondents inexperienced, irresponsible sensationalists. The government also appealed to the journalists, often accusing them of siding with the enemy.
However, despite the various methods the government used to suppress information, the Vietnam War, as Knightley points out, was the least censored war there had ever been. Rather than force censorship, as it did in the Korean War, the United States government employed more subversive methods, including what it thought would be a successful political relations campaign (418-19). This led to the government’s loss of its iron grasp on war reporting, the position of power it had secured more easily in previous wars: “By making every facet of the war unusually accessible to any correspondent who turned up in Saigon, it lost control of the situation” (419). This access made it possible for journalists such as Seymour Hersh to relate the travesties of My Lai to an audience at home (424-29).
However, though Knightley initially puts forth the idea that correspondents covering the Vietnam War were somehow leaps beyond those of previous wars, he finally expresses his judgment that they too had somehow failed the public. “Clearly, those charged with the responsibility of informing the United States public about Vietnam had not fulfilled their task,” he posits, going on to say that most efforts by well-meaning journalists to get the truth out were either suppressed through the use of anti-communist, government propaganda or by cowardly editors unwilling to stand up to the administration (441). Though “the correspondents did their best,” Knightley says they could have done more to subvert authority, gain access to accurate statistics, and express the larger picture in their pieces, analyzing “what it all meant” (464-66). In this sense, though he sets the Vietnam War reporters apart from the generally lackluster bunch of correspondents he has discussed up to this point, Knightley’s final analysis of the Vietnam reporters is not one of immense pride.
It seems that in his analysis of Korea and Algeria, Knightley expects a moral stand from wartime correspondents, but in Vietnam he is more lenient, dismissing the reporters’ ineffectuality, lack of reportage on various atrocities, and inability to see the big picture as results of military pressures. For the first time, correspondents looked into their moral obligations in reporting, a moment Knightley sees as a turning point in wartime correspondence (448). Though the outlook at the end of the chapter is bleak, as none of the journalists he has analyzed escape unscathed, Knightley posits that Vietnam War correspondents were somewhat more successful. However, in view of the fact that these reporters faced fewer obstacles to their reportage, Knightley’s description of the way Vietnam War reporters excelled above all others remains somewhat lacking.
Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2004.
*In closing, though my essay does not cover chapter 21, I would like the point out the interesting choice of font by the book's publishers on the last page of chapter 20 and throughout chapter 21. While I'm not a font-enthusiast like some of our Helvetica friends, I imagine someone else can glean some level of significance from the abrupt font-change. Too bad I don't recognize the font. Where's Gary Hustwit when you need him, anyway?
"Pangea Day taps the power of film to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future.
In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it's easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that - to help people see themselves in others - through the power of film.
On May 10, 2008 - Pangea Day - sites in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro will be videoconferenced live to produce a program of powerful films, visionary speakers, and uplifting music.
The program will be broadcast live to the world through the Internet, television, digital cinemas, and mobile phones.
Of course, movies alone can't change the world. But the people who watch them can. So following May 10, 2008, Pangea Day organizers will facilitate community-building activities around the world by connecting inspired viewers with numerous organizations which are already doing groundbreaking work."
Came across this article in TIME the other day and think it's worth checking out...
It's a nice supplement to the vBlog that Julia, Will, and I posted today and definitely relevant to the class in general. Enjoy!
Veracity and Virtuality in an Age of Visual Crash: Extra Credit Thematic Essay
Media forms, from their inception, are constantly debating between veracity and virtuality, between the representation of “truth” and the practice of storytelling. The practice of photography once thought of as an unfiltered representation of reality went about a radical break with the introduction of dark room manipulation. The way media was viewed went through a similar break when European philosophers like Ferdinand de Saussure made a distinction between the sign or word and its signified. Such thinking exposed that it is the gap between the image and its signification where meaning is produced. Critical theories of media begin here and developed throughout the 20th century with technological advancements in media and further expansions in thought on media.
In our current global political arena as an information society saturated in media there is a much greater need for seriously thinking about current media forms. Inspired from John Phillip Santos lecture in the Global Media Seminar at Brown University on Wednesday, March 12, 2008, this essay will argue that in order to have any form of resistance in our current era of information culture, critical theory and practice of media must examine these chasms between reality and illusions, especially in how they differ from previous forms.
Media comforts a viewer, as she or he is allowed to be outside of oneself in front of a canvas, in a movie theater, or even browsing the web. This comfort as Guy Debord gives the spectacle in his famous book, The Society of Spectacle, is aligned with the passivity of viewership, the promise that the sole message of “a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned” is “What appears is good; what is good appears.” Due to the saturated and sheer numbers of images that strike us every day, we desire a moment of rest leaving us vulnerable to media’s force. Critical theory arose in order to fight this passive reception and investigate media’s power. The evolution of critical theory is a genealogy or evolution of human consciousness. Critical theory in other words is the understanding of how humans are manipulated by media’s modalities.
The evolution of media theory, which in essence is media itself, is a fairly recent story in the realm of history. The story begins with the emergence of photography in the 1800s. The work of William Fox Talbot and his predecessors created images that were considered “a pencil of nature.” The prevailing context of photography for 25 years was that the photographie represented reality. Even from the start of photography it was evident that the meaning of an image as a piece of evidence was complicated by the factors that shaped it: ownership, cultural settings, and viewing context. For instance Matthew Brady’s civil war pictures brought the battlefield to the public in a political context. Viewing the actual photograph was much powerful than the engraved newspaper image, but the same message came across and the public became image weary all the same.
By the 1880s, the illusion of reality was crushed when it became evident that manipulation in the darkroom was possible. Photography went in two directions. Some photographers took up the practice of storytelling in their photography. For instance one of the most famous hoax photographers was the writer and artist Lewis Carol and his fairies series. While others stayed dedicated to the practice of truth telling, this divide was also inherited in early cinema. The camp dominated by the Lumiere Brothers filmed a train arriving at the station, workers leaving the factory. While the work of Georges Melie created artifice with his film “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). Media began to create a space that constructed both reality and artifice for a viewer. The Lumiere Brothers’ film about a train arriving at a station made early cinematic viewers jumped out of their seats in fright of a reality that was too real. While at the same time, voyeuristic films for pleasure and the cult of stardom became extremely popular. The line between illusion and reality in society began to blur.
In the realm of philosophy similar advancements went on, most notably with the work of linguist philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure broke the notions of a unified sign and signified to reveal that not only are they separated but also there is a gap between the two that produces meaning. “Linguistics then works in the borderland where the elements of sound and thought combine; their combination produces a form, not a substance. ... The arbitrary nature of the sign explains why the social fact alone can create a linguistic system. The community is necessary if values that owe their existence solely to usage and general acceptance are to be set up; by himself, the individual is incapable of fixing a single value.” This thought that meaning is socially constructed lead to media theory, which took as its aim the underlying issues that structure media. No longer was the issue of reality versus fiction, but how reality is turned into fiction and fiction into truth through media.
This field of discourse surrounding media brought to light importance issues that shaped media, most significantly temporality and ubiquity. The temporality of a photograph and film, a frozen moment or a moving past, complicates the space of time for a viewer. This issue becomes more pronounced with the introduction of live transmission, but media is instantaneously present from the moment of projection yet not immediately evident. The ubiquity of the medium was that anything, one, time, where was subject to its presentation in media. This unimaginable concept complicated the issue of surveillance and the creation of subjectivity in modern society.
