David Hoffman vBlog
I haven't yet seen SOP, but I imagine it mirrors much of what Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch discussed in a different medium last month:
I'm particularly interested in the rapport Morris, a film director, must have built with "the woman behind the camera" at Abu Ghraib, Sabrina Harman for her to have spoken so candidly.
Interviewees in David Hoffman’s new film, Sputnik Mania, compare the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, to “the discovery of America,” “the first shot at Lexington and Concord,” and “the second coming of Christ.” Scott Hubbard, of NASA describes it as “one of those moments in history when all of a sudden all of your thought processes changed.”
When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, “the first man made object ever to leave the atmosphere and successfully orbit the earth” on October 4th 1954, America reacted with fervor (Sputknikmania.com). It was the height of the cold war and this bold display of Soviet strength struck terror in the hearts of political and military strategists who saw in the rocket “an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially carry a nuclear bomb.” On the Monday following Sputnik’s launch, “political and military leaders appeared in print, on the radio and on TV, telling [the American people] that Sputnik was a threat to [their] security [and] that it was launched as an aggressive attack.” Sputnik, they said, was “the first shot in a cold war that could quickly become very hot” (Sputnik Mania).
The film, released as part of a year- long program commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the satellite’s launch, draws upon archival footage and interviews with key figures from the Sputnik era, including individuals from NASA, The Jet Propulsion Lab and NPR. Key insights into the Soviet view are provided by Sergei Kruschev, son of the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who lead the Soviet Union in the years after Sputnik’s launch.
Sputnik Mania deftly portrays the launch of the rocket and key events in the year that followed. The film’s emphasis however, is not upon historical detail. Hoffman is concerned less with relating the exactitudes of the technological and political developments represented by Sputnik, than by conveying the “spectacular” dimensions of this event and the transformative effect it had upon Americans’ worldview.
In Cultures in Orbit, Lisa Parks describes the ways in which vision has been transformed by the satellite. She uses the term “televisual” to describe not only “the technical apparatus or popular pleasures of broadcasting,” but also, and more significantly, the “different structures of the imaginary and/ or epistemological structures that have radiated from and taken shape around the medium over its history”(12).
The launch of Sputnik grossly undermined Americans’ sense of security and superiority. Life magazine described the launch as a “devastating blow to the prestige of the United States” and a man interviewed on a nightly news program expressed confusion, asking, “Where is our pride? Where are we? Why don’t we have a satellite up there?” Senator Lyndon B Johnson himself lamented, “Soon the Russians will be dropping bombs on us from space like kids dropping rocks from freeway overpasses.”
America hurried to catch up with the Soviets and launch its own satellite. It was like salt in a wound when a much-anticipated launch at Cape Canaveral in December failed. Sputnik Mania’s narrator Liev Schreiber relates, “It took just seven seconds to set back a nation’s pride.”
Hoffman depicts two distinct though not unrelated sides to the American reaction to Sputnik. Many were struck with fear, of annihilation or at least of the triumph of the “godless communists.” Hoffman explains that “fear changed people” and notes that “Hollywood and our office of civil defense fed this fear.” Montages in Sputnik Mania attest to the proliferation of apocalypse films, and clips from government advertisements include messages recommending that individuals “build shelters and build them right [away].”
However, Hoffman suggests that there was also a positive side to the post- sputnik psyche. He details the evolution of “space culture,” including the composition of “satellite songs” by popular musicians and the establishment of the Rocket Boys club. Hoffman suggests that there was a feeling of liberation (The New York Times announced, “Soviet scientists have launched a symbol of man’s liberation from the forces which have hitherto bound him to earth.”) and a renewed curiosity in the world beyond one’s backyard.
Parks provides a critical framework for understanding the two- sided and apparently contradictory nature of the emergent social and psychological state. She writes of the “dialectic of distance and proximity” which has emerged in the age of the satellite and describes the propagation of a “structure of feelings that enables an experience of simultaneous connection and separation”(174). Parks suggests that the satellite engenders an “anxious disorientation” and a feeling of “pleasurable remote control,” as well as a “desire for the presence of the absent other.”
Sputnik Mania arrives fifty years after the launch of Sputnik but only six years after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. Hoffman does not address parallels between the two historical moments explicitly. When asked about this choice he said, “Am I going to talk about the present? I’m never going to mention it. But I’m going to make a drama about 50 years ago that everyone of you is going to connect to today.”
Hoffman is successful in suggesting these connections without stating them plainly. One cannot help but think of George Bush warning America about the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction as you watch a clip in which a 1950s political leader says to his constituency, “Lets not fool ourselves. This may be our last chance to secure the means to save our nation from annihilation.”
In an interview with San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Steven Winn, Hoffman reflected upon our reaction to 9/11 and made a distinction between the two moments in history. He said, “Recently its just been fear, fear, fear. I think that the more inspirational side that characterized the space race… has completely gone missing” (San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2007).
Reflecting upon Hoffman’s statement, I am led to wonder if there are in fact any “Rocket Boys” in the post 9/11 era. If there were, who would they be? Is there a still a possibility for a “structure of feelings that enables an experience of simultaneous connection and separation”(174) or does George Bush preclude the possibility of this dialectic as he “audaciously declares to the global community [and to the American people], 'you’re either with us or against us!'" (Parks,178)?
Hoffman, David, Sputnik Mania, 2007.
Hoffman, David, Global Media Lab, Watson Institute, April 23, 2008
Parks, Lisa, "Cultures in Orbit (Satellites and the Televisual," Duke University Press, 2005.
Winn, Steven, "On the waves Sputnik I continues to make 50 years later," San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2007.
In the Introduction to “Worship at the Altar of Convergence,” Henry Jenkins defines convergence as the “flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences” (2). He mentions that media convergence is where “old and new media collide” and where “grassroots and corporate media intersect” (2). Walter Benjamin, in his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” also discusses a sort of convergence between the old, more contemplative forms of art like unique paintings and sculpture and photography or the new, faster-paced media of the cinema. He sees the newer art form as a new mode of representation because of the technological advances on which it depends—particularly the advances in mechanical reproducibility—as well as the fact that it presents new ways of viewing and interacting with art. In the same way that Walter Benjamin considered photography and later, film, new stages in representation, the convergence of media is also a new stage in representation because it too relies on technological advances and mechanical reproduction, and it also changes the way that people view art.
Mechanical reproduction, in Benjamin’s view, makes art more about exhibition and less about a cult experience. Of course Benjamin does mention that this reproducibility diminishes a piece’s “aura,” or authenticity, by removing it from its original context. But he also discusses how it “emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.” Accordingly, reproducibility means that one no longer needs to travel to a specific church to see a specific statue, new works of art such as photographic prints can be moved to a museum, and movies are even less limited to one location because they can be reproduced in multiple towns. Further, each of the distributed copies is indistinguishable from the original piece. Benjamin even claims that “mechanical reproduction is inherent in the very technique of film production.” In this way, film is the epitome of a type of art that is made to be reproduced, thus following his progression of art which claims that the “work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.” With mechanical reproduction, art in general becomes more about exhibiting and being seen by more people.
With modern convergence of media on the web, even more people can view the art than could view the films that Benjamin describes in 1936. For example, as of April 26, 2008, 15,388,580 people have viewed the popular YouTube video “Shoes,” which was posted only two years ago (YouTube). Moreover, these works get even more exposure because of convergence of media, and the ability of major media companies either to republish or at least reference the artwork in another context. In the same way that mechanical reproduction spreads art to many more viewers, the technology that allows viewers to broadcast their art over the web also expands that art to many more viewers.
Not only can more people view art with the convergence of media on the web, but convergence of new technologies also represents a new form of representation because it allows more people to partake in art production. Starting with the 8mm Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination in 1963, now many people can capture news events on their cameras, cell phones, or on whatever recording technology they have. Moreover, web technology like YouTube allows people to share their art globally. Unlike news of the past, news channels are likely to broadcast an event as a composite of footage from many of these ordinary people who happen to capture an event with their personal technology.
For Walter Benjamin, film presents new art techniques that combine to make a totally new art form. He describes how the technique of montage allows filmmakers to put images together in a completely new way, thus conveying the artist’s point of view in a new manner. Close up and slow motion options expand viewers’ horizons. Furthermore, for the first time, worlds with which many of us have little practical experience are opened up to us. This “immense and unexpected field of action” includes every location from taverns to office buildings and allows many of us to explore and see them for the first time.
Benjamin discusses how film is a change in representation because unlike earlier art forms, it successfully creates “changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator.” One critic identifies the technique of montage, introduced with film, as the way through which film creates these changes. Specifically, he describes how montage “rips things from their original place in an assigned sequence and reassembles them in ever changing combinations” (Nichols).
The development of montage, according to Benjamin, affects how the viewer interacts with art. Whereas a painting “invites the spectator to contemplation,” the film moves too quickly for the viewer to meditate on one image. He claims that the images “cannot be arrested” and even quotes a radical thinker who posits that in watching movies, his “thoughts have been replaced by moving images” (Duhamel, quoted in Benjamin).
Montage is extremely important for the current artwork on the web because it allows an artist to take known things and splice them together to make a new meaning. An artist can take a speech (for example, Barack Obama’s 2004 national convention speech) and cut it down to what he or she thinks are its essential elements. This editing destroys the illusion of objectivity and enhances a specific point of view, along the lines of what David Hoffmann discussed recently in our class. So though it’s Obama’s speech from the 2004 DNC, it’s the parts that a filmmaker thinks are salient, and set to the music (in one case, the Gladiator soundtrack) that he or she chooses. He or she may not be painting a subject, but is still creating art with his or her message and point of view.
Of course, this technique is what film and montage introduced to the world many years ago. What’s new in the modern era is that people end up distributing their points of view widely over the web. YouTube’s tag line, after all, is “Broadcast Yourself,” which encourages people to do just that. Furthermore, because media corporations can also access the web, your information might reach an even larger audience if they choose to comment on it, either on TV or radio broadcasts or even in Op/Eds in newspapers. In conjunction with convergence of media on the web, montage becomes a much bigger player in the modern world because these point-of-view films can be broadcast much more widely.
Another way that film establishes a new form of representation is that it separates the actor from directly influencing the art. Benjamin comments that film separates the actor from the art because the cameraman inserts his or her point of view into the filmmaking. Whereas an actor on a stage has control over how he presents himself to the audience, in a film the cameraman can film the actor from different angles, or use B roll during the actor’s speech, and thus manipulate how audiences view the actor. Similarly, with convergence on the web, one media source (film) interacts with the publication on the web. As a consequence, viewers are even farther away from the actual event (behind the filmmaker, and then the publication site). They are seeing a YouTube video as a “YouTube Video,” not as a “film by so-and-so” or simply “such-and-such event.”
Moreover, convergence of media on the web allows a shift in how art interacts with reality. While art has always provoked thought and even controversy, with painting the provoked thoughts were more like personal reflections. Now, with widespread YouTube distribution, these thoughts become international discussion and debate. A very clear example is the Bert/Osama picture, which Jenkins focused on. What began as a simple image on a website from California made its way onto anti-American propaganda in Pakistan, which made later appeared on CNN. The convergence between Photoshop technology, worldwide distribution, and attention from news sources such as CNN fueled a very intense international debate. Even the author of the image claimed that his “Bert is Evil” site “has always been contained and distanced from big media. This issue throws it out in the open” and moves the image “too close to reality” (Dino Ignacio, quoted in Jenkins, 2). Convergence now means that art suddenly and acutely influences how we interact on an international level.
Along these lines, Benjamin saw that the evolution of art into mechanically reproduced cinema changed the way that art interacted with politics, in that cinema gave political leaders (and especially the cult of personality, Fascist leaders) more power over the people. Web publication similarly signals a shift in the way that art and politics interact because new and more available technology allows filmmakers to portray political figures in new and interesting ways. We already discussed the filmmaker’s control in broadcasting the salient elements of Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Certainly, that sort of montage means that political leaders are presented in radically new ways. However, the ‘Obamagirl’ video presents Obama in an entirely new way-mashing together song lyrics, pictures of him, and a video of a girl strutting around New York City. No longer is the political leader’s appearance restricted to the speeches that he presents to the crowds. New technology allows all of the separate elements listed above to be combined into a single (hilarious) video that portrays the presidential candidate in an entirely new light.
Moreover, the widespread video distribution on YouTube allows political candidates to get much more exposure. Now, Obama’s 2004 convention speech is all over YouTube (there are ~22 different videos of the speech), and one can see 378 videos of the recent Philadelphia presidential debate. In January, Facebook even broadcaster the New Hampshire debates and allowed people to comment on them. CNN later reported on those public comments, meaning that television viewers were bombarded with news information from many different angles and sources. Considering these effects of convergence, candidates are surely reaching wider audiences. But whereas Benjamin was afraid of increased political audience, this increased distribution results in a dramatic increase in voter participation. In California, 31% of the eligible voting population voted in the in 2004 primary and 41% voted in 2007. In Iowa 6% caucused in 2004 and 16% this past January 2008 (GMU Website).