In the 1920s at The Frankfurt School, a German school of neo-Marxist critical theory, a group of philosophers who had the impulse to theorize media emerged and developed the foundation of media theory. These theoreticians began to look at how culture is influenced by media and look into the deeper sources of social meaning. For instance one member, Siegfried Kracauer, developed the idea of the “mass ornament” in every day culture. The “mass ornament” was in ordinary places, especially urban, an antecedent to theories on mass culture. Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer progressed the concept that industrial processes were also a factor in constructing cultural meaning. The most famous forerunner for media theory, Walter Benjamin and his essay “ The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” developed the aesthetic side of culture in an industrial, mechanical age. His work, unlike his other colleagues, inspired strategies of resistance against the mechanized culture. As readers, thinkers, producers of media, one was an actor and poetic agent. The producer has the power to redefine and alter media rather than be a victim to the conforming system.
The institutional media systems, Hollywood and Network Television, developed throughout the 1900s and were rarely critiqued, especially in America. Resistant work and critique were silenced or non-existent. With technological advancement in media production and contemporaries of The Frankfurt School finally beginning to speak, independent media emerged by the 1960s. In the 1970s, Marshall McLuhan developed popular theories critiquing mainstream media, in particular television. His theory was that the proliferation of information flows was deeply complicated. On the technical side, handheld cameras became accessible and a “do-it-yourself” media production industry began to develop. Television, a medium that crystallized the American social dynamic, was one important place for such change. Politically and socially television held the most influence and access to the American public, particularly seen in the American presidency or historical moments caught on television. It was a space that allowed for short documentary series in news shows, for example CBS’s “CBS Reports.” The independent movement gained momentum with such broadcasting.
Another factor in this story was the globalization of subcultures. Mass media allowed for a globalized virtualization force or as Paul Virilio, in his essay “The Visual Crash,” warns us the seductive “globalization of the collective imagination.” The most famous example of globalized subcultures is the Rock n’ Roll media artifact, most notably seen in Beatlemania. The ubiquity of music makes it perfectly transmittable through various media modalities from the radio the television. As non-local connections set in with a single beckon of meaning, it was possible to connect non-local people. Media environments and ecologies began to take hold. With this came the understanding that an unfathomable number of global media environments existed and there could never be a single frame for the entire concept of media. This fact, supported by postmodern theories of subjectivity, made new forms of resistant media and critique necessary to create self-sustaining media apart from the conforming and generalizing mainstream media.
"This could be a strategy of the media, to offer spectacles that are more hollow and meaningless than reality – hyperreal in their stupidity and therein giving spectators a differential possibility of satisfaction…Somewhere, we carry the mourning of this naked reality, of this residual existence, of this total disillusion."
The globalized independent media movement took place in the 1980s, although its roots lay in the 60s and 70s. Its form was documentaries that worked to shape and redirect political culture. Video art also began to emerge at this time. This fusion of theory and media practice worked on how images produce meaning. The crucial year for this movement to be independent was when the UN took up the McBride Commission in 1980. This commission worked to create a global media equity program; the result was the “Many Voices One World” or McBride report. The 1990s gave way to documentary culture in a culturally remarkable way. A documentary vernacular was developed and amplified with increased broadcasting.
Documentary rhetoric’s and modalities shape meaning. Bill Nichols is famous for his modes of documentary, but inevitably a documentary will use various modes in order to create complex effects for the viewer. The most interesting forms of documentary are not the mainstream modes, but the forms that break away and alter those stereotypical forms. These forms of documentaries take theoretical backgrounds and speak to current conditions of subjectivity. For example when an elliptical form complicates the classic literary documentary, as seen in Chris Markers film “A Grin without a Cat” (1973), history is rethought and restructured for the viewer. Most recently, radical forms of documentary immerse the viewer in aesthetically arresting array of images and animations in order to reintegrate a sense of self in an environment saturated with images, see Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy.
Presently we live in massive media environments. The globalized world has exciting possibilities for unprecedented creativity and invention as never seen before. However we must be cautioned. Lev Manovich writes that we must think of the “trajectories through the space of cultural history that would pass through new media, thus grounding it in what came before” in order to come to terms with current media. As media producers we need an understanding of what has come before as all culture and history has passed through media modalities. To return to the point that meaning is in the chasm between veracity and virtuality, I will turn to Baudrillard in his famous book from 1993, “The Precession of Simulacra”:
"We are no longer in the society of spectacle, of which the situationists spoke, nor in the specific kinds of alienation and repression that it implied. The medium itself no longer identifiable as such, and the confusion of the medium and the message (McLuhan) is the first great formula of this new era. There is no longer a medium in the literal sense: it is now intangible, diffused, and diffracted in the real, and one can no longer even say that the medium is altered by it."
In our controlled society constantly under surveillance the point is not to draw the line between reality and illusion, but to understand how that line has been blurred. Virilio fears that we will reach a “visual crash” where the disinformation of capitalism will become the truth that we comfortably believe, this warning may be a reality now. Resistance is found by creating a space between the capitalist virtual stories and conceptions of raw reality, a space where the apparatus is exposed. In an age of great possibility, the task is ever more complicated.
Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila
Faria Glaser Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Pg 30.
Baudrillard, Jean. “Telemorphosis.” CTRL: Space: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001. Pg 481.
Debord, Guy. The Society of Spectacle. Trans. Ken Knabb. London: Rebel Press, 2004. Pg 9-10.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Boston, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001. Pg 285.
Kracauer, Siegfried. “The Mass Ornament.” New German Critique, No. 5. (Spring, 1975).
Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court. 1983 Pg 113.
Virilio, Paul. “The Visual Crash.” CTRL: Space: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001. Page 112.
The Invisible Life of Poet, a comic strip by Christopher Stetson Wilson, is on display at Blue State Coffee until the end of April. One of Wilson’s comics particularly addresses the conversation our class had with Gary Hustwit on the pervasive nature of trademarks. In the comic, titled “Speaking of Trademarks”, the two characters have an entire conversation using only logos. It’s a great commentary on meaning the American (and international) public attaches to certain brand logos. You can see it in person at Blue State or check out the website at: http://www.lifeofpoet.com/archives/176
“We also have to work through... the dark side… it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective” – Vice President Dick Cheney to Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” 2001
“We didn't bring this crisis on ourselves, but we'll be the ones to settle it. This is a dirty business and we have to get our hands dirty to clean it up!” – President Wayne Palmer, 24
“War is cinema and cinema is war.” – Paul Virilio, War and Cinema, 1989
Although the leap to Paul Virilio’s understanding that “war is cinema and cinema is war” takes some time to fully comprehend, what is fairly transparent is the long historical relationship between war and cinema. Cinematographic technology flourished during WWI, as the lens of reconnaissance blurred sight for soldier and civilian, but crystallized it for the military strategist. War and cinema share the same technologies (telescopic lenses, freeze frames, virtual reality, point-and-shoot), mutually inspire each other’s narratives (WWII accounts Saving Private Ryan and Triumph of the Will), and, in turn, construct the realities of their audiences. While this essay will not address Virilio’s second declaration that cinema is war, it will explore Virilio’s assertion that “war is cinema” and, in doing so, answer the question – is war inherently cinematic? To do so in a comprehensible way, I will give a brief note on the necessity of speed and, then, examine the centrality of the constructed narrative in war and cinema. Lastly, to round out the understanding of how war is cinematic, this essay will comment on the participation of both war and cinema in the derealization of reality.