Another intriguing aspect is that Benjamin wrote about the relationship between art and politics in 1936, before World War II. Considering his emphasis on the interaction between art and politics and war, Benjamin would probably find the following quote, by Hollywood producer William Harrison (Will) Hays in 1939, very interesting: “The primary purpose of motion pictures is entertainment—entertainment which will be effective as such, and entertainment which is, at its best, inspirational” (Cited in Koppes). Clearly, this producer does not see film as promoting a political position, or as trying to influence the public at all. Towards the end of Benjamin’s essay, he writes that “distraction as provided by art presents a covert control” over the masses. If he heard this quote, he would probably point out that though the film industry’s goal may be to provide entertainment, even passive entertainment can be influential. He would point to the masses’ ability to absorb architectural changes passively and thus aid in the evolution of architecture. In the same way, the masses can absorb political messages from film.
Film on the web is clearly a new art form. Suddenly, a video of a man who can fit himself entirely in a rubber balloon is a work of art, as is a compilation photo of Bert from Sesame Street with Osama bin Laden. Convergence of media on the web allows this new art form to exist. Moreover, convergence of media on the web changes the way that art interacts with politics, much like the creation of film changed the way that art interacted with politics in the early part of the 20th century. In this way, convergence of media on the web certainly does represent a new art form.
From this realization, the important question becomes: “what role will this new art form play in the world’s future?” This idea echoes the question that Benjamin put to art in 1936 when he titled his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Not only does work of art mean the piece of art, but it also means the job of art. In this way, Benjamin examines the role of art in his society. Film and photography certainly continued to play key roles in politics after his essay. Despite Will Hays’ comment, 2500 Hollywood films were released between 1939 and 1945, many of which had to do with the war (Koppes). War photography throughout the Vietnam War sparked a lot of controversy about America’s actions there. In a similar vein, we can discuss how the convergence of media on the web will interact with politics today. As I already mentioned, the convergence of media on the web will have a profound effect on political campaigns including the current presidential campaign because the candidates receive more exposure as well as different types of exposure. Moreover, as the Bert and Osama picture demonstrates, the convergence of media on the web will have a profound effect on how we view, enforce, or condemn freedom of speech internationally and internally. Finally, on a more basic level, convergence of media on the web means that individual human beings will be suddenly much more visible to the world, either by creating videos (or Bert/Osama pictures) or by being in videos that are distributed on the web. I believe that this increase in individual exposure will eventually affect how we live our public lives. Some will become fearful that anything we say or do may be broadcast, and some will be encouraged to pursue new and exciting artistic adventures that themselves push the limits of our new technology into the next form of representation.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 1936. [Accessed April 23, 2008]. < http://web.bentley.edu/empl/c/rcrooks/toolbox/common_knowledge /general_communication/benjamin.html>.
Jenkins, Henry. Introduction. Worship at the Altar of Convergence. By Jenkins. New York: New York University Press, 2006. 1-24.
Koppes, Clayton and Black, Gregory. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II. University of California Press 1990. viii, 21.
LIAMKYLESULLIVAN. 2006. Shoes [online]. [Accessed April 26, 2008]. Available from World Wide Web: < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCF3ywukQYA>.
Nichols, Bill. “The Work of Culture in the Age of Cybernetic Systems.” Screen. 21 (1): 22-46. Winter 1988.
Presidential Primary Turnout Rates. March 17, 2008. United States Elections Project at George Mason University. April 26, 2008
Our last 'formal' class is tomorrow, as we go into the TerrorDome (2 men in, 1 man out..), but we have a room change to accommodate Honors Thesis presentations in the Joukowsky Forum. We will be two flights up, in Watson's McKinney Seminar room...
This New York Times article tells the tale of a 90 year old daily newspaper, The Capital Times of Madison, Wis, which stopped its printing to live online only. The Capital Times is a perfect example of the death of written press: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/business/media/28link.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin
The article itself does not address future steps of news media to incorporate blogging/ open-source news. Perhaps the most interesting section of the article is the link in the upper left hand corner which allows the reader to link up to BlogRunner- self described as "a service from The New York Times that automatically monitors news articles and blog posts and tracks news events as they develop across the Web." What are your thoughts on this attempt by the NY Times? Is this trangressive journalism or not at all? Perhaps BlogRunner keeps the blog peace but does not reach further towards an open-source news.
Either way, it is an interesting article and an interesting attempt by the NY Times to incorporate blogging on the issue of "dead news". I wonder if the NY Times put the link in this article on the death of one paper's printed life because they know that the life of the (future) news is in the hands of these bloggers. Your thoughts?
First order of biz is the screening of EM's TPQ (using code to maintain operational secrecy): next monday, biomed, room 202, 5.30). That Wednesday we will stage with EM the final OpenSource, with Lydon as MC.
Second: 'Where in the World is OBL'? is showing at our very own Avon. Who would be game for a big-screening, this Tuesday (ie, tomorrow) of one of our favorite filmmakers? Let me add an incentive: a free screening. I have some loose discretionary change to host students for a social event - I think the powers that oversee had a tea party in mind - so anyone interested should meet up, say 8.30, Paragon/Viva, for 9.15 showing? Tea will be on tap.
Finally, we're getting booted out of the J-forum so the honors thesis students can do their IR thing, so we will be moving up two floors to the mckinney seminar room...and if people want to hear one or more of the presentations we can perhaps negotiate that (especially since I have three presenting this year).
Errol Morris Lit Review
New York Times "Zoom" blog, 3/3/08 and 3/10/08
“If seeing is believing, then we better be damn careful about what we show people, including ourselves – because regardless of what it is – we are likely to uncritically believe it.” – Errol Morris, Zoom, New York Times Online, April 3, 2008.
Three years ago, I found myself, heavily bandaged and bruised, sitting at the desk of a clinical psychologist. He took a miniature Hot Wheels car and a plastic toy cow and asked me to share my account of what had landed me in the office that day. With this information, he sped the toy car across the surface, swerved to avoid hitting the cow (deer), and over-corrected, sending the tiny vehicle rolling four times before falling off the edge of desk, crashing to the ground. “Yeah, I guess that’s about right,” I thought aloud. The experience of witnessing the reconstruction from the outside was quite eerie.
The April 3rd and 10th posts on “Zoom,” Errol Morris’ blog on the New York Times Online, address cinematic re-enactments and the justifications for using them in documentaries. Both discuss Morris’ film, The Thin Blue Line (1988), the ultimate effect of which involved the exoneration of a man from Texas who had been convicted of murder. Morris uses the attention to detail present in his investigation of the Randall Dale Adams case, as well as the tendency of the human brain to miss these often vital clues in the discovery of truth to argue for the validity of re-enactments in documentary films.
At any given time, our field of vision can include an enormous variety of objects, such as Chihuahuas, zombies, etc. Unless they are addressed specifically, however, the narrative remains unchanged. Through re-enactments, Morris aims to call attention to previously overlooked objects in order to show how their incorporation may result in drastically different narratives, as seen in The Thin Blue Line.
To fully understand Morris’ reasoning, a brief introduction to The Thin Blue Line is beneficial. In 1976, Randal Dale Adams accepted a ride outside of Dallas from a stranger driving a stolen car, David Harris. Shortly thereafter, the two were pulled over by Dallas police officers, Robert Wood and Teresa Turko, on a routine traffic stop. Wood approached the stolen vehicle and was shot to death. Originally, police investigators believed Turko’s statement that she had positioned herself at the rear of the vehicle as demanded by protocol. To Morris, however, this scenario appeared suspect. A milkshake, belonging to Turko, was found thrown 14 feet from the door of the police car. If she had in fact been standing at the rear of the vehicle when Wood was shot, she most likely would have A) not carried the milkshake with her or B) dropped it at the position where she was standing. The position of the milkshake suggests that Turko had in fact remained in the police cruiser until after the attack had been made on her partner and then threw the beverage out of the car. Consequently, her ability to identify the suspect(s) would have been greatly diminished. Nevertheless, she maintained there was only one person in the stolen vehicle, Adams, resulting in an inevitable conviction.
In Morris’ view, the milkshake is symbolic of the often critical details we fail to notice when attempting to make sense of the world around us. Through the use of re-enactments, we are allowed “to see things that would otherwise be invisible.” For me, the very crude re-enactment in the therapist’s office based on the highway patrol report allowed me to contribute to my own knowledge of “what really happened,” and thus begin coming to terms with a very traumatic event.
Unfortunately, according to Morris, humans are not naturally inclined to detect these “milkshakes” for a variety of reasons. In the April 10th entry, he and Dan Levin, professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, discuss the idea of continuity errors in cinema, the science behind our inability to process them, and the related consequences they carry in the realm of reality. Levin cites the Kuleshov experiments involving a compilation of shots taken in different locations around Moscow ripe with discrepancies in lighting and background. Because the event was coherent, the audience believed the shots were continuous and unadulterated.
Ultimately, if an audience is not consciously searching for continuity errors, they will most likely remain unnoticed. Morris also addresses a film entitled That Obscure Object of Desire directed by Bunuel, because Bunuel succeeded in what seems at first glance to be an utterly absurd feat: He has two different actresses playing the lead role, Conchita, and switches them throughout the movie. The process begins slowly, gradually pulling them closer together, until by the end of the film, he’s alternating each actress in every other scene. Many who saw the film failed to notice the character was played by two women.
How is this possible? We generally place more emphasis on following the narrative of a movie, rather than hunting for errors. In fact, doing the opposite can be a sign of mental illnesses, such as ADHD. In order to retain the attention of mentally sound audiences, however, Levin notes that narratives must make an appeal to people’s “beliefs, desires, and goals.”  Morris adds, “Usually, the errors are in a faulty simulacrum of reality, a movie. But can’t a movie also point out that we have in our minds a faulty simulacrum of the world?” In the realm of news media, therefore, we may be drawn to kinds of coverage that reassure us that with patriotic determination, our most pressing problems will be solved, even in the absence of critical analysis of the evidence at hand. In Wag the Dog, for example, the fake war may have been waged against Albania, but the real war fought by the cast involved the avoidance of incriminating continuity errors that would have had destroyed the entire operation.
When reading Morris and Levin’s discussion of That Obscure Object of Desire, the first parallel that came to my mind was the eloquently executed switcheroo made by the Bush Administration to convince Americans that Iraq had a major hand in the 9/11 attacks. Obviously, the term “continuity error” seems quite underwhelming in this particular phenomenon. Alternately, Morris also argues that “our mental narratives prevent us from seeing evidence,” resulting in “a discrepancy between how we see the world and the evidence we have at hand.”  Thus, as discussed in last week’s GML by Libby Anker, the very first few hours of coverage following the attacks on 9/11 were unique in that a narrative had not yet been formed. Accordingly, those critical early moments may be the best tease of a snapshot of truth we have, even seven years later.
Essentially, if something is not in our internal catalog of reasonable expectations (like doctored photos or two actresses playing the same character), we tend to relinquish our understanding of events to narratives that are familiar, oddities be unconsciously damned. Levin cites the example accidents called “tractor-trailer under-rides.”  In this kind of collision, a semitrailer jackknifes cross a highway and another vehicle or vehicles will drive directly into or under the trailer, often causing death by capitation. Not surprisingly, due to the gruesome nature of these accidents, litigation is a common result. Itsurprising, however, that the corresponding investigations often show no signs of evasive driving maneuvers. When driving late at night on a highway in North Dakota, deer are always a legitimate threat, and hence, the site of my accident was filled with swerve marks – the threat made sense and I processed it accordingly. The operators of the vehicles that collide with the trailer usually drive directly into it, however, without any signs of resistance. Levin explains that “Our awareness of visual information is heavily contingent on the kinds of things we know to look for. And if something isn’t in that category, and we’re not trying to find it, it’s possible that we won’t be aware of it, even if it takes up a huge percentage of our visual field.” Also, in light of Jay Rosen’s analysis from GML #4, I believe it may be possible to apply Levin’s idea that concepts arising from “left field” have the possibility of leaving our fields of perception entirely, with dangerous consequences in the global arena:
As a polar opposite, we fail to notice any significance in some images, such as the Helvetica font, because they are so ubiquitous and therefore no longer carry definitive meaning.
Ultimately, Morris explains,
Re-enactment is not so much a visual activity, as it is a conscious activity. It is the process through which we imagine and re-imagine the world around us. The important thing to remember is that everything we consciously experience is a re-enactment. Consciousness, itself, is a re-enactment of reality inside our heads. 
Because the brain isn’t terribly competent in processing the unfamiliar, we must form realities on the context of what we think we already know. These realities are often established through the already existing narratives we have come to expect and the cycle of passive acceptance and even disinformation survives. Thus, Morris’ re-enactments aid the quest for truth by showing, visually, how alternative scenarios may in fact be logical. We acknowledge details judged to have importance and relevance, but how can we know what is actually important or relevant in advance of making the judgment? Morris addresses this seemingly inescapable circularity throughout the entry. ( In a similar vein, Deborah Scranton’s advocacy of multiple ground-level narratives may circumvent the problem, as multiple participants give weight to different details based on their own experiences, leading to a more complete picture.) Consequently, rather than asking viewers to follow Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s call for a “willing suspension of disbelief” when watching a film, Morris asks us to fight our natural tendency to accept automatically the contents of the screen and enter a deeper dialogue within ourselves about what we believe .
Morris has been criticized by critics who believe documentary images ought to originate in the present without interference from the director. For an event in the past, however, he maintains that re-enactments a valuable, legitimate method of relating a story, though one must always remain vigilant for re-enactments produced with dishonest intent. Additionally, Morris’ interpretation of the importance of objects as details leads me to conclude that if a re-enactment is used in a documentary, it ought to be stated as such. Even with the best intensions, a re-enactment will never be cinema vèritè. A police report stating “suspect was last seen wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans” could be interpreted in several ways by a costuming department, for example. As trivial as it may sound, the effect of using Rock & Republic or Old Navy denim might have significance for people who notice such details, and therefore impact their own interpretation of the narrative.
In the April 3rd entry, he concludes by reminding us, “The brain is not a Reality-Recorder. There is no perfect replica of reality inside of our brains. The brain elides, confabulates, conflates, denies, suppresses, evades, confuses, and distorts. It has its own agenda and can even work at cross-purposes with our conscious selves.”  With our spotty memories, commonly misfiring synapses, and an innate desire for self-preservation, it would appear that those interested in seeking truth ought to use any ethically acceptable methods and resources available. Errol Morris’ use of re-enactment is a solid example of this. He does offer a warning however: “If seeing is believing, then we better be damn careful about what we show people, including ourselves – because regardless of what it is – we are likely to uncritically believe it.”  I uncritically believed what I saw the day at the therapist’s office, because at the very least, this possible component of “truth” didn’t involve broken glass or a flash of white light. It was a convenient detachment. When the stakes are higher, however, Morris’ insight into the matter is both timely and necessary.
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part One),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-one/
 Dan Levin, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Dan Levin, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Dan Levin, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part Two),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-two/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part One),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-one/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part One),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-one/
 Errol Morris, “Play It Again, Sam (Re-enactments, Part One),” New York Times 10 Apr. 2008.http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/play-it-again-sam-re-enactments-part-one/
April 22nd, 2008
…there is a shame as well as a shock in looking at the close-up of real horror. Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it – say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken – or those who could learn from it. The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be (Sontag, 42).
CNN and Al Jazeera are understood as peculiar developments, news networks that operate 24-hours a day 7 days a week and continually provide their audiences with breaking news. News networks like these have gained quite a following amongst audiences that want to know what is happening around the world in real time. Cable News Network was started in the 1980s while the Al Jazeera network much more recently, in the late 1990s. Both of these networks have different methodologies in presenting the news while also giving importance to different events throughout the world based on their location and core audience. The two networks’ differences ultimately define the audiences they gain favor with and those with whom they do not, but are they truly that different?
To understand what is happening today in Iraq many Americans rely on CNN to give them the facts on the goings on both in the United States and the rest of the world. The CNN effect is the idea that with images the media is controlling the responses of the government and citizens of the U.S. Susan Sontag in her book Regarding the Pain of Others argues that images is one of the only ways we learn and experience war. “The understanding of war among people who have not experienced war is now chiefly a product of the impact of these images” (21). Americans in essence are using the pictures and images that are displayed 24-hours a day via these types of news networks to understand and sympathize, or not, with the soldiers that are fighting the war or another such story.
Al Jazeera has had its own effect with its development. This particular news network was originally understood to change news because of its willingness to show images and videos that other stations would not. One of the network’s most striking and/or controversial moments, the Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda videos during the aftermath of September 11. “Conscripted as part of journalism, images were expected to arrest attention, startle, surprise” (Sontag, 22-23). These videos, images, etc are what Sontag is talking about, they startle and surprise, but most importantly they achieve the goal of getting people’s attention. The Al Jazeera network is accused of promoting anti-American sentiment; it also garnered the U.S. government’s notice in an episode where President Bush reportedly considered bombing one of their stations. It is arguable whether attention like this is good or bad, but stations that are critical of governments expectedly create animosities between themselves and those that they are criticizing.
Which is more powerful the Al Jazeera effect or the CNN effect? Professor Yaron Ezrahi, during the April 16th lecture spoke about the role of the media and how it controls and shapes our reality, both of these networks shape the realities of those that use it for information. Sometimes images presented by television news networks create a different message than the one that governments and important players are trying to present. No other news format can compete with television and the images it has the ability to show. Al Jazeera is an autonomous network, politically and economically, and therefore has no reason to abide by government rules, although, recently, under pressure from many different countries and their governments has “become civilized.” Does this mean that its power will diminish? The pressures that these other governments are putting on this news network revolve around the images they show, and if that is where real power lays will the agree?
Sebastian Kampf also made some interesting points during this same lecture. Those that want to win today’s media wars must use the media as a part of the military. By controlling the media, governments can make it appear that it is a “costless war” and through this continue receiving support. Invariably, other networks are able to present a different side of the story and through this create support on that side of the war. The visual framing of wars is no longer only granted to one side of the conflict, but has become more accessible and more prominent on all sides. The CNN effect is that which is used as a part of the military that which causes governmental responses that the general population can agree with because of the images they see. The Al Jazeera effect does not necessarily create governmental responses but creates a response amongst its audience nonetheless that can then be harmful to the U.S. or to another governmental body.
Images are the ones that create these responses. Susan Sontag gives a sort of explanation:
It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked…No moral charge attaches to the representation of these cruelties…There is the satisfaction of being able to look at the image without flinching. There is the pleasure of flinching (41).
The audiences cannot turn away from images like these; they cannot turn off the television when a news reporter is presenting the exact same gruesome footage over and over again. People have even come to seek out these types of images in movies like SAW which desensitize them to the brutality of certain images. Human beings want to be able to look at these pictures and videos and be able to flinch or not do so presenting their own humanity. The melodrama of movies like this with victim, villain and hero exist only to later be passed on to the real world. During the coverage of September 11th there was not just news reporting, but a story itself unfolding about the evil villains, the fallen victims and the incredible heroes that would come to the rescue. The coverage was no longer just unbiased coverage, but came with adjectives and descriptions of people that elicit certain responses from those that hear them.
Which is most powerful the Al Jazeera or CNN effect? There is no real answer for that, but there is something else, the media is the most influential and most powerful in the end. No one network or one type of news reporting wins, they all do because of the impact they have on their audiences. When there are thousands or millions of people recurring only to the media for their news and information whatever comes out on that news network, with whatever spin they put on it, has an effect. Media in general has the most powerful effect.
Errol Morris – Literature Review
This literature review of Errol Morris's New York Time blog, Zoom, is one of three. I will be looking at entries from July 2007 through October 2007.
In his first blog entry with the New York Times, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” Errol Morris opens with a line of skepticism running throughout Zoom: “Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words.” It is the first instance in which Morris takes up an everyday cliché and brings the reader to pause upon it. The technique resonates with the act of photography itself—a methodical dissection of an environment to make what appears, at first, banal, challenging and provocative.
In the following entries, Morris engages the reader not with a crash-course in the aesthetics of the photograph—its framing or lighting of a scene—but rather, calls into question the implications of relying upon aesthetics. The frame may capture an engrossing image, but what truth does it leave out in the act of framing? The contrast between black cannonballs and a sun-bleached road may be strikingly beautiful, but isn't there truth in the strategic posing of that scene as well? What about the content that the image excludes—in focusing on this slice of time, are we focusing on a truth or looking right past one? The context in which artistic expression takes hold is critical for gleaning meaning from a photograph; context creates truth in photography. This is not an entirely surprising position for Morris, who is in “the business” of moving pictures, to take:
In discussing truth and photography, we are asking whether a caption or a belief - whether a statement about a photograph — is true or false about (the things depicted in) the photograph. [...] The issue of the truth or falsity of a photograph is only meaningful with respect to statements about the photograph. Truth or falsity “adheres” not to the photograph itself but to the statements we make about a photograph. Depending on the statements, our answers change. All alone — shorn of context, without captions — a photograph is neither true nor false.
The truths Morris takes from photographs of his youth relate directly back to memories he has—the context out of which his present arises, perhaps. He may remember, as a child, playing a game against the wall upon which he is seated in one of the photographs; he may remember the day on which he received the bicycle which sneaks into the frame on another picture. These memories verify the meaning behind the photographs: they are photographs of Errol Morris the filmmaker, and Errol Morris was a boy at a time in the past. Additionally, the context in which Morris received the photographs is indicative of the truth behind them; they hold value, as they are shots taken by his father, fifty years after the man's death. With the multiplicity of contexts surrounding the image, numerous truths emerge, as the photographs are equally Errol Morris and the relationship between father and son.
To better understand why a photograph without context does not have meaning, we may consider Morris's consideration of photographs as data: “Photographs preserve information. They record data. They present evidence.” In this instance, the filmmaker has stripped the photograph of all aesthetic sensibility and reduced it to a means to an end (that end being the truth(s) which the photograph lends itself to). The photograph of Errol Morris sitting on a brick wall as a boy has no inherent truth, it is simply evidence of a statement or question which has been formulated through contextualization in the viewer's mind (e.g. Morris contextualized the image relative to his past; the reader will contextualize it differently). The reader absorbs the language of the article on the website to contextualize the photograph before him (e.g. I, the reader, am reading an article written by Errol Morris, and so I contextualize the image as the boy, Errol Morris). The relationship between language and the world holds the truth Morris notes, and the image is merely present to corroborate the language (unless the image is intentionally deceptive—this is the concern of Sontag and others in their consideration of Fenton's “Valley of the Shadow of Death.”)
The example of multiple truths can be extended to the images that Morris includes in his entries. The Lusitania, a ship which predates the first World War, has a historical context written into our texts. It is dry and factual—more data. For those of us who were not alive when the Lusitania sunk, this historical context is largely all we have in pursuing the truth of the image of the Lusitania. My guess would be that many of us view the truth of the photograph similarly: that was the ship that brought the United States into WWI; it was a large ship and could hold 1,000 people (per the caption). The context for the event is provided in writing and in other images which Morris provides for us, all of which are meant to make the initial image of the ocean-liner more truthful. To an extent, the filmmaker and the photographs succeed. After viewing the New York Times image of the coffins, conceptualizing the loss of life in viewing the original photograph becomes easier. The role of sequence becomes critical in contextualization, as the coffins only hold resonance in so far as they correlate to the original image (the ship); naturally, this correlation is dependent upon the coffin image dating after the photograph of the Lusitania chugging along.
As we find out in Morris's later entries, the filmmaker obsesses over the sequence of images. He does so because the sequence lends itself to the truth behind that data (the photographs). Roger Fenton's photos of “Valley of the Shadow of Death” speak to the photographer's personality, and Morris's project determining which comes first—OFF or ON—has little to do with the aestheticism of the photographs and everything to do with assessing the truth of who Roger Fenton was. The “Which Came First” entries depict one image producer trying to understand another, and the truth of Fenton's photographs revolve around the ethical implications of posing, for Morris. The caption under the photographs is not simply: “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” but also “Roger Fenton poses the ON Scene.” Both are “truths” which the photographs verify.
This distinction between a photograph as the truth and a photograph as evidence of the truth is emphasized in Morris's description of the photograph as a simulacrum: “[...] photographs are nothing more than coarse-grained screens laid over reality, revealing nothing more (about what is photographed) than a certain size. They provide an imperfect simulacrum of the surface of things.” If one takes Morris's point to be valid, the sequence of images forms its own language which can complement the images themselves. Perhaps many imperfect simulacra find coherence in an order that lends itself to truth. The possibility arguably makes film, if not a more truthful medium, a medium providing more pathways to the truth. As Morris notes, “In every photograph something is absent. Someone has made a decision about what time-slice to expose on the emulsion, what space-slice to expose on the emulsion.” That being the case, the same can be said for film—something is always out of the frame, always missed just before the lens opens and after it shutters closed.
Moving forward, one might apply Morris's observations regarding the context in which representations emerge to our production efforts. In particular, I wonder what the filmmaker's insights offer in the realm of documentation. Documentation suggests that the medium acts to represent a truth evolving before us; theoretically, we are not producing that truth, we are capturing the data to corroborate it. Clearly, this is not the case.
How can the act of gathering (photographic) data be possible? When Morris suggests that “believing is seeing,” he notes the difficulty, if not impossibility, of objectivity. This should not be considered only in the realm of consumption, but in production as well. The photographer begins a communication with the subject of his photograph, and the photograph itself is data produced not as a documentation of what is as it is, but of the truth as it is found by the producer (It is interesting to note that only when Errol Morris and Dennis Purcell look outside the truth which Fenton sought to capture do they derive meaning (some semblance of truth) from the movement of the seemingly inconsequential rocks slipping down the slope of the valley).