Speed, Virilio contends, is the essence of war. According to Virilio, with the advent of new technologies, war takes place in time, not geography. Instead of bringing us closer to experiencing far-away places and people, the goal of new technology is to move us ever farther away from the other, into a re-imagined reality. Just as war does, cinema also takes place in time, as the primary commitment we make to experience it is time-sensitive, not place-sensitive, and as space disappears in the cinema when scenes are flattened onto a screen. After making the time commitment, without moving we are transported quickly in our railway-car styled theater through 1-dimensional celluloid topography. Fittingly, “cinematic” functions occasionally as a form of “kinematic,” and kinematics, or, as it used to be called, cinematics, the name originating from the French cinématique, which is the geometry of motion (“Cinematic”). Cinema simulates the feelings of movement, speed, and immediacy, creating, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, an imposture of immediacy. Cinema also requires the acceleration of time to condense a story into a digestible segment – Six Days of the Condor becomes just three. Thus, both cinema and war share a sense of the primacy of speed.
The struggle between good and evil is another ever-present part of war. For this reason, Virilio writes: “War can never break free from the magical spectacle because its very purpose it to produce that spectacle: to fell the enemy is not so much to capture as to ‘captivate’ him, to instill the fear of death before he actually dies” (Virilio 5). The war story locates every participant within it, as all become part of and are awed by its immensity. The most obvious case of this creative function of war is the construction of the hero-villain paradigm.
First, let’s take the hero. An excellent example of the relationship between war and cinema and hero construction is the Army Strong US Army Campaign. According to the Army Strong Fact Sheet, which features the clean and bold Arial font, the campaign started in November 2006 in an effort to re-invigorate recruitment. See an example of the Army Strong clip here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hosiAsy8dhA
As described on the US Army Strategic Communications, Marketing and Outreach website the campaign “captures the unique brand of strength found in the U.S. Army Soldier” and “the voice of the U.S. Army Soldier” (Strategic Outreach Directorate, US Army Accessions). In this way, the individual is presented as the collective and becomes a marketable brand. Even though the linked add favors a crescendo of rousing trumpets and clashing cymbals to the “unique voice” of these individuals, its producers emphasize the truthfulness and authenticity of their representation of reality. As one of the fact sheets explains, actual soldiers were used in the ads since: “No actor could ever authentically convey the power and intensity of an Army Strong Soldier. That’s why every Soldier portrayed in the new Army Strong advertising campaign is an actual U.S. Army Soldier” (Strategic Outreach Directorate, US Army Accessions). This suggests that soldiers are never actors, actors are never truthful, and that only by joining the Army will one be able to create the Army Strong character.
Yet, is anyone represented as his or her “true” self when artfully lit by a setting sun or climbing to a soundtrack of heralding trumpets? While the producers apparently wanted authenticity in regards to the soldiers featured in the ad, that old Hollywood magic was used proudly to sell the Army Strong brand, again reaffirming the relationship between Hollywood and war. The director for the ads was Samuel Bayer, who is well-known for producing numerous award-winning videos for the likes of Green Day, The Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith, and his work on campaigns for Nike, Coke, Pepsi, Lexus, and Mountain Dew (Strategic Outreach Directorate, US Army Accessions). The composer is Mark Isham, a top Hollywood film composer who has produced scores for many notable films, such as Eight Below, Running Scared, Crash, and Men of Honor (Strategic Outreach Directorate, US Army Accessions). Thus, with Bayer and Isham’s help, the army creates the identity of the Army Strong hero-soldier, with just a touch of Hollywood glamour. As noted by John Whiteclay Chambers II and David Culbert in the introduction to a 1994 issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, “Pierre Sorlin reminds us, movies [or in our case commercials] are images, derivative perspectives on the world, that are marketed for profit” (Chambers II 353). The profit to be had here is augmented recruitment numbers and a national identification of soldiers as heroes, crucial to morale during war.
The construction (or is it obstruction?) of the opponent’s identity is another critical element of the war story. For the viewer at home, and for that matter the soldier on the field, the enemy is presented as obscure and unidentifiable, nothing like us, especially in the War on Terror. He/she/it morphs into an evil villain shrouded in a mist of anti-freedom and anti-American sentiment, characterized by the grizzled fonts that shout “TERROR TARGET” on CNN headline news. This distance between the villain and hero, which facilitates their alienation, is upheld “through [war’s] hyper-generation of movement, mixing the accomplishments of the means of destruction and the means of communicating destruction” (Virilio 24). By doing so, “war falsifies appearance by falsifying distance” (Virilio 24). This cancellation of time and space during war, as described by Virilio, is just like Albert Gace’s definition of cinema, which finds it “magical, spell-binding, capable of giving to the audience, in every fraction of a second, that strange sensation of four-dimensional omnipresence canceling time and space” (Gace in Virilio 26). War, like cinema, alienates us from the enemy, and holds us spell-bound in its fear-driven, cinematic, and oh-so-climactic fable of us vs. them. The beginning of a newsreel on Osama bin Laden from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360˚, featuring thumping ominous music that signals the segment will be another part of the war story, does just that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVoGFPLeCFM. It’s interesting that the networks feel the need to characterize war news with scary music and flashy graphics. Perhaps they think we wouldn’t know whom to hate, otherwise.
The images and sounds of war news create cinematic suspense not just because of their theatrical quality, but also because war is actually highly suspenseful, as a result of the omnipresent shadow of uncertainty that follows it around. At this point, for instance, no one knows what will happen in Iraq or Afghanistan, when troops will leave, or if/when there will be another attack on the United States. While it is becoming clearer what exactly the CIA did during interrogation of suspected terrorists and what the Bush Administration’s role was in sanctioning torture, the haze is just lifting. This story in particular is so rife with the elements of a thriller that it is no surprise that VP Cheney’s “dark side” served as inspiration to President Wayne Palmer’s “dirty hands” on 24, one of the most popular thrillers on television. The uncertainty of wartime thus lends itself well to suspense, which translates seamlessly into cinema.
In addition to having the cinematic elements of a compelling narrative and suspenseful mood, war is also inherently cinematic as it participates in the same kind of derealization of reality as cinema. For soldiers, for example, seeing is done through virtual reality, as it is a mechanical eye that reinterprets the outside world into flickering green dots on a screen. As James Der Derian has noted, the proliferation of simulation in military training has led to the inability of some soldiers to think outside of the simulations, rendering them unable to adapt to “actual” reality when it changes something on the screen. This dependency on simulation has led to some serious mistakes, like the destruction of an Iranian commercial airliner cruising over the Gulf. Virilio describes the effect of refracted sight on the soldier, noting: “As sight lost its direct quality and reeled out of phase, the soldier had the feeling of being not so much destroyed as derealized or dematerialized, any sensory point of reference suddenly vanishing in a surfeit of optical targets” (Virilio 15). Virilio adds: “The soldier’s panic-stricken distancing from static warfare is transferred to the technology of lightning-war, to the telescopic lenses and the stereoscopic glass of military photo-analysis, in a medium which seems aqueous, glass-like, with all its phenomena of refraction and diffraction” (Virilio 74). The technology and methods of war, thus, create a new space in which the soldier’s very existence is called into question, as all sensory input enters the thought through viscous, distorting lenses. Cinema, in a similar way, provides distance from reality, while constituting a new space of existence.