A possible solution to this predicament may be found in Part II of Morris's “Which Came First” series. He closes the entry with an abrupt transition: “One last thought. I imagine a counterpart to Fenton.” Morris offers no explanation for the shift, but it is instructive. Another producer is introduced. Tolstoy's truth enters the dialogue. Perhaps where Fenton's and Tolstoy's truths overlap, and where we the readers too find the truths we have been looking for—perhaps that is where meaning resides. If that is the case, we need as many images of the Valley of the Shadow of Death as we can produce, and we need them from as many contexts as possible.
 Errol Morris, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” New York Times 10 Jul. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/pictures-are-supposed-to-be-worth-a-thousand-words/
 Errol Morris, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” New York Times 10 Jul. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/pictures-are-supposed-to-be-worth-a-thousand-words/
 Errol Morris, “Which Came First? (Part Three): Can George, Lionel and Marmaduke Help Us Order the Fenton Photographs?” New York Times 23 Oct. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/which-came-first-part-three-can-george-lionel-and-marmaduke-help-us-order-the-fenton-photographs/
 Errol Morris, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire,” New York Times 10 Jul. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/pictures-are-supposed-to-be-worth-a-thousand-words/
 Errol Morris, “Will the Real Hooded Man Please Stand Up” New York Times 15 Aug. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/15/will-the-real-hooded-man-please-stand-up/
 Errol Morris, “Which Came First? (Part Two)” New York Times 4 Oct. 2007. http://morris.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/04/which-came-first-part-two/
Albert Huber, Alan Johnson, Maria Mahler-Haug, Josh Sargent
Global Media – Al-Jazeera Review
April 21, 2008
The Image has a unique power to turn abstractions and hearsay into reality for any audience in some way displaced (e.g. spatially, temporally, socio-economically) from the object. An Abel Gance character understood the hold of images over public incitement to action when he cried (in a pre-WWII context), “Fill your eyes with this horror. It is the only thing that can stop you!” (Montag 16). The Image connects the uninvolved, un-inflicted, though still opinionated masses to the sufferers and makes the “suffering of others” believable. Vietnam, as explained by Montag, gave the American public a “tele-intimacy with death and destruction” (21), which turned popular sentiment against the military machine. In 2006, with the launching of Al-Jazeera International and in a context of live feeds and “new media,” the largely uni-directional international news coverage (by the West; of the developing world) began to get feedback sourced from within the core developing region.
Given the channel’s vast access to local sources of information and experience with dominant cultural logics in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera had been since its inception in 1996, “the most sought-after news resource in the world” (Faisal Bodi of The Guardian). Since being broadcast in English, the network’s role as a non-state force of reckoning in the Middle East is undeniable. Surprisingly, in a region with an at-best-spotty record for free speech, this network asserts that very freedom without the foundation of full political rights (i.e. democracy) for its audience. In so doing, Al-Jazeera has become a voice for the voiceless.
Al-Jazeera’s focus is foremost on issues of interest to the developing world, with the Middle East at its center. Its news reports range from democracy in Zimbabwe and Paraguay, refugee camps in Sudan and death tolls in Somalia, to outlines of U.S. presidential primaries, questionable use of military planes by Britain’s royal family, and Mobil’s unprecedented sales (apparently exceeding the GDP of 120 nation-states). While Al-Jazeera notably has shows focused on political debate and critiques of governments both big and small, and appears to balance these debates with representatives from different sides of the discussion, what is most interesting about its programming are the shows that give voices to the politically underrepresented and socially marginalized demographics of developing society: women and children.
In Everywoman and Children of Conflict, two popular Al-Jazeera programs, we see exactly what Libby Anker warned about: melodramatic narratives conceptualizing the news. In the individual cases presented in these programs, however, meta-narratives do not preclude an understanding of the “complexity and horror of events.” Rather, by including the human face and individual drama of suffering I believe we more clearly see the situation. Granted, Ms. Anker’s comment was made in reference to conceptualizing 9/11, a single-event, whereas with sex trafficking and child soldiery the media must tackle much larger, ongoing social patterns of destruction, and so are required to organize around a narrative. In these cases, Al-Jazeera has done a tremendous job of acknowledging its role as a filter for the presentation of people’s stories and opinions while still retaining its journalistic objectivity.
It is worth noting that in order to get at the heart of these programs and not have to wake up at 3:30 a.m. EST to catch live feeds, I watched a few episodes of these programs on Al-Jazeera’s website and YouTube. As far as Western news media go, not even CNN posts its programs for free viewing on either its website or YouTube. Al-Jazeera has done an exceptional job of making its programs available to viewers well after their airdate. This is important because the issues being discussed are perennial; as one host said of filming a special on Egyptian women’s lack of sexual education, it was the hot topic for social conversation for months to come. How you measure the episode’s effect in terms of tangible social change is questionable; however, that there is conversation, and better still, that it has originated not as criticism from without but as a repeated call to arms from within the Muslim world is of paramount importance.
In an Everywoman segment on the absence of sexual education and profusion of male sexual “frustration” in Egypt, the show’s guest, a therapist and marriage counselor, referred to the “hush-hush style that we use to deal with sex in the Middle East” and the local media’s refusal to cover incidents of sexual assault throughout the Muslim world. Both host and guest are Middle Eastern; such internal criticism and subsequent cry for Anker’s heroism were unprecedented in the pre-Al-Jazeera world. The images of the girls’ suffering not only demonstrate the courage and changing attitudes of people within the Arab world, but also create a sense of global camaraderie and shared purpose between Arab women and their western counterparts. Al-Jazeera taps into the sensitive issues and makes a forum of itself for their transmission to a wider audience.
Other episodes of the program call out Thai and Cambodian governments for a lack of political will to organize against human trafficking; the British government for being ill-prepared to respond to honor killings; and the U.S. Army for refusing to allow a Muslim female chaplain into its services. Al-Jazeera is an equal-opportunity critic; while its focus is certainly on issues relevant to the Middle East, it also covers the developing world and Western powers by extension of the core region’s diplomatic, social and economic relationships.
Children in Conflict sears the images (and so the realities) of children caught up in violent conflict and post-conflict situations into the conscience of a global audience. “I know what death means, what blood means,” says a twelve-year-old Gazan to an Al-Jazeera reporter. In the same segment, the reporter questions a fourteen-year-old girl who says, “If you look at [suicide bombing] from the view that life is just a passage, it’s not a bad thing.” This same girl hopes to persuade her younger cousins to also make martyrs of themselves. The reporter replies, shocked, “Do you ever think about the kids in Israel? Do you ever think that they might be suffering too?” to which the girl responds, “Just like our children live under constant fear, their children should also experience the same fear and terror…I refuse to accept that the other children of the world can live in peace and security while the children of Palestine live under terror.” The calm belief in what she’s saying and the fatalistic attitude with which she describes a violent order of retribution and of society holding itself to the lowest common condition are irreconcilable with the image of the girl’s young face. The audience cannot help but be confused: her world understanding is mired in hatred and reciprocated misery, just as is the fourteen-year-old Congolese soldier who in a different episode of Children in Conflict says that “I am young in age, but I know so many things about the world now,” and the Afghan child who says “kids in other countries have parks and schools” and then leads the camera crew to his begging post. It is clear that these children understand their situation in the context of a bigger picture; but their situation has adulterated their understanding of world order. The coverage of these human narratives show that violence breeds violence and there is a new generation caught in the cycle. And, the situation must be real, for we see it in their faces.
Susan Montag says, “For the photography of atrocity, people want the weight of witnessing without the taint of artistry,” which is just as true of news coverage (26) – the audience doesn’t want their news mediated through a biased lens. Still, that Al-Jazeera presents the tone and opinion particularly of the Arab world, which the West seems to so inadequately comprehend, is in fact a tool for U.S. strategists. Al-Jazeera is the West’s means of understanding the on-the-ground realities and perspective in the developing world, and it welcomes the West’s power players to represent their positions in relation to these concerns. These power players, both as collectivities and individuals, must invert their perspective. Using Al-Jazeera as the [as far as I can tell] objective amplifier for the myriad voices in the Middle East, the U.S. stands a far better chance in the war for hearts and minds. Such usage elevates Al-Jazeera into an even more powerful global position; not only is it, as stated above, an influential non-state actor in the Muslim world, but its longevity and objectivity are in fact in the best interest of the global powers.
The global public, in the meanwhile, has a “camera-mediated knowledge of war” (Montag 24). And as a senior producer for Al-Jazeera International said in a YouTube mini-documentary, “History is written by the victors…Life will continue, will go on, there will be other problems, other things to think about. There is one single thing that will be left: victory. That’s it.” This echoes Yaron Ezrahi, who said that the “life expectancy of reality in our time is very short; short lived realities influence the way we experience the world.” Because reality is moderated by the image and by the melodramatic narrative, Al-Jazeera’s reach ought to be of serious interest to the history writers.
Hope you guys got a chance to check out the Sunday NYT's review of Standard Operating Procedure to keep in line with his arrival in early May... (more details to follow)
"Tension Over Sports Blogging"
In light of the "new media/old media" divide, and the proliferation of access points to information, where should the line be drawn between "owenership" of news (i.e. which tv stations, bloggers, youtube posters, etc have the right to report on a story first) and the responsibility of the media as a general entity to simply deliver information to the public? or the First Amendment/freedom of press?
While this article is specifically about ownership of sports coverage and the relationship between journalists and professional sports leagues, it also mentions tensions in other realms of the news media (i.e. last week ABC limiting other stations' use of video clips from the presidential debate to just 30 seconds)
As the playing field is leveled and more and more individuals enter the mix, tensions seem inevitible. But who then becomes the objective arbiter in the situation? The Supreme Court, as a hockey executive suggested in the article?
Extra Credit Thematic Essay
Director Deborah Scranton has pioneered a new method of filmmaking: directing from a distance, or "virtual filmmaking". She created her documentaries, "The War Tapes" (2006) and "Bad Voodoo's War" (2008), by giving cameras to soldiers deployed to Iraq and directing them via e-mail and instant messenger. Footage captured by the soldiers was sent to Scranton's home in New Hampshire where it was edited. In this essay I will relate the practice of "virtual filmmaking" to existing theories of virtualization, in an attempt to shed light upon the significance of this methodology in the context of critical film studies. In Virtuous War, James Der Derian asserts that while virtualization enables the effects of proximity (the ability to attack) through unprecedented perceptual mobility, this transformation also enables the denial of death. I assert that in film- making as in war- making, virtualization has the potential to enable virtual mobility and the effects of unprecedented proximity, and yet may also encourage denial (in this case denial of the cinema apparatus) and result in misguided claims to objectivity and realism. I will conclude by relating Scranton's responses to these challenges, which is, appropriately, to remain loyal to the local and specific, to the personal and the subjective.
Of our newly mobile mode of war- making, Der Derian writes, "Virtual war is the ability to choose [any] spot on a map and effect damage upon it or the people residing there." This mobility is crucial not only to offensive attacks but also to military training. Reflecting upon a trip to the US military training camp at Fort Irwin, Der Derian describes the efforts undertaken to "take American troops as close to the edge of war as the technology of simulation and the rigors of the environment will allow."(3) Our virtual mobility enables the effects of proximity. It "collapses the distance between here and there, near and far" (10).
Mobility and proximity have been crucial concerns for filmmakers and critics since the evolution of the medium in the late nineteenth century. The camera enabled a revolution in perception, offering the average individual the chance to 'see' events and places far from her everyday reality. Dziga Vertov wrote of the transformation effected upon him by film. "Starting today," he wrote, "I am free forever of human immobility” (Virilio, 20).
In making "The War Tapes" and "Bad Voodoo's War", Scranton was more mobile that Vertov could have ever imagined. Twenty-one soldiers filmed for her and cameras were "mounted on gun turrets, inside dashboards and [on] POV mounts on their Kevlar helmets and vests" (thewartapes.com). Thus Scranton was (virtually) able to participate in raids, make dangerous night passages across mine-laden roads, and spend time in the unit's barracks.
Der Derian identifies the ways in which virtualization enables the denial of the traumatic dimensions of war. He writes, "virtuous wars promote a vision of bloodless, humanitarian, hygienic wars" having the "power to commute death, to keep it out of sight, out of mind" (xv-xvi). In drawing parallels between this theory of the virtual war, and dominant frameworks in critical film studies, I am struck by the relation between the denial of death by the soldier and the denial of the cinema apparatus by the spectator. In the same way that the virtualization of war facilitates the denial of the traumatic fact of mortality, the virtualization of filmmaking encourages the spectator's denial of the cinema apparatus and her mistaken identification with the look of the camera. The relation between denial, misrecognition and cinematic identification is not new. However, it seems to me that in the age of virtualization it is easier to suspend disbelief than ever before.