The consequence of this derealization (and this is where we close the loop) is a desire for a rematerialization of images, motion, and story – a cinematic interpretation of reality. So, not only does war lend itself to cinema, it requires the use of cinematic methods to construct its own version of reality in which it can thrive. War must construct this reality through a sustained, identity shaping narrative, in the small confines of the closed cockpit, the war bunker, or the submarine, so that war continues and all of its participants know what they are, or maybe more importantly what they are not. While this has failed at times, as is clear from the various interviews conducted with Iraq War veterans that attest to their feelings of a lack of purpose and their insight into the non-heroic aspects of the soldier’s life, the narrative of war has at least proven sustainable enough that the US is still at war with Iraq.
War requires a narrative if it is to survive – what else would keep soldiers from running away from the bullets and a populace from allowing clear violations of its precious civil liberties than the belief in the war narrative of honor, brotherhood, and good vs. evil? Without the narrative, death is denied its heroic overtures, villains look like ordinary people, and the measured suspense we are fed through news media could give way to panic and paranoia by tainting the war’s sense of purpose. War needs cinematic interpretation, a story, for all those who witness it to attempt to understand its horrors and tragedies. If one is not readily available, as it was during WWII, then one must be constructed.
Virilio remarks that crew from members of the aircraft carrier Nimitz told a journalist from Libération: “Our work is totally unreal. Every now and then, fiction and reality should get together and prove once and for all that we really are here” (Virilio 66). The soldiers want a reintegration of the cinematic elements and reality of war to reaffirm they are there, to reaffirm their existence, and to reaffirm who they are. This is perhaps the essential purpose of the war narrative, as without being convinced one is on the side of good, that one is in his or her own right a hero in the American story, it seems there would be little incentive to continue witnessing the suffering and death endemic to war. War is not beautiful and while the Army Strong soldiers are surely brave and strong, they still cry when they get hurt and they do return in coffins. It is screaming one hears, not the crescendo of trumpets.
Perhaps society is so comfortable with this war narrative because to face “actual” reality, without the ornamentation of an epic struggle or a non-human enemy, would be too difficult. Maybe we need the mood lighting and suspense to refract the reality of war so that we can feel at ease with our national identity that has, for the last few years especially, been suffused with war. Hitler realized the importance of creating these alternative conceptions of self and reality during wartime, noting that people needed to forget about the suffering of war and instead be pacified into a comfortable, unquestioning state of existence, in which their subconscious, influenced by Hitler’s propaganda, drove their identities. Goebbels noted that the regime needed a mechanism to make the German people a mass of common visionaries “obeying a law they did not even know but which they could recite in their dreams” (Goebbels 1931 in Virilio 54). Thus, war needs cinema, and cinema is essentially a stylized and constructed narrative. This narrative influences our collective identity, and that identity allows us to breathe in the sanitized and composed space of refracted reality.
Army Strong. Dir. Samuel Bayer. Perf. US Army Soldiers. 2006. YouTube. 10 Mar. 2008 .
Chambers II, John Whiteclay and Culbert, David (1994) "Introduction." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 14:4, 353-356.
Cheney, Dick. Interview with Tim Russert. 2001. 11 Mar. 2008 .
“Cinematic.” Oxford English Dictionary. 10 Mar. 2008 .
CNN: LATEST OSAMA BIN LADEN TAPE. Dir. CNN. Perf. Soledad O'Brien, Osama bin Laden, and Paul Cruickshank. 2007. YouTube. 10 Mar. 2008 .
"Memorable Quotes for 24." IMBD. 2008. 11 Mar. 2008 .
Strategic Outreach Directorate, US Army Accessions. “United States Army Accessions Command: G7- Strategic Communications, Marketing and Outreach.” US Army. 11 Mar. 2008 .
Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema: the Logistics of Perception. London: Verso, 1989.
The Love-Hate Relationship of War and Cinema: How the Filmic Experience of Violence will someday destroy the Military-Machine
*Extra Credit* Thematic Essay
During World War I, film was introduced as part of the strategic war-waging mechanism to capture a bird’s eye view of the enemy. That niche evolved in the Second World and Cold wars when film became fodder for the propaganda machine, and, hot or cold, war was the popular dynamic between clashing ideologies. More recently, film has exported the experience of war beyond the real-time audience of boots on the ground. By making the human carnage of the Gulf and Iraq wars (as well as of humanitarian crises) visible (read: “real”) to an otherwise uninvolved public, and given an international community struggling to substantiate the lip service it pays to international law and assumptions of human dignity, film has turned the idea of “cinema as war fodder” on its head and made the declaration of war in fact less viable. Whether used to inflame or arrest public support for military intervention on behalf of nationalism, capitalism, “freedom”, or [insert your favorite call to arms here], for both its sensory appeal and elucidation of human tragedy, filmic representations of war make for good cinema.
As described by the French director Abel Gance, cinema is unique for its ability to give the audience “that strange sensation…of cancelled time and space.” Because war is already ingrained in the cultural logic of men, when used to portray the “facts” of a war story such a temporal vacuum easily absorbs the audience. Barthes adds to this the idea of the studium of war, its “application to a thing, a taste for someone…[participation] in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions.” Great cinema magnifies real human truths: just as comedians are funny when they reflect real-life frustrations (See Ellen Degeneres on mechanized toilet flushing), and drama is sad when the tragedy is relatable, so too is war universally feared (or, if not, then respected) for its wake of human destruction. Everyone can relate to something in that; everyone knows or at the least can understand the humanity in a war film, the frequent ambiguity of good and evil, and the extenuating circumstances and cultural logics that prevent absolute distinctions. The sensory and emotional appeal of war is such that every individual is drawn into the proverbial bigger picture, regardless of spatial or temporal displacement.
Good cinema is emotive and “travel[s] straight to the hearts of audiences” through a conduit of individuals: it is through the vicarious experience of characters that the experience of war is internalized. Film viewing can be likened to a hallucination in which the screen acts as “point of passage,” transporting the audience to someone else’s time and place. The sensory overload of war is sufficient in its own right for the purposes of historical transportation; what defines “war” as a cinematic genre, however, is the handling of truth through individual suffering without the expense of macro-world depth. As Peter Almond explained, in film stories, it helps not only to have dramatic characters in dramatic situations that determine their direction in the story and make the story compelling, but that there must also be a strong, familiar premise (e.g. war). The war backdrop presents the audience with the inherent absurdity and depravity of war. As such, its continued representation through a medium of recognizable characters may contribute to its obsolescence (a new angle on the democratic peace theory).
War is cinematic because the micro-level storyline allows for unpredictability, despite the known outcome of an historical event. The characters that carry the film against the backdrop of epochal issues are the instruments of suspense, such that a script must be character-oriented, thereby attaching the audience to their fate, when that of the world has long-been decided.