The virtualization of filmmaking facilitates the denial of the director to such an extent that, during a recent Global Media Lab, Prof. Der Derian was led to wonder whether Scranton was in fact, “showing the path to [her own] disappearance” (GML 4/9). Scranton replied that her methodology in no way diminishes the significance of the director. She sees it as her task to “amplify the voices of the soldiers” and to provide a context and framework for the audience to understand their stories. Though she does not appear in "The War Tapes," her intervention is foregrounded in "Bad Voodoo's War," which includes shots of her seated at her computer messaging with the soldiers, and collecting tapes from her mailbox.
Der Derian asserts that virtualization has rendered the relationship between reality and representation highly ambiguous. He writes, "virtuality collapses the distance between fact and fiction" (10); It “represents a convergence of the means by which we distinguish the… original from the reproduced” (xx). In the field of literary criticism, academics have, for many years, gone to great lengths to articulate the degree of proximity between the filmic text and reality. In his seminal essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" Walter Benjamin describes the promise that mechanical reproduction holds for the individual "to get closer to the original by way of its likeness, its reproduction"(2). Claims to realism have been particularly contested in relation to documentary whose very name expresses an ontological assumption that film can show the truth in a transparent way (Silverman).
If we equate proximity with access to objective reality it would seem that virtual filmmaking, which enables the spectator to get ‘closer’ to the subject than ever before, might enable unparalleled access to the real. Scranton, however, staunchly refuses the possibility of objectivity in film, asserting that the notion of critical distance is "an incredibly egotistical construct" as "everyone brings their life experience" to their work. She is hopeful that we might catch glimpses of reality in “"contrasting ground-level narratives" but maintains that "it is only when we are human beings first that we approach that truth."
Virtual war- making and virtual film- making represent manifestations of the "urge to expand the range of vision and detection," to “push back… the limits of investigation, in both time and space " (Virilio, 75). At this moment in which “the surfaces of the globe are [effectively] directly present to one another”(Virilio, 46) it is more crucial than ever that we remember that war does kill and that representations are mediated.
Allen, Tim. "Perceiving Contemporary Wars," 1999
Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy," 1996
Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 1935
Aufderheide, Patricia."Your Country, My Country: How Films About The Iraq War Construct Publics" in The Journal of Cinema and Media - Volume 48, Number 2, Fall 2007, pp. 56-65
Der Derian, James. Virtuous War, Westview Press, Oxford 2001
Jenkins, Henry. "Worship at the Altar of Convergence," in Convergence Culture, New York University Press, New York, 2006
Musser, Charles."Film Truth in the Age of George W. Bush" in The Journal of Cinema and Media - Volume 48, Number 2, Fall 2007, pp. 9-35
Silverman, Michael, class notes, Cinematic Coding and Narrativity.
Virilio, Paul. War and Cinema, Verso, London, 1989
This article from today's NY Times talks about the Pentagon's deliberate shaping of public opinion in favor of their military actions, through the "expert commentary" on TV of retired generals...here is an excerpt:
"Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."
Similar to Deborah Scranton's The War Tapes, this is the trailer for a doc about the Oregon National Guard's deployment to Iraq in 2004 (shot during the same period as The War Tapes). Shot by the unit themselves and then edited by Scott Laney and Gary Mortensen.
I just wanted to flesh out a little bit what Professor Santos said towards the end of class yesterday. He mentioned that this generation is exposed to brutality and gruesome violence in the media in the form of entertainment (he mentioned "The Saw") and it seemed to me that he hinted that this exposure makes a YouTube video of a beheading more palatable, or at least more familiar. I see his point in that we are already accustomed/desensitized to gore and violence and even pay money to see it as entertainment. But the YouTube beheading video is still incredibly horrific because unlike "The Saw," the beheading video has the element of Truth. We were having trouble defining what truth is earlier in class, and we were talking about how all "wars are stories" as if there is no Truth so much as multiple perspectives. But I think that the difference between "The Saw" and the beheading video might actually help us capture the essence of what Truth is: truth is the fact that outside of the media, these wars, violence, and beheading are still very real and physical. Because it lacks truth, "The Saw" and any Hollywood film can be incredibly gruesome and neither have the same effect as the beheading video nor make the beheading video more familiar. It is thus truth that makes the beheading video (and war in general) a new and horrible experience each time we stumble into it.
updated: 4/21/08 at 2:30pm
this is what I have for final projects. please feel free to amend (via email or comments here, I'll post updates) and if you haven't chosen something yet, please do so. I know a couple of people are still in the midst of deciding, so if you don't see your name here, that would be why... thanks guys! ck
Meaghan Casey - Culture of War/JDD
Alejandra Piers-Torres - Terrorist media/JPS
Sarah Kay - Terrorist media/JPS
Albert Huber - Terrorist media/JPS
Michael Schub - Terrorist media/JPS
Julia Stern - Terrorist media/JPS
Kathleen Fleming - Terrorist media/JPS
Megan Goetsch - Terrorist media/JPS
Veronica Cortez - Terrorist media/JPS
Kristian Walther - Culture of War/JDD
Josh Sargent - Culture of War/JDD
Amy Tan - Culture of War/JDD
Emma Clippinger - Independent Project
Maria Mahler-Haug - Independent Project
Alan Johnson - Cyborgs, Rhizomes, oh my!/Phil
Rosalinda Pascual - Independent Project
Marielle Segarra - Culture of War/JDD
Anne Krapu - Independent Project
Joe Braidwood - Independent Project
Ben Mishkin - Terrorist media/JPS
Julia Hellman - Culture of War/JDD
Willem Van Lancker - Independent Project
The First Casualty – Ch. 21
April 15, 2008
"Despite scouring two national newspapers every day, listening to the radio, surfing the web and watching the TV news, I have absolutely no idea how the war is going" (527).
Phillip Knightley begins the final chapter of his book, The First Casualty, with this sentiment of irony and dissatisfaction regarding media coverage of the current war in Iraq, as expressed by a British reader in a 2003 Letter to the Editor of The Guardian. In an age when the media has assumed such a ubiquitous presence in viewers’ daily lives, the issue of assessing the truth and accuracy of news coverage becomes ever more crucial – and perhaps less easily discernible – as we are consistently inundated with compelling images, live footage, and “expert” commentary on the latest wartime events. In the case of the current war in Iraq – the U.S. now entering its fifth year of engagement – and the Pentagon’s broader concept of the “War on Terror,” Knightley points to the media’s unprecedented efforts to make this “the most thoroughly reported war of modern times” (528),equipped with the technological capacity to deliver 24-hour coverage, and inclined to embed reporters within military units so that the news we see would (in theory) come “directly from amidst the troops in the field: ‘the best representatives to convey America’s intentions and capabilities’” (528, 531). Yet, as is illustrated in this chapter with a critical assessment of news coverage since the onset of the war in 2003, Knightley sets out to prove – successfully, it seems – that often, and sometimes intentionally so, “the first casualty when war comes, is [the] truth.”
As we learned from our recent discussion with the Eisenhower Series generals describing their varied interactions with the military and the media, there are many different (often conflicting) interests – political, corporate, humanitarian, and individual – involved in determining what is ultimately reported to the public during wartime. In Chapter 21 of The First Casualty, Knightly focuses specifically on the Pentagon and its recent policies in Iraq concerning media coverage, seriously calling into question the morality of several calculated actions employed by the U.S. government to control the content of information ultimately disseminated. He describes the series of events which drove Bryan Whitman, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to construct the current “American media plan,” originating in 1999 with U.S. involvement in NATO’s campaign against Yugoslavia, and continuing into 2002 with the U.S. bombing of several targets in Afghanistan (529). Because there were remarkably few deaths on which to report from the American side, the western media, by default, turned toward “the enemy” to portray the civilian casualties and widespread devastation inflicted by American bombs abroad. So as to avoid another situation in which America risked losing public support for its military campaigns – especially in light of the impending decision to declare war on Iraq – Whitman devised a plan to portray the U.S. military in a just and humane light.
Thus began the system of “embedding” journalists within a military unit, infusing them with the spirit of solidarity (offering them food, shelter, uniforms, even honorary officer’s rank), and providing them pre-censored, pre-scripted, “‘ready-for-air’ package[s]” of “sanitized” news to report to the rest of the world (534, 541). New York Magazine writer Michael Wolff reveals that while reporting on the war, "I realised that every day you got to know less and less so that by the end of your stay you'd know absolutely nothing" (535). When he finally put his briefing officer on the spot and questioned the purpose of the U.S. occupation, and the instructional value of “this multi-million dollar press center,” Wolff claims to have been denounced as a “traitor,” and told to go home (534).
For many of those “unilateral” correspondents that chose not comply with the stringent protocol of the Pentagon and Ministry of Defense – instead reporting independently from the Iraqi side – Knightley cites the dramatic responses elicited against them by U.S. officials, including the barring of certain networks from broadcasting their reports, and actually firing missiles and killing suspected “enemy” journalists (whose reports might “fuel anti-American sentiment”) (538). While he does not specify the time span for these figures, Knightley notes that within a short period, fifteen international correspondents were killed by the American military and two wounded (although this has not been confirmed as a deliberate act of the U.S. government).
“Welcome to the new and highly dangerous world of the war correspondent in the twenty-first century,” Knightley declares, calling attention to the reality that unless reporters deliver the stories pre-approved by the administration, they potentially put at risk their jobs, and even their lives (537). He likens President Bush’s foreign policy mantra, "You're either with us or against us," to the administration’s attitude toward managing the activity of war correspondents (537). One thing I found particularly disturbing, was the cavalier, "who cares" attitude of the U.S. military toward the wellbeing of unilateral reporters, simply stating “they’ve been warned,” in reference to those who perished in the 2002 bombing of the al-Jazeera compound in Kabul—a move which U.S. officials deemed justified, as they believed the compound to be “the location of significant al-Qaeda activity” (which was only, in actuality, standard interviews with select Taliban leaders) (538).
In addition to highlighting the efforts of the U.S. government to conceal from the public any piece of potentially unfavorable publicity – or, as one al-Jazeera cameraman observed, to perpetuate a “war without witnesses” (539) – Knightley also describes America’s desire to convey its “awe-inspiring military might” to the rest of the world, and in so doing garner public support for current or future military campaigns (527). Knightley suggests that the portrayal of events is often manipulated by propagandists, so as to quite literally “sell” the war to the American public and their allies abroad. He cites the example of Private Jessica Lynch as a particularly egregious commercialization and distortion of facts, as the story of her rescue inspired a whole collection of “America Loves Jessica” paraphernalia, music, and a book deal. As observed by the BBC’s Simon Wren, instead of covering the events actually transpiring on the battlefield, the American news media was completely devoted to profiling this “fallen hero,” whose experience as an “abused” prisoner of war (which was later revealed to be embellished by the Pentagon) served only to strengthen the U.S. cause in continuing its mission in Iraq (545). It is Knightley’s intention to blow the whistle on this manipulation of the facts, calling on war correspondents to accept some responsibility in concealing the true story. Yet I wonder how even the reporters involved could have known the extent to which the government was spinning these events.
Perhaps this is a naive assumption, but conventional wisdom suggests that the more information you have, the more informed (of the truth) you will be. In an age when war correspondents have in some cases “developed the status of a pop star” from appearing on camera so often – T-shirts and taglines to boot – it is easy to get swept up in the media machine and believe everything they report, especially when they play to the human emotions of patriotism, comradeship, and love of a hero (as with the story of Private Jessica Lynch). Yet if this reporting is completely pre-calculated and one-sided, the increase in its ubiquity means nothing in the way of truth.
At times I found myself questioning the objectivity of some of Knightley’s claims regarding the U.S. government, simply because such dishonest, evasive policies seemed too unbelievable to be true. Yet in addition to his own opinions, Knightley’s inclusion of the testimonials and firsthand experiences of several war correspondents (i.e. the common feeling of being told by the military, “You can write what you like—but if we don’t like it we’ll shoot you” (537)), lent validity to his claims against the Pentagon’s meticulous “hand-outs” and “sound-bites” to manage the way the war would unfold before our eyes (542).
Kinghtley states in the Preface to this edition of his book, his intention "to challenge journalists to examine their own role in the promotion of war and urge them to consider the burden they bear...for what happens next" (xiii). Having read The First Casualty for myself, I believe that the onus of thoughtful criticism must also be extended to the public – the actual consumers of news media – who can choose to either accept or reject which truth, which "version of history" is in fact reported to us (544).
Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq. 3rd ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Eisenhower Series College Program. Class Presentation. Watson Institute, Brown University. Providence, RI. 2 Apr. 2008.
Literature review – Kristian Walther
Borradori, Giovanna: Philosophy in a Time of Terror – Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida
“[A]nd this is why I’m asking you to forget September 11. It certainly seems to me to be a better idea than forgetting ourselves in the name of the memory of the dead”
Maja Zehfuss – After 911
This book, or rather interviews, brings for the first time two of the most important European philosophers in the 20th century together. The theme, as the title of the book indicates is the question of philosophy in the wake of the ”event” 9.11.
Habermas and Derrida come from two different philosophical traditions. Habermas is usually described as the clearest inheritor of critical theory tradition/Frankfurter School – originally initiated around Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt and which counted among its most prominent members Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin.
Derrida on the other hand belong to “French” tradition, but looking at the ancestors of this “school” the distinction becomes somewhat blurred (at least if we understand ancestors as someone who is located in a particular space – in terra). Derrida’s general philosophical project (Deconstruction) owes a great debt to German philosophers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger. What distinguishes Derrida and Habermas is among other things, as Borradori highlights in her introduction, their style. The interview with Habermas comprises 20 pages and is one tempts to say, unusually clear. Derrida’s on the other hand is 52 pages and rather difficult. Derrida’s first major works is centered on philosophy of language. In this vein it makes sense when Borradori says, [H]is extreme sensitivity for subtle facts of language makes Derrida’s thought virtually inseparable from the words in which it is expressed (xll).
In the introduction Giovanna Borradori locates both Habermas and Derrida in the legacy of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, although a rather heterogeneous tradition, shares the common theme, that reason is the light that leads human out of their “self-incured immaturity”. Clearly Habermas and Derrida shares this tradition but in different ways. In his major political “Theorie des Kommunikativen Handlens (the Theory of Communicative Action) Habermas is clearly building on the idea the reason and rationality is a necessary component, if we want to realize the universals that is inherent in the Enlightenment tradition. Modernity as an overall term for the contemporary historical epoch is to Habermas still an “Unfulfilled Project” Therefore, and this is where his connection to the critical theory becomes most clear, it is the task of the philosopher to criticize the different forms of pathologies, that characterizes the Modern. This task of the philosopher is closely connected the idea of communicative action. Building on the “Anglo-Saxon” trend in philosophy of language Habermas argues that communicative rationality (not instrumental!) is the means to which we will be able to fulfill this project. Language is in its very nature oriented to reciprocal understanding but this requires that people, when using the public space for discussion, meets the basic requirements (validity claims) of language such as telling the truth and further, that language as such always is oriented to different kinds of perspective always in the search for “the forceless force of the better argument”.
Derrida, on the other hand is usually located as a post-modern philosopher implying an anti-Enlightenment stance. But as Borradori points out this not the case. Although deconstruction in its very nature leads our attention to the unconscious blind spots, that has been handed down and reproduced through generations, this does not imply that the Enlightenment as such should be refused. Rather the emphasis in deconstruction is on deconstruction. Nietzsche famously said that “We can only destroy as creators” and this is pretty much what Derrida does.
In his conversation with Borradori, Habermas tries to locate the “event” that we call 9.11 within his overall philosophical scheme. Pointing to the fact the September 11 was the first “historical world event” in the sense that the live coverage was unfiltered and broadcasted throughout the world, Habermas turns to the question of techno-media structure and how it affect our possibilities for fulfilling the demand for communicative rationality. The development of media technology has on the one hand improved the possibility for participation in the public sphere, but on the other hand increased the amount of “bad” information. The classic distinction between information and knowledge becomes obvious and this is central to Habermas. As pointed out earlier the use of language requires that we take precaution and further that always reflect upon using it. But the discourse on “war on terror” is problematic because it simplifies the actual “event” and because it unintended gives legitimacy to the terrorist. As such “the war on terror” leads to a distortion in communication. This is due to the lack of “semantic sensibility” regarding the distinction between the concepts of war, state and terror. Traditionally war is something that states wage against each other, but by declaring war is against a network that does fulfill the criteria of a state, the Bush administration has given legitimacy to terror as a mean to achieve political goal – although it is difficult to see the political content of the specific act. As such terror or violence can have political legitimacy if it used to overthrow a suppressing political regime, but this is clearly what “al-Qaeda” is lacking. The only clearly stated goal is to destabilize the US/The West. Second, Habermas points to the fact that by dividing world into a Manichean “good-evil” dichotomy (with its clear religious connotations) we fail to see through the veil of immediacy. The globalization and the spread of western values lead to a disintegration of traditional ways of life in many non-western societies, something that causes disturbance and reaction. Further, the idea that globalization is only beneficial is an idea that western societies impose on others, but the fact is that there is huge economic inequality, lack of respect for basic human rights and democracy.
For Habermas then the philosopher in a time of terror needs to reconstruct the foundation from which we are to proceed. The dysfunction in language and understanding needs be cured if we want to approach a more just and cosmopolitan order
Whereas Habermas through the entire interview – and in continuation of his general philosophical project maintains that rationality is a universal concept, Derrida on the other hand – through the use of deconstruction, points to the fact that rationality and other seemingly neutral concepts (e.g. tolerance) has a specific genealogy which is closely tied to a Christian tradition and nomenclature. This fact leads Derrida to embrace an ethic, where we become more sensible to the view of the other.
Starting out with some critical reflection on 9.11 as a “major event” Derrida points out that a truly new “event” forces us to develop a new language, new word that can express the significant in its own particularity. But using an old vocabulary we fail to see the “perhaps” true significance of 9.11. This is not to say that Derrida refuses that the killing in the attack on World Trade Center and Pentagon was a new thing, but he point to the fact that terror has a long history and as such is not something entirely new. The media and their uncritical use of language lead to a linguistic vulnerability by not reflecting what language does. Unlike Habermas, Derrida sees language as performative. Language is not just something that we can use without critical reflection. Language as such participates in the construction of the very world we are living in.
The collective trauma caused by the 9.11 attack is reproduced media and the entertainment industry. By using the same linguistic vocabulary as the Bush administration, the media gives us the sense of “metaphysical comfort” – that we can fight the terrorist and win if we take necessary precautionary measures. This is where Derrida introduces the concept of autoimmunity, which he describes as: [T]hat strange behavior where a living being, in quasi-suicidal fashion, “itself” works to destroy its own protection, to immunize itself against its “own” immunity (p. 94). Autoimmunity relates first to the fact that “the Bin-Ladens” initially was trained and “sponsored” by the US. When the different Muslim groups fought against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, they had the status of “freedom-fighter”. The distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter is then not as clear-cut as it seems. As an attempt to cure the system from the “communist decease” the US created the very means that could destabilize its own system. Further, Derrida distinguish between symbolic and real suicide. The symbolic castration by the collapse of the Twin Towers is clearly very real in its manifestation, but the real suicide is the denial of law as mean to solve the conflict. The refusal to acknowledge that the terrorist falls under the Geneva Convention provides the clearest example. Further, and again in relation to our need for “metaphysical comfort” the extraordinary means that has been taken – increased surveillance is not what is needed. Rather, and this is where Derrida and Habermas agree, the solution is not to decrease our civic liberties in the name of a “was against terror”, but to look at the roots of the “conflict”. Returning to the “event” of 9.11 Derrida says that one of the problems is, that we are constantly reminded of the “event”. The media is reproducing the images, but if we are to proceed, we have to cope with the collective trauma in “traditional” psychological manner.. We have to accept that we cannot raise the dead and then move on – not being haunted by the specters of yesterday.
One further argument in the interview is Derrida’s reflection on 9.11 as the perhaps last large scale terrorist attack, that is tied to a specific territory (terror – territory = terrortory). Our dependency on the techno-info system makes it likely that future terrorist attack will take place in cyberspace where the first hand casualty will be minimal, but the long term effect enormous. This of course is a central point. Just a small disturbance into the techno-highway can lead to significant consequences. As an example Michael Chertoff said last week that: “We take threats to the cyber world as seriously as we take threats to the material world” , thereby underscoring the significant consequences that a destabilizing of the cyper-system can have.
Returning to the possible solution to the solution to the problem of terrorism both Habermas and Derrida agree that we should avoid being terrorized by our own means. Further, both consider the possibility of cosmopolitanism as the long-term solution, and this is where Kant unites. In his plea of a “democracy to come” what Derrida urge us to consider is more or less an echo Walter Benjamin’s statement in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History” “[T]here is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim”. The consideration of cosmopolitanism leads Derrida to claim that what is needed is a cosmopolitan world government that transcend the nation-state. But when and how this is going to take place, is not something that Derrida tells us. One could say that this is a weakness in his argument, but the impression that I get is, that Derrida is trying to avoid the classic “logic-of-necessity” that has haunted much of the Marxist and critical theory.
Philosophy in a Time of Terror is a tour de force into two different philosophical universes. Although much is still to be said, this book shows the relevance of philosophy and critical thinking, when “major event” takes place. The introductory chapter locates nicely Habermas and Derrida within a larger context and the commentary that follows each conversation provides a good reflection of the major themes touched upon. In overall this book is a “must read” for everyone interested in critical reflection not only in relation to the “event” of 9.11 but also more general in the human conditions in late-/post-modernity.
Thomassen, Lasse (2004): De/Reconstructing Terrorism, in: Theory & Event, Vol.7, # 4 - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v007/7.4thomassen.html
In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag asks the reader to think about how our engagement with a photograph affects our understanding of suffering and war. In this insightful essay, Sontag evaluates the use of images and the role of photography in representing atrocity, how the interpretation of images is heavily influenced by context, and the effect that these representations have on us - the privileged that live removed from the Other’s pain. In doing so, Sontag addresses three major questions concerning photography and atrocity: What is unique about photography and representation? Why do we look at pictures of atrocities? And how does the act of seeing those images influence us? Sontag offers important thoughts on these questions and challenges how the reader interprets his or her own relationship to images, while at the same time challenging the postmodernist perspective on representation and reality and her earlier work on the anesthetizing effect of images.
According to Sontag, photography, which came into its own capturing images of World War I, possesses an inherent tension between objectivity and subjectivity. The problem with this tension is that it is not always acknowledged. Photographs are more easily accepted as fact, even though truth cannot be established without context or an understanding of the perspective of the photographer and interpretation lies so much with the identity of the viewer. As Sontag writes, “it is always the image that someone chose; to photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude” (Sontag 46). She remarks: “A photograph is supposed not to evoke but to show. That is why photographs, unlike handmade images, can count as evidence. But evidence of what?” (47). In the case of the Crimean War, for instance, in 1885 Roger Fenton was sent by the British government to counteract the written reports which portrayed the war in a negative way. Fenton brought back images that made the war seem as if it were a “dignified all-male group outing” by including posed pictures of soldiers in the Crimea, making sure not to photograph the dead, maimed, or ill (50). The “evidence” Fenton created was clearly not representative of the situation in the Crimea.
Photographs also inhabit the space between art and documentation, further adding to the tension between objectivity and subjectivity in photography. Documentation is perceived as objective, whereas art is allowed subjectivity and may include the perspective of the artist. When something appears to have the look of the photographer’s involvement, as is the case when the photograph is particularly beautiful, the veracity of the picture is compromised in the viewer’s eyes. When the images look less artistic they are thought to be less manipulative, and “less likely to arouse facile compassion or identification” (27). Therefore, there has been a trend developing in war photography to make shots look more amateur, gritty, real. Sontag notes: “Transforming is what art does, but photography that bears witness to the calamitous and the reprehensible is much criticized if it seems ‘aesthetic’; that is, too much like art” (76). This sense of the inauthenticity of the beautiful speaks to our expectations of the photography of atrocity. According to Sontag, when people view atrocity they want the weight of witnessing without artistry, which is considered to be disingenuous.
Taking a step back from the process of photography to the interpretation of the image adds another layer to the relationship between the evidentiary guise of the photograph and the subjective interpretation of its meaning. Sontag discusses the importance of context for viewing a photograph by first focusing on the identity of the viewer, then the added narrative of writers or editors, and finally the space in which the photograph is presented. In order to clarify the importance of the identity of the viewer, Sontag focuses on Virginia Woolf’s response to a letter sent by a male lawyer inquiring as to how “we” should prevent war. In Woolf’s reply, she places much emphasis in identifying who “we” is, highlighting the fact that every experience of the world is filtered by the lens of identity. Sontag builds on this by describing interpretations of various pictures of murdered children. She notes that the picture of a dead child, mutilated by a tank round in Gaza, for instance, would be to a Palestinian first of all a picture of a Palestinian child murdered by Israeli ordnance. She remarks that “to the militant, identity is everything,” explaining how one’s identity greatly influences the meaning derived from an image (10). The intention of the photographer becomes irrelevant to determining the meaning of the photograph, since it “will have its own career, blown by the whims and loyalties of the diverse communities that have use for it” (39).
That which frames and showcases a picture, captions and physical space, also shapes the interpretation of it. Captions create context for a photograph, without which it is difficult to determine what the photograph is about, especially if it is a snapshot from something in the distant past. An interesting example of this is the controversy surrounding the pictures taken of the pogrom in Tarnopol during WWII, described by Mark Weber in "Fraud Exposed in Defamatory German Exhibition." These photographs were shown in a German exhibit as evidence that German Wehrmacht troops, not just SS soldiers, perpetrated murder against Jews and others. Many of the pictures, however, came from Soviet-era Russian sources, and after further analysis by historians the images were found to have been mislabeled. The photographs actually showed the victims of Soviet and non-German forces. As Sontag notes, “all photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions” (10).