“War is cinema and cinema is war,” says Paul Virilio. Without experience in the film industry, it’s difficult to back up that latter statement, but the first assertion speaks to the fact that society often tries to make sense of reality, of tragedy, loss and the gamut of human emotion in a cinematic way: that is, by presenting them via the experience of believable film characters, proxies for real world people.
In his efforts to bring well-known historical events (and non-events) to life, Koji Masutani used several stylistic tools: augmenting the background noise at President Kennedy’s press conferences such that those scenes completely filled Joukowsky as if it were Kennedy’s own stage; trapping modern footage in black and white such that the passage of thirty years was blunted; and using as few filters as possible, thereby allowing Kennedy to speak for himself. Without the juxtaposition of modern-day interviews with Kennedy’s contemporaries, the audience saw Kennedy not as a historical figure but as someone speaking to them about carrots and sticks.
The premise of Kennedy’s ability to avoid recourse to violence against the Red Threat in Cuba and Vietnam, while interesting of itself, is already known to “Thirteen Days” and “Virtual JFK” audiences. What makes the threat – and, in other cases, practice – of war cinematic, is the careful character development against the larger premise and alongside a powerful musical score such that the viewer is transported into the storyline and lives the anxiety and absurdity of war. Assuming a world of rational actors for whom human suffering is, at best, distasteful, continuing to bring war into the cinematic realm may increase the pressure for nonviolent resolutions to transnational conflict.
My lease on this idealism expires in May; let me enjoy it until then.
Lit Review – Marching the Masses (Society of the Spectacle)
We see it every day. We open our eyes and we are saturated in it. We close our eyes and our minds obsess over it. We see it, and yet we believe that we can hear it, smell it, feel it, and even taste it. From the moment we are born we begin to sink ever deeper into dependency until, through our consumption of it, it consumes us. By “it” I am referring to the “spectacle” as perceived by Guy Debord in his book Society of the Spectacle, translated by Ken Knabb. The spectacle is every form of media. Debord wrote Society in 1967, yet developments in media technology and practice have only strengthened his analysis. Many of his critiques of the spectacle read as if they could have been written today.
The media creates a false world, one which the real world embraces and sustains. Debord describes the spectacle as a “concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving” (7). It is concrete because it is a product of the real world. It exists in many forms, but it is dead. It has no life in and of itself, yet it produces the appearance of life. As people venture farther into the illusion, and the image of the illusion grows ever clearer, they forget that it is false and take it as real. In this way, society subconsciously stumbles into a hyper reality and is taken over by the spectacle. The spectacle informs us, directs us, and conditions us to desire it. It is programmed to ensure its own survival.
This mechanistic process is fueled by consumerism. The spectacle portrays an image of life that people aspire to attain. It sets a society’s agenda by making people desire what the spectacle exhibits. People see a personality on television or in the movies that they admire and they want to emulate him or her. People see a lifestyle and they want it to be theirs. People see products and they want to buy them. On another level, the media produces stories that people want to hear. It induces people not only to buy into it, literally and figuratively, but also to hunger for more. The economy of the spectacle is a force in itself, making it timeless.
For consumerism to sustain the spectacle, however, the people who are bound to consume it must also produce it (22). Debord sees the media, and the society of the spectacle, as an instrument of power, of capitalist control. Capitalism does not just promote in the short term but also creates the necessary conditions for the perpetuation of the spectacle. Debord comments, “The economy has come to dominate society so completely that it has proved capable of recreating the class domination it needs for its own continued operation” (57). He goes on to say that this power created by the bourgeoisie “is capable of maintaining itself even without a bourgeoisie” (57). Class exploitation is the structural product of a system which, on the surface, appears to offer its benefits to everyone.
For Debord, this society of the spectacle is nothing more than a veil of lies. It binds people to a life they are told they want and to things they are told they need. As the spectacle grows more powerful and pervasive, people become alienated from one another. Ironically, as the individual becomes more insulated within society, individuality crumbles and loses meaning. The spectacle creates the illusion of identity within the mass of society. Debord says, “as with the adoption of seemingly aristocratic first names which end up being given to virtually all individuals of the same age, the objects that promise uniqueness can be offered up for mass consumption only if they have been mass produced” (34). Individuality is packaged and sold to a society of people trying to be different, but which in the end makes them the same. Individuality depends on how you appear to others and how others define you. Each individual has a certain degree of freedom within the society of the spectacle, yet that freedom is nothing more than a vision. Debord says, “The closer their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from that life” (17). People create their identity by selecting and accumulating within the spectacle. They define themselves by what they see, what they want, and what they have, but all of these defining factors are outside of themselves and are imposed upon them.
For this reason, Debord describes the spectacle as a “visible negation of life” (9). While we continue to live, in physical essence, we move farther and farther away from the reality of living. At this point, it is hard not to think of the exaggerated dichotomy of human existence presented in the Matrix films and the questions it raises: What does it mean to live? What is real? How do we know? In the end, does it really matter?
Stepping away from abstraction and toward something more concrete, it is interesting to contemplate this book as a medium. As a translation, Debord’s commentary has passed through many filters. Ken Knabb drew from the original text, which was written in French, as well as the several other English translations available. To a certain extent, the text has evolved into its current form and taken on a life of its own. It is similar to the spectacle in that it persists. People reproduce it and add to it. Through their interpretation and translation of the text they make it their own and yet it can never be theirs. This false sense of ownership, of reality, is what characterizes the society of the spectacle.
This fundamental dilemma presented to us by the spectacle is one that we cannot overcome. It “presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned” (9). While Debord attempts to do so, to a certain extent, the spectacle is unquestionable. The spectacle is born out of reality, and the vague point where it blurs into illusion exists within our heads; there is no clear point of crossing over, and therefore this subconscious drift into illusion is unique for everyone. When we begin to question the spectacle, we may come to understand it better, but it is already too late; from the moment we begin to breathe we are adopted by the spectacle, and by living we breathe life into it. We created it, we desire it, and it enslaves us. It is our inspiration, our safety net, our salvation from ourselves, and yet our curse. But why exhaust so much effort in contemplation when it is far easier to relax and let the spectacle sweep you away?
We have received confirmation that Jay Rosen (see bio below) will be one of our two guests (the other being Chris Lydon) for the Global Media Lab on TV and Radio (March 19). Please be sure to read the following links provided by Jay Rosen before then:
There was an interesting blogpost by Andrew Romano in February on the Newsweek website that I thought might interest everyone. One of the issues it addresses is the use of the Gotham font in creating the Obama "brand." Romano interviews Michael Bierut, who is featured elsewhere on the Global Media site and in the film Helvetica, and Bierut offers some very interesting insights into Barack Obama's campaign design.