The understanding of photographs is also influenced by where the image is displayed. A picture in a newspaper surrounded by text reads very differently than one placed next to a Diet Coke add in the glossy pages of a magazine. Additionally, Sontag thinks that in contemporary society, there are few contemplative spaces where the gravity of images of atrocity can be felt, if it could ever be truly felt. When these photographs are hung in a gallery they become art, merely stations along a stroll in a social setting. In a book they hold the attention of the viewer longer, but eventually the book is closed and the emotion elicited by the photograph disappears. On television, “image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content” (106). Sontag leaves the reader contemplating the fleetingness of feeling derived from someone else’s pain, offering no apparent solution to the problem other than suggesting narrative should accompany all photographs.
In addition to examining how atrocity is interpreted through photographs, Sontag addresses the question of why people continue to be fascinated by pictures of atrocity. She comes up with two possibilities – one is that photographs are used to remember atrocity and the other is that there is a side of human nature that derives pleasure from seeing other’s pain. To return to the example of the German exhibition of war crimes, supporters of the exhibit claimed that it gave voice to the victims of the Nazi regime and would allow the German people to confront their past in order that none forget it. Photographs are essential for remembering past events, since “to remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture” (89). The scarcity of photographs of the genocide of the Herero or the Rape of Nanking, for example, may have contributed to the relative lack of attention they receive in comparison to the Jewish Holocaust or the Vietnam War. “The problem,” however, “is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs” (89). Sontag’s conviction that there is amnesia regarding events without pictures is not entirely convincing at this point, since certain important speeches or events that occurred before photography was invented are still remembered. However, the importance of photographs cannot be denied, especially as society moves ever further away from having significant un-photographed events as a result of the diffusion and affordability of technology. As noted by Walter Benjamin, history decays into images, not stories.
It is not just a few iconic images of atrocity, however, that make it into the mainstream. Instead, especially if one has access to the Internet, one has the opportunity to look at endless pictures of suffering. The proliferation of images of pain and the reality that people are drawn to them have to do with the less savory side of why we continue to look at photographs of atrocities – the fascination with the suffering of others. Edmund Burke, political theorists, may have been correct when he stated, “I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others” (97). Viewing contemporary pictures of violence could be justified by the fact that they could shock someone into taking action to stop the abuse. For example, even though journalist and Darfur expert Nicholas Kristof has suggested images of victims of genocide are “genocide porn,” an idea shared by Sontag, he still uses them in presentations because he feels they are powerful enough to cause people to act. He also adds the important element of context and narrative, justifying the use of the photographs.
Photographs of past events don’t carry that same obligation. Sontag posits that the only people that should look at photographs are those who could learn from them or stop the atrocity. “The rest of us are voyeurs, whether or not we mean to be” (42). This voyeuristic element is especially prominent in old photographs of victims of genocide. In the case of the Cambodian genocide, for instance, many of the victims were photographed before they were killed. The identity of the photographer is known, but the subjects are nameless, and they live on always as anonymous victims. In a way, viewing these pictures without attempting to identify the victims or do anything proactive with the impressions derived from the viewing could be considered to be re-victimizing those who suffered at the hands of the genocidaires.
After considering possible explanations of how and why we view photographs depicting suffering, the inevitable question is, what effect does this have on us? Sontag addresses two main ideas about the proliferation of images of suffering – othering and compassion fatigue. Sontag introduces the idea of the Other immediately, the title of her work is, after all, Regarding the Pain of Others. It is not our own pain we witness through photography, but the pain of someone else in another place, far removed from our safe space. We, as in “everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through,” cannot understand the pain of the Other (125). Even though the intention of the photographer was probably to humanize the victims, the extreme nature of the atrocity prohibits the viewers from identifying themselves in the subjects of the picture. If we identify too much, perhaps we would open up the frightful possibility that it could happen to us.
The legacy of colonialism and its history of othering also live on in the photography of atrocity.
The more remote or exotic the place, the more likely we are to have full frontal views of the dead and dying…. These sights carry a double message. They show a suffering that is outrageous, unjust, and should be repaired. They confirm that this is the sort of thing which happens in that place. The ubiquity of those photographs, and those horrors, cannot help but nourish belief in the inevitability of tragedy in the benighted or backward – that is, poor – parts of the world. (70-71)In certain instances it has also been shown that powerful, Western nations are much faster to react to pictures of suffering when the victims are perceived as more similar to their own citizens. This is part of the history of humanitarian intervention that still hasn’t completely faded into the past. For example, when one compares the action taken after the iconic picture of the starving Bosnian man in a Serb death camp to the inaction taken after photographs taken in Darfur, the difference is noticeable. The legacy of othering, in combination with the violence in the picture, can thus dissuade viewers from identifying with the victims, and promote a sense of otherness. It is important to note, however, that this does not always have to be the case; there was action taken in Yugoslavia as a result of a picture.
The sense of distance from the victims relates to the second idea about the effect of the plentitude of images of atrocity – numbness and compassion fatigue. In Sontag’s earlier book On Photography, she made the argument that the images of violence had the effect of anesthetizing the conscience to violence, leading to inaction and torpor. In a drastically different take on the matter, Sontag critiques the postmodernists view on reality and grapples with the idea of compassion fatigue. Sontag primarily targets Guy Debord and Jean Beaudrillard in her criticism of the intellectual’s position on photography and representation. She writes:
Reports of the death of reality – like the death of reason, the death of the intellectual, the death of serious literature – seem to have been accepted without much reflection by many who are attempting to understand what feels wrong, or empty, or idiotically triumphant in contemporary politics and culture. (110)Sontag claims that accepting the death of reality universalizes the experiences of a “small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment” (110). Adopting such cynicism about media’s sincerity diminishes the experiences of those actually suffering the atrocities, since it assumes that everyone is a spectator. She notes that it assumes there is no real suffering in the world, only representations. In actuality suffering still exists, and the many victims “do not have the luxury of patronizing reality” (111).
Sontag further takes up issue with the idea that the diffusion of violence has desensitized the viewing audience to the point of indifference. Instead of numbness leading to inaction, Sontag posits that lack of action could be the result of fear or of the frustration of being unable to affect change. The viewer has not lost his or her sense of humanity. People don’t “turn off” because of indifference resulting from the hypersaturation of images of violence. They disengage because “war, any war, doesn’t seem as if it can be stopped [which makes]…people … less responsive to the horrors” (101). Compassion fatigue, according to Sontag, does not exist; it is the frustration with helplessness that causes fatigue.
The final notes Sontag leaves the reader with is that we, those removed from the suffering, just don’t get it. This simple idea is a fitting conclusion to her essay, which focuses so much on the viewer’s diminished ability to connect with the subject of a photograph – the result of the nature of interpretation and photography and the inability to respond to what we see in a picture. We can only regard the pain of others; we cannot understand it. Nevertheless, the photograph of atrocity still has an important role to play in promoting action. The fact that a picture can evoke strong emotions in individuals is important. The elicited emotions can only be maintained by effective action, however, and this requires the cooperation and compassion of individuals with power. This action is crucial in deriving something positive from these images. As Sontag states so eloquently: “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers” (101).
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
Weber, Mark. "Fraud Exposed in Defamatory German Exhibition," The Journal of Historical Review, volume 18 no. 5/6 (September/December 1999), 6-11.
“Al Quaeda is winning the media war.”
Col. Lawrence Killmeier
“O Muslim youth in the East and West, who listen to God calling you: ‘Go forth to war, whether it be easy or difficult for you, and strive hard in God’s cause with your possessions and your lives.’ ”
Abu Yahya Al-Libi
"Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
President George W. Bush
Al Quaeda is winning the media war. There are over 5000 jihadi websites, all preaching a sacred war against America, the West and Israel and America lacks a response. Videos of attacks on Westerners have become the objective of these attacks, not their strategic or tactical value. (Killmeier) These videos are picked up by major news networks and played to the American public as tragedies but they become the face of the war. Instead of any positive events in Iraq or the Middle East, there are constant bombings and demonstrations against the West.
Al Quaeda was not always winning this war. After 9/11, there was a tremendous outpouring of support for the United States and the media in all countries seemed sympathetic to our cause. The war in Afghanistan eroded little of that support. The war in Iraq was the turning point in the media war. The lack of WMDs in Iraq so eroded the credibility of this presidential administration that few media sources are willing to believe any of its claims, whether truthful or not. Jay Rosen illustrates this perfectly, as he accused them of creating a lie so big that the media could not help but believe it and now he and other media sources are dubious of any news out of the government as they will not be fooled again.
The administration promised the epitome of the virtuous war. The conventional war was won quickly with a minimum of American casualties and a maximum of “shock and awe.” Embedded reporters combined with a sympathetic media created a perfect news storm proving America was the penultimate military power in the world. Overwhelming American military force networked into accurate intelligence created a virtuous war, one that was fought because we had to, because Saddam was an imminent threat, because Iraqi civilians deserved freedom and democracy yet that could be fought without major American sacrifice. It is not the war, but the aftermath that tells us the most about how virtuous war lacks and is the point where the media turned against this war.
Then the aftermath of the Iraq war destroyed this virtuous war. Computer networks, smart bombs and the ability to project force from a distance came up against roadside bombs, snipers and ethnic hatred held for centuries. The insurgency could not be defeated in a virtuous war and Abu Graib proved that we lacked virtue. Classical counter-insurgency tactics had to be returned to, a surge in troop numbers and soldiers occupying every town until they were pacified and an attempt could be made to create the civil institutions that would prevent the return of violence and a civil war when the Americans left. The tools of the virtuous war were still used, the satellites and UAVs, but they were no replacement for Human Intelligence, a forceful response to any outbreak of violence and a constant human presence. The insurgency may be pacified, but the media are no longer willing allies.
The U.S. military seeks to dominate on all spectrums of war, yet they have not adapted to the Global Media as a 24-hour phenomenon where speed of response matters more than accuracy and the first reply is the only one that is heard. Colonel Tucker explains that the military, especially after Vietnam, views the media as the enemy and wants all their information to be accurate, no matter how long it takes, and thus takes too long to respond to stories in this new media environment, thus allowing blatant inaccuracies to go unchallenged. It is only recently that the military began abandoning this all or nothing approach in favor of a quicker and less complete response to inaccurate developing stories.
The United States government is further hampered by its need for accuracy. Any perceived inaccuracy damages its already tarnished image with American citizens. The United States government/military has failed to adapt to a global media, where they must operate in multiple media environments; each requiring a different approach and set of cultural assumptions.
This media war must be defined in order to determine the victor. This war consists of every media interface existing and it is a battle for public opinion, on one side to sustain American support for the war and the support of the rest of the world for the military and on the other to destroy American support for the war, the support of the rest of the world for America, and to radicalize Muslims and get them to rise up in a clash of civilizations against the West.
There are no rules to this war, no theories of how to carry out a just media war. The Pentagon is attempting deterrence through the media, trying to highlight moderate imans who oppose Al Quaeda and verses in the quran that oppose violence against civilians. The Pentagon tries to present a virtuous war with no American or civilian casualties while terrorist websites show American troops dying and reporters being beheaded. Extremists on both sides wish for a clash of civilizations in which the righteous will persevere and this leads to abuses in the media war. Hamas now runs children’s videos glorifying violence against Jews and the American President. Extremists in America dismiss Islam as a religion of hate that needs to be defeated in a long war similar to the cold war.
This media war might be winnable. Yet victory is so vaguely defined and relies on the cooperation of the media to such an extent that it could erode the independence of the press or put the military in the role of the press. The more effective the military and terrorist organizations become at manipulating the press the less the press remains a critical arbiter of what is actually happening in the world. The media war may be necessary, but can the media serve as a battleground without being distorted beyond recognition?
Der Derian, James. Virtuous War.
MSNBC News Service “Puppet child ‘kills’ Bush on Gaza TV kids show” April 1, 2008.
Arkin, William H. Goodbye on Terrorism, Hello Long War. Washington Post. January 26, 2006.
Kathleen Fleming, Julia Stern, Mike Dupuis Jr., Chantal Berman, and Amy Tan
A video to watch for next week's GML... http://www.youtube.com/newmediawars
also: our guest speaker will be Sebastian Kaempf from the University of Queensland and the title of his talk is 'Waging War in the New Media Age: Images as Strategic Weaons and the Ethics of Contemporary Warfare'
Virtuous War Chapter 5-9
Literature Review by Josh Sargent
Virtuous war combines two almost opposite aims. The first, or the virtue, is to use a just war for ethical reasons or to accomplish an ethical end and the second or the virtual is to accomplish these ends from a remote distance with a minimum of casualties. These two aims combine to form virtuous war, the model that the United States government and military has adopted as official policy.
The definition of virtue in war comes from just war theory in the Christian tradition, most well defined by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas Aquinas, a Christian soldier shows virtue in war through charity. “Justice is the key cardinal virtue…but the virtue of charity is what gives the impetus for Christian participation.” Justice and charity lay the grounds for carrying out a just war both in the reasons for going to war and in the conduct during war.