"I think he's using design in a way to make him look as normal, as comfortable, as inevitable as a brand can look in American life. Those are really deliberate, interesting choices. Whether or not a sans serif font like Gotham looks more "American" than a Swiss font like Helvetica, that's in our imaginations to a certain degree. I think it's much more incontrovertible that he's actually using the seamlessness of this branding to convey a candidacy that's not a dangerous, revolutionary, risk-everything proposition--but as something that is well-managed and has everything under control." - Michael Bierut on the font used in the Obama campaign
In the final scene of a film I started watching on Norway TV (I blame the the jet-lag), which features suicide bombers, suitcase nukes, an attack on NYC, a fitness-obsessed prez, an all-powerful 'world television network', and arab oil - all in 1982. The film is pure schlock, but dead-on and prescient in its analysis of the media as accelerant of war and terror. It is worth watching right to the end, when the US uses a terrorist attack on the homeland as an excuse to invade an oil-producing country, and Sean Connery, as the media super-hack, prepares to parachute in with the military (premature embeddedness), he gives the memorable line of 'if it doesn't happen on TV it doesn't happen' (or something like that), simultaneously tearing off his very bad rug. The other reason to watch the credits is for the amazing cast of great B-grade comedic actors (Leslie Nelson, Dean Stockwell, and ...Rosalind Cash, go figure) and the novel credit, 'The Better Angels', by Charles Mcgarthy, who was ex-CIA and wrote some of the best post-watergate, paranoid spy thrillers - and who was, I believe, the first novelist to feature the suicide bomber. Let's see if we can netflix or get this up on mycourse, for some more serious exegesis.
Watching 13 Days was a strange experience. As I sat down and watched the movie, I kept thinking about my grandfather, Dario Prohias Bello. Although I’m sure you’re wondering why this is relevant, I promise I have a point. My grandfather was a Cuban-American who had received the Purple Heart after being injured during World War II. After this, he had returned to Cuba and was asked by his half-sister to help get her son (who was at the age for military draft) get out of Cuba. My grandfather told her that he could not bring upon himself that kind of attention because there were circumstances out of his hands. Although I’m hesitant to believe the family rumor that he was a spy, his secrecy is still intriguing. My grandfather’s story reminded me of the political (war) games present in 13 Days, along with other films such as 3 Days of the Condor. Certain actions must be sacrificed in order to protect the the possibility of greater actions.
The movie 13 Days signifies the crucial secrecy and manipulation of information during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film starts with a scene of an Air Force U-2 spy plane. This plane was developed for surveillance purposes during the Cold War, and in the movie is used to capture still photographs of Cuba. Before completely revealing what the pictures are, we are introduced to the character, Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), the special assistant to the President. After leaving his wife and kids, which resembles the traditional 50’s family, he goes to work at the White House. When Kenny is in the Oval Office with President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), the pictures show USSR missiles being stationed in amongst the island greenery of Cuba.
The pictures taken by U-2 planes become essential to the political interpretations that unfold the Cuban Missile Crisis. In War and Cinema, Paul Virilio writes “There is no war, then, without representation, no sophisticated weaponry without psychological mystification. Weapons are tools not just of destruction but also of perception” (Virilio, 6). 13 Days relates how political action and the presence of weaponry can instill enough fear of a potential war that, in the case of the Crisis, causes the Soviet Union to pull out.
After much debate, JFK, his brother Robert (Steven Culp), and the Executive Committee plan out the possibility of airstrikes on USSR missiles sites in Cuba, as well as, an invasion of the island. At the suggestion of Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker), the President decides to put a blockade on Cuba. In fact, McNamara plays a key role in defining the importance of language. During a heated discussion with Admiral George Anderson (Madison Mason), McNamara argues “This is not a blockade. This is language. A new vocabulary, the likes of which the world has never seen! This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khrushchev!” This line expresses the foundation of the movie and of the crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis, as displayed by the film, is about the interpretation of actions made by the two superpowers, USA and Soviet Union.
The plot is driven by the fear of White House officials that the Soviet Union will interpret actions poorly and choose to enter a nuclear war. Throughout the film, they sit on the edge of their seats to watch how US officials deliver the political messages of the White House. When Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman), the ambassador to the UN, goes to speak to the Russian ambassador and explain why the US is placing force upon them. The President and his advisory staff fear that Adlai is too old to present their case with strength; he surprises everyone when he says “Sir, I am prepared to wait for your answer ‘til Hell freezes over, if that is your decision.” The tensions calm down in the White House as the Executive Committee see his force in challenging the Ambassador’s lies about the presence of USSR missiles in Cuba.
However, there is a constant struggle with communication. Whether generals disagree with the President or certain actions are misinterpreted (such as the flares shot above a Russian ship that McNamara confuses for bombs), the White House officials must constantly seek open contact with other US officials or with Soviet officials. Kenny O’Donnell says, at one point, “Communicate with the Soviets? We can't even communicate with the Pentagon. And they're just across the goddamn river.” These circumstances show the advanced technology created during the Cold War, as well as, the inefficiency of their methods that would not be resolved until times passes.
Communication is often kept between a limited number of people and done without the permission of many people. O’Donnell, himself, calls soldiers flying U-2 planes to capture images of Cuba. The first one he calls is a commander whom he informs, must not get shot because the government will protect him, but that involves starting a war. He basically asks Commander William B Ecker (Christopher Lawford) to not give the White House any reason to defend this commander. When the commander’s plane is shot (it was just the wing which did not prevent the plane form being flown back), he says he was it by sparrows. He calls it a “bird strike.” The title of this review is a line from this scene, asked by an Air Force crewmember that clearly sees they are bullet holes. The commander even tells his generals that he was not shot at.
This way, the Generals and the Kennedy’s can focus on the actual pictures he, and the other pilot who assisted him, captured. The use of photography in this movie is essential to the plot, as well as, the importance of media in political stand-offs. Stevenson, the Ambassador who embarrasses the Soviet ambassador, uses the photographs to prove that the Soviets are lying. There really are offensive missiles in Cuba that are near complete operational use.
Although there are so many aspects to politics in this movie, only so much can be entertained. The importance of this film is the connection between photography (and media as a whole) and political communication. The images in the photographs and throughout the film support the threats that President Kennedy is willing to make against the Soviets. At a suspenseful moment towards the end of the crisis, O’Donnell tells his wife “If the sun comes up tomorrow, it is only because of men of good will. That is all there is between us and the devil.” This line sums up the fear that war implements in our lives. All we can hope for is a strong political figure who can convince the ‘other side’ that we are better; we are stronger (even if we are just as scared as they are).
-13 Days Directed by Roger Donaldson. New Line Cinema, 2000.
- Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema. Published by Verso books, 1989.
Der Derian and Santos
Lit Review for 2.27.08
The article “The (S)pace of International Relations: Simulation, Surveillance and, Speed ” gives one much food for thought in the context of both the cold war and today’s media and representation of what could be happening behind the scenes. Simulation, the idea that instead of preparing for real events through actual practice and training, a video module gives all the training that is necessary. Surveillance makes one wonder how much one can actually keep things completely secret if everything is potentially being listened to. Speed is necessary to continue at the top of the global hierarchy therefore we see technology advance every day. This article presents how technology has changed the security and war and how it will continue to change.
Professor James der Derian argues that people like to know that they are safe; they like to feel that the government is keeping them out of harm’s way and therefore stealth and illusionary practices are necessary. Disneyland itself only exists to give reality to everything else, but everything else is lost to simulation and to the effort of making it real. Illusions, simulations, the ones we create ourselves or those that are created for us can have great impact on our perceptions and how we react. “…simulations have been staged to prepare nation states for future wars; by doing so, as many players would claim, they help keep the peace…” (300). They help keep the peace, because even imaging war through a computer visual is too hard tolerate. These simulations can also as was the case with the Vincennes, “That training relied heavily on tapes that simulate battle situations, none of which included overflights by civilian airliners – a common occurrence in the Gulf” (301). In this case simulation training did not help keep the peace it proved instead to not be proper training for real life situations.
The object brought to mind by the term surveillance is the panopticon, which can see all around it without reciprocating. It is now an outdated method in comparison to the possibilities opened up by changes in technology. “The modern panopticism takes many forms but it is the communications intelligence (COMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), radar intelligence (RADINT), telemetry intelligence (TELINT), and photointelligence (TECHINT) – that constitute a new regime of power in international relations” (304). There are various options to communicating and therefore methods are created to exercise control over them. The ability to detect key words during phone calls can beget the illusion of safety. If there is constant vigilance there is constant safety whether or not it invades the privacy of citizens. The fact that some of the information is achieved through unknown means generates conspiracies complicates matters as understanding who should be to blame. In the end “it normalizes relations by continuing both war and peace by other, technical means” (305). Some of the surveillance via satellite coverage becomes complicated when it interferes with countries which can generate conflict.
Speed, according to Paul Virilio, is the essence of war, “It is speed that transforms the hand into a dangerous fist…” (307). During war it is speed that saves your life and it is speed that makes you the winner. The faster that a person can dive for cover or find the enemy the faster the threat will be neutralized. Speed then, is key to being a winning force, to being an important force in International Relations. Time can become even more important than the space the war is fought in when weapons like nuclear bombs are being used. Speed becomes most necessary.
This article brings to mind the television show Alias. The show ran for five seasons giving one the impression that the idea of espionage is one that caters to a large public. The show itself presents visuals of the ideas presented in this article. The image of Surveillance in the way the CIA uses ECHELON to listen in on phone conversations and in this way is tipped off to potential threats to national or global security. They are then to use the utmost speed to change the potential disaster that has already been simulated to them via computer technology if they fail the mission. Surveillance, simulation and speed are especially important to someone that is a double agent in helping to keep that particular status secret.
There are no real conclusions as to what happens next only questions. Where have we come since the Cold War and where are we going with this war in Iraq? What role have these actions played and what role will they continue to play in the upcoming years?
3 Days of the Condor
IR180, Der Derian and Santos
Conspiracies fascinate the American public. Ever since World War II, we realized that openly combating our enemies would lead to certain destruction. Conspiracies thus became the topic of films dealing with an “enemy,” though sometimes an enemy right here at home. Three Days of the Condor deals with the issue of conspiracy, and trying to find the “man behind the curtain.” Pollack plays with this plot trope while making sure at the end we still believe the world is safe and in control.
First of all, he plays with then subverts our idea of the “other.” We are pretty sure going into the movie that it is going to be based around “conspiracy,” not state to state warfare. This is made clear from the beginning when Turner says that when talking to a superior about strange patterns he had found in the translations of a certain book, “He said it’s not my department.” Watching this film from a modern perspective, this is an immediate tip that the conspiracy is going to be home based.
This assumption is immediately put under attack when we hear the killer, the first person we see who is definitely involved in the conspiracy, speak. He has a French accent, while his unit doesn’t seem to speak at all. This gives us a very strong sense of the unidentifiable “others.” Those who are not American and have somehow been plotting against us from the outside.
We know, of course, that by the end of the movie, this man in the glasses is not the man behind the curtain, but it is in fact someone within the CIA itself. What does it mean that the CIA hired out foreign contractors to conduct business within the U.S.? We are dealing with issues of trying to find out who the enemy is, a constant in Cold War media.
Now let us turn to this ubiquitous “man behind the curtain.” Is it someone in the CIA? Is it a person from an enemy government working against the U.S.? Our first hint that one exists is in the first two minutes of the movie, where we see a list with John Turner’s name on it, and it is slowly crossed off. Every other name on the list, side one, has already been crossed off. There is something brewing, and there is someone behind it.
Through the course of the movie, there are different people who seem to be on Turner’s side and against Turner, and it is not until Turner uses his knowledge of a phone system (because he was in the Army and worked in communications) that we finally think we have found the man behind whatever conspiracy is being covered up, Atwood. This gives us an enemy, somebody to find and somebody to stop. There is somebody in control, and we can fix our problems if we just stop that person.
The confrontation with Atwood comes around in a classic movie format. Turner has a gun to him, and Atwood begins to confess, and we hear that it’s about oil. Our cadence of full confession, then vindication, is cut short when the original assassin returns and kills Atwood. What does this say about our man behind the curtain when Atwood, who we thought was the head of the conspiracy, is so easily disposed of? Is there are larger conspiracy above him? Was he really just killed because he was shameful to the department? If Atwood wasn’t running the show, then who is?
That last question is what is addressed so eloquently in this film. Terrorist networks don’t really have an executive at the top who is running the whole group. There is nobody who we could capture or kill to stop the network overall. Networks like these, and many other “conspiracy” networks are just a group of people, usually loosely organized, attempting to do the best for themselves. While we believed that the conspiracy was a conspiracy all the way to the top, we realize that Atwood was at the end. There was no government conspiracy, there were people trying to make money and it went south when Turner stumbled upon them. There are no more sides any more, no loyalty to certain governments, as Joubert (the original assassin) says to Turner, “No need to believe in either side or any side…the belief is in your own precision.”
The problem with espousing this message, though, is that people begin to panic when they believe that there is no man behind the curtain. Even though we find it sinister, we also find it comforting that somebody we don’t see or know about is always watching us. When we have many people only relying on their own skills and wants, we just have some form of organized anarchy. We also realize there is no single authoritative say in what is happening, every group defines their own version of the truth, and there is no authority to say what is wrong and what is right. This can be frightening to people and therefore turn them off this particular film.
Pollack combats this fear in two different clever ways. First of all, the ending conversation between Turner and Higgins seems to imply that the CIA might just have had more to do with Atwood’s renegade project than previously thought. As Turner says, “Who the hell is Atwood? He’s you, he’s all you guys.” Our fears are further assuaged through Higgins explanation of why the CIA may have let Atwood go ahead with his plan. The CIA could see some benefit for the country in what he was doing, and therefore let him proceed.
It is in the very last shot of the film, though, where we don’t have to worry about the world being thrown into some sort of every man for himself anarchy, and we are assured there is still some higher power watching over us. This is when Turner looks back from behind a group of Christmas Carolers, the shot freezes, and then it turns black and white under the credits. This shot looks exactly like a surveillance photo that someone could have taken from a car Turner would not have seen.
Turner is still under surveillance and that makes us, or at least me, feel safe. No matter how much we like and romanticize the story of one man who can take on a whole organization like the CIA, it is incredibly frightening. What if that one person does not have good intentions, like Turner? What we needed at the end of Three Days of the Condor, and what was delivered, was a way for our hero to be victorious, but for us still to know that there is a watchful eye out there making sure the country still runs safely, no matter what happens.
Thematic Essay - Picturing the Enemy: How We Become the One We Hate
Toward the end of the Second World War, a race began. Mistrust that had been brewing beneath the surface bubbled over as the Soviet and Western armies chased the prize: Berlin. In the years that followed, as the smoke from the battlefields dissipated, a chill settled over the great powers and split most of world into two spheres. Whispers and murmurs of suspicions and secrets replaced the din of artillery. From a distance, the Soviets and the Americans observed each other. From what little they saw or knew, they began to speculate about one another, to create their own images of the “other,” the enemy. In this way, the media became the primary architect of the Cold War narrative in the United States.
This narrative was constantly evolving, as understandings of the conflict, the enemy, and the collective “we” took on new meaning. In the form of advertisements, newscasts, and films, information blended with propaganda; the narrative fed back into the reality, framing the way in which people perceived one another and shaping their interactions. The media was both an instrument and an independent actor in the Cold War. It created a pseudo reality that, in the end, may have collapsed upon itself by virtue of its speed, outpacing the capacity of the public to adapt; after forty years, people grew tired of it. As Arno and Dissanayake comment, “Intercultural awareness has lagged behind the means of communication” (Arno and Dissanayake, 13). When it all began, the enemy was simple, concrete, distinct, and identifiable. By the end, the enemy was amorphous: anyone or no one. Who could tell anymore?
Propaganda came into prominence as a wartime tool in the United States during WWII. Racialized portrayals of the Japanese as twisted, heartless animals sought to remove them from the sphere of humanity and make it easier for the troops to conceptualize and kill the enemy without remorse. The Germans received different treatment, as the propaganda often distinguished between “good” Germans and evil Nazis. Propaganda galvanized the war effort by glorifying the strength of the American way and presenting the war as a zero-sum conflict. The media’s message was one of dire urgency; we had to confront the enemy or risk losing our American liberty. The conflict was framed ideologically; our liberty became that of the world as we faced off against the forces of tyranny. The enemy had attacked us and was therefore one we could not coexist with.
Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution, the American media had looked upon Russia with mistrust. When the Soviet Union became an ally against Nazi Germany, the mood somewhat shifted to portray them as such, yet the underlying perceptions remained. The film Ninotchka (1939) contrasted the communist life with Western life from the perspective of a Soviet woman sent on business to Paris. She is overwhelmed by the splendor of the city and tempted to stay when she finds love. Her experience in the West is contrasted with that back home, where life is more difficult and individuality is unfamiliar. This film starkly sets the Soviet Union apart from the West as a stifling and backward land. Unsurprisingly, the West claims her and grants her love in the end. This early/pre-Cold War film does not present the Soviets as an enemy per se, but rather as the “other.” Their system is inferior and artificially imposed upon the people. They are confused, but once they have experienced Western life, who could go back? There is confidence that the West will win them over.
When the Cold War fully got under way, however, the relationship turned to one of rivalry in which each side feared falling behind the other. Both powers endeavored to position themselves to better their images while entrenching themselves within their particular spheres. In this phase of the Cold War, the concern arose that if the United States did not actively “win over” other states, then they would fall to the Soviets. America had to show the superiority of its capabilities and ideology. Its capabilities came in the form of military, economic, and cultural strength. Its ideology was one of morality, individual liberty, and equality (if only in theory). These “pure” American characteristics were set against those of the Soviet Union.
Hollywood aided in espousing these characteristics with The Ten Commandments (1956). Though set in a time thousands of years before the founding of either state, some have argued that this film allegorically portrays the ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the United States (Shaw), with the Egyptians representing Soviets and the Hebrews representing Americans. The Americans are the chosen people of God, who through their persistence, virtue, and faith overcome their oppressors. All they desire is to live freely. The Soviets are powerful yet misguided, placing their faith in false gods who fail to guide and protect them. They are cruel and take advantage of those whom they have enslaved. The film grants religious and moral authority to the allegorical Americans. At the same time, it strips the allegorical Soviets of their artificial authority. America is destined to prevail while the Soviet Union is destined to crumble. In this film, the Soviet Union is portrayed as a more direct threat to Western civilization, actively suppressing liberty and with no regard for humanity. By enhancing the identity of the enemy, it made the Soviet Union all the more important for the United States. The greater you make or perceive your enemy, the more your enemy comes to define you. By raising up the Soviets as such a profound threat, America bound itself ever tighter to them.
Some have argued that the media fueled and perpetuated the Cold War while others have credited it for helping to bring down the Soviet Union (Arno and Dissanayake). Both arguments offer interesting insights into the media dynamic of the Cold War. By creating a villain, you inherently create a hero. In this unity of opposition, both sides mutually reinforce each other, and by doing so constitute each other. One of the reasons that the Cold War was so “stable” was that at a certain level, both superpowers realized that they needed one another. As the portrayed villain became greater, so did the portrayed hero. The media elevated both sides to a hyper real plane, which gave the Soviet Union and the United States, in one form or another, power. This self-reinforcing thrust of the media likely promoted the vitality of the Cold War.
Nonetheless, the characteristic thrust of consumerism by the media may have simultaneously contributed to the downfall of the Soviet system. Tony Shaw posits, “The Cold War was won as much in the shopping basket as at the negotiating table” (Shaw, 33). Not only was media intended for consumption itself, but also it pictured and promoted American goods to those around the world. By flaunting capitalist luxury, the media indirectly compared the bounty in the West to the dearth in the East. Such a disparity in the quality of life could not endure, because you cannot wall in your own deprived people and expect them to loyally submit forever. In this light, the dissolution of the Soviet Union resembles Moses leading his people out of Egypt, with the Pharaoh powerless to stop him, just like Moscow was unable to suppress the social movements in its satellite states in the late 1980s. In these ways, the media maintained the Cold War and yet constantly chipped away at the enemy.
Eventually the enemy grew so great and complex that it became more than itself. The enemy ceased to have concrete meaning anymore and became more of an idea creeping around in American social consciousness. In Three Days of the Condor (1975), a book reader for the CIA thinks that his section has been taken out by some enemy force. When he tries to bring himself in, he is attacked by his superior and escapes. He soon discovers that the enemy is not a hostile, foreign group, but rather one of their own. This enemy was created by the hyper reality in which the intelligence community operates. In this film, the Soviets are no longer the enemy; we are our own enemies. This is what happens when the rivalry and conflict are taken too far and are played out for too long. This is what happens when surveillance and simulation are coupled with the accelerating speed of technology and interactions; reality cannot keep up and is enveloped by the hyper reality. Arno and Dissanayake put it this way: “Mass media began to mediate government-citizen communication. People became alienated from one another as cultures moved inexorably from association (Gemeinschaft) into abstraction (Gesellschaft)” (Arno and Dissanayake, 30). As the pace of media, technology, and information accelerates and people move farther away from each other into abstraction, will we become so ensnared in the hyper reality that the only enemy we can find is ourselves?
Arno, Andrew and Wimal Dissanayake, Ed. The News Media in National and International Conflict. Westview Press, Inc., Boulder, Colorado, 1984.
Chilton, Paul, Ed. Language and the Nuclear Arms Debate: Nukespeak Today. Frances Pinter Publishers, Dover, New Hampshsire, 1985.
Clayton, Koppes R. and Gregory D. Black. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1990.
Der Derian, James. “The (S)pace of International Relations: Simulation, Surveillance, and Speed.” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3, Special Issue: Speaking the Language of Exile: Dissidence in International Studies. (Sep., 1990), pp. 295-310.
Shaw, Tony. Hollywood’s Cold War. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2007.
Three Days of the Condor. Produced by Stanley Schneider and Dino De Laurentiis. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Paramount Pictures. 1975.