Virtual war is the ability to choose a spot on a map and effect damage upon it or the people residing there, whether through a smart bomb, or cruise missile or UAV or any other method with no or minimal human casualties. It is networked war, where the enemy lacks a face or defining human characteristics. It is war in the Internet era and it is constantly being made faster, smarter, more accurate and less human to the point where someday America may not even field troops on the battlefield; only unmanned vehicles and aircraft.
Chapters 5-9 of Der Derian’s book discuss different points along his travels through virtuality. They serve as waypoints along his journey; though some may seem dated, as conditions have changed since the book was printed.
Chapter 5 attempts to define the virtuous enemy. When the book was written the American government refuses to identify any particular country as the enemy in their exercises and the list of rogue states has been replaced by a list of “states of concern.” Now America clearly defines its enemies, as President Bush outlined the infamous axis of evil in March 2003 and the terrorist organization Al Quaeda is considered the greatest threat to American security. Then enemy still is faceless, shown only on night-vision scopes where they look less real than figures in a video game. Videos of Afghanistan and Iraq being bombed look surgical and neat, and there are no formal declarations of war, only extended military engagements. As the physical violence and bloodshed are downplayed, war is easier to justify and bloodshed is only real when it happens on American soil.
War is not a game, except for when it is held in San Francisco. The war game in San Francisco could not happen today. The army does not have the personnel to do so and the protests against the war would have a focal point that could create another WTO riot, only magnified immensely. The war games have given way to the main event. And Waco reminds me that John Yoo, in his recently released memo on torture, argued that the 4th Amendment did not apply to the United States military, when acting against American citizens within the United States. The military is ever present and could in the event of a major terrorist attack be used as a policing force not bound legally by the same restrictions as conventional police.
The National Convention seems anti-climactic knowing the end result. The Cold Warriors won out over Hollywood stardom and so did on a platform that rejected the virtue in virtuous war and proclaimed that nation-building and humanitarian interventions were not in America’s best interest. America should operate on a platform of strict realism and only use military force for our own ends. The Drawbridge to Fortress America was raised. 9//11 followed and virtuous war returned as the use of war for ethical purposes, to create freedom and democracy, seemed to be in America and the world’s best interest.
To Wesley Clark, the American intervention in Kosovo was not a war; it was coercive diplomacy conducted with no self-interest. Any escalation the NATO forces took was intended to send a diplomatic message, not to force Serbia to surrender. Victory was having Milosevic back down and stop the violence in Kosovo. Bombing was a message, sending in ground troops was a message and all these messages Holbrooke used for diplomatic ends. Invading Serbia was a last resort neither side wanted. Yet to the Kosova being ethnically cleansed and to the Serbs being “bombed for peace”, it was war. Kosovo was war with the best of intentions yet Der Derian after spending all this time on war shies away from it as he tries to explain his new theory of virtuality.
Der Derian at his most ambitious is trying to replace both classical and post-modern theories of international relations with a virtual theory of war and peace. This theory seeks to understand how the way reality is seen affects the conceptuality and the actuality of an event or a representative, and thus what is represented. The interwar is seen as “eternally returning” yet if Der Derian’s virtual theory is fully realized not inevitable as global politics can change from being-between wars and arrive at becoming-different from war. This is Der Derian at his most utopian, seeing in virtuality the hope for a brave new world, one in which differences represent a “challenge of connectivity, creativity and responsibility”. Yet even as he grasps at this hope, he realizes when seeing a gruesome picture that all his theory and training and education pale when compared to an undeserved death.
A virtuous war is a war that combines virtue with virtual, using war to achieve an ethical end while realizing force from a distance. Virtuous war raises ethical and strategic questions, some of which Der Derian examines: Does the digitization of war make the enemy less real, less human and make civilian casualties easy to ignore? Does it make war too easy to fight as it requires no American sacrifice? Others he ignores: Is it better to demonize our enemies, as we have done historically, or is it better to dehumanize them? Is virtuous war a response to the Cold War and not appropriate to America’s current challenges? Is using a Christian framework of just war useful against non-Western enemies? Can and should America use military force to confront intractable political problems? These ethical and strategic questions demand answers, yet Der Derian answers none of them, giving us only the theoretical framework of the virtuous war and a vague utopian hope for the future.
Cole, Darrell. (1999). Thomas Aquinas on Virtuous Warfare. Journal of Religious Ethics 27 (1) 57-80.
Willem Van Lancker - Film Review "The Battle of Algiers"
First released in 1966, "The Battle of Algiers," written and directed by Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, is an historical epic based on the events of the Algerian War opposing French rule from 1954-1962. The film highlights the themes of cultural misunderstanding, terrorism, torture, and counter-insurgency on a level that had not been witnessed previously in the film world. Its effectiveness in connecting with all sides, not just one face of the revolution, has lent the film a longevity and relevance for generations.
The film opens up on one of its many protagonists, Ali La Pointe. La Pointe is depicted as an illiterate, petty criminal, who later rises to the top of the Algerian Independence movement, the FLN (National Liberation Front). From the onset of the film, Pontecorvo demonstrates the tension between the native Algerians and the ‘pieds-noir,’ the white European settlers. Ali is arrested minutes into the film for punching a white Frenchman who trips him in the street. He is sent to the infamous Barberousse prison where he is recruited by the FLN.
The film is by and large a visualization of the conflict during the Battle of Algiers, Algeria’s capital city, as well as the exposure of the organization of the rebel Algerians and the introduction of the French paratroopers. Using the “European District” and the Casbah as two separate and distinct regions of the city, Pontecorvo depicts the entire Algerian conflict in the context of the city.
The struggle initiates with numerous attacks on French police officers which escalate with each side trading blows. Following the murder of several police officers, the French army forms a ghetto in the Casbah. Later, Algerian women place bombs in public places in the Euro-quarter only to see retaliation by French civilians who mistakenly destroy the wrong man’s home in the Casbah. This back and forth narrative creates a view of the struggle that does its best not to be a romanticized version of the cause for one side or the other.
Given the film’s realist cinematography, many initial viewers actually believed that the film was a documentary and not a reenactment of events. Pontecorvo, in the interest a strong screenplay, took many of history’s actual players and synergized them into singular or cause driven characters. The first example is the depiction of Colonel Mathieu. In reality, Mathieu is a conglomeration of several French military leaders including General Massu and Colonel Bigeard who both played critical roles in France’s military strategy in Algiers. In doing this Pontecorvo was able to use Mathieu to represent the institution of the French Army and, on a broader scale, Colonialism. His suave, genteel manner underscored his judiciousness with the press. His beliefs and dialogue in the film provide an important commentary on how the French empire operated its Algerian colony. On the other side of the conflict, Pontecorvo utilized several significant figures. The film begins and ends with Ali La Pointe who is recreated rather precisely as a petty thief that rises through the ranks of the FLN, representing the “everyman” of the Algerian people. Furthermore, Ali represents the force of the FLN, the branch that believes victory will only be achieved through violent assaults on the French. His counter persona is portrayed in Larbi Ben M’hidi, the voice of political rational thought for the FLN. Pontecorvo uses M’hidi to convey the tenets that a revolutionary group must hold close in order to achieve victory. The final protagonist for the FLN is the character, El-hadi Jafar. Jafar was played by his real-life counterpart, FLN leader Saadi Yacef. Having an actual member of the FLN provides the film a unique glimpse into the bona fide world of the Algerian rebels.
Pontecorvo’s lack of a singular protagonist is uncharacteristic of the historical epic genre. However, it is supremely effective in fashioning a mood of detachment within a conflict of larger ideas and players, the FLN and the French rulers. This nonaligned status plays throughout all facets of the filming and score. In whichever of the bombing scenes either side endures, the score is identical, highlighting the verity that their evils are equal and inseparable.
As the film winds down, the French army is able to isolate and eradicate the several braches of the FLN. Finally, with the assassination of its leaders, thus removing the ‘head’ of the FLN organization, they render it lifeless. The film concludes with a post-script depicting the riots and protests of thousands of Algerians. In this final chorus, the narrator dictates that even though the paratroopers ‘won’ the Battle of Algiers, the people did not give up. The inevitable demise of the colony was finally realized as the French were forced to pull out of Algeria after many violent conflicts with the natives.
At the surface this film can be interpreted as an important perspective on one of the bloodiest revolutions in history but it is clear that Pontecorvo sought to present numerous themes for deliberation in this film.
One of the most noteworthy of these themes is the interaction between Ali La Pointe and Larbi Ben M’hidi. This discourse, on a roof of a building in the Casbah, sheds light on nothing less than the philosophy of revolution. Ali, a hard-nosed character set on violence, is admonished by M’hidi that though terrorism is an effective fire-starter of a uprising, it cannot sustain a revolution. M’hidi is convinced that “acts of violence don’t win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But the, the people themselves must act. That’s the rationale behind this strike: to mobilize all Algerians, to assess our strength.” This speech, reiterate by the people’s revolt at the film’s conclusion, is a central lesson to be taken from this film from the rebel’s perspective; nothing can be accomplished solely through violent insurrection.
On Colonel Mathieu’s side of the conflict, he is coming under fire from the international and French press because of his use of torture tactics to unearth the leaders of the FLN cells. Here, Pontecorvo opens an important discussion around torture which is especially relevant to our country’s present situation in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. He argues that his troops are not engaging in “torture” but instead, interrogation that is producing results, something the courts are not doing. When pressed by a journalist, who asserts that following the law is often inconvenient but that it is still the law, he cites that the Algerian’s propensity for exploding bombs in public places is not respecting the law, so why should the Army obey the law in pursuing the enemy. He goes on to elaborate that if the French people really want to stay in Algeria that these are the sacrifices that will have to be made. This discussion is one that also helps force the viewer of the film to maintain a neutral outlook on the situation; everywhere you focus, they are fighting an eye for an eye.
This film’s staying power is largely due to the fact that unlike most historical epics, it does not take sides. It is the essence of a ‘plastic’ film; all parties can relate. The film has been utilized as a training video for liberation groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Provisional Irish Republican Army as a guide on tactics of guerrilla urban warfare and insurgent terrorism. Other groups and thinkers also have cited the film as important, including the Black Panthers, Andreas Baader, leader of the German Red Army Faction, and the United States government.
Connecting this film’s significance to the present is extremely simple, what is more difficult is attempting to read into what it implies for our current situation in Iraq. When the US Pentagon screened the film in 2003, it released it with a flyer, “How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas.” In the film, the French were able to overthrow the uprising in Algiers but lost positive public opinion, which eventually crushed their efforts to maintain their colony. Paralleling France’s use of paratroopers in Algiers, America’s “surge” today in Iraq is doing its job, but at what cost? Are we creating a generation of Iraqis, and on a larger scale Arabs, that resent the presence of an occupational American power? The sad truth is that the writing is on the wall and it seems that the United States government is fully prepared to simply let history repeat itself. Could this be why the French were so vehemently opposed to our invasion of Iraq? It is clear that "The Battle of Algiers," not only provided important commentary on the specific incident of French Algeria but also provokes a discussion of how we will approach cultural tension, terrorism, and counter-insurgency in the 21st century.
The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. 1967. Screened, 1 Apr. 2008. Brown University, Watson Institute Occupation/Liberation/Collaboration Film Series.
"The Battle of Algiers." Rialto Pictures. 5 Apr. 2008
Lecture: Barrymore Bogues, Professor of Africana Studies. Konstantinos Kornetis, Professor of History. Reda Bensmaia, Professor of French Studies. James Der Derian, Professor of International Relations. Watson Institute. The Battle of Algiers: Discussion. Joukowsky Forum, Brown University, Providence RI. 1 Apr. 2008.
I am looking for collaborators to join me on an exploration of the mind bending and state altering convergence of synthetic biology, posthuman/cyborg critical theory, and the interface between virtual reality and artificial life systems. The next chapter of last year's very popular GMP pitch reel on nanotechnology synthetic biology presents a radical challenge to our understanding of what it means to be human in the 21st century. While exhibiting tremendous possibilities for coping with the acute environmental and health demands of our times, synthetic biology might also be an atomized, self-reproducing Frankenstein. Does the ability to artificially engineer life systems and control the environment fundamentally change our understanding and perceptions of nature, or does it present a new epoch in the history of a cyborg species that uses language, technology and prosthetics to socially develop? Where does the convergence of revolutions in genetic engineering and virtual information technology at the fringes of what we consider to be real fit in with our contemporary understandings of the 'other' reflected in ideas about race, terrorism, new media and community in an age of globalization? How might we as a group try to map these changes, or, at least, encounter the maps that are currently circulating.
Please email me if you are interested in making this your GMP final project firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a more in-depth project proposal. While I have a lot of ideas, potential leads and a list of key texts in cyborg critical theory, I am hoping that new voices will add invaluable new directions to the project. Thank you for considering the project and I am hoping to create a team asap to enter the matrix of the Rhizomic Revolutions.
This is a very rough, and probably somewhat tangential/confusing set of introductory clips for a GMP Pitch Reel final project based off a documentary on synthetic biology that I am working on. Please view it as a jumping off point for the Pitch Reel, and not anything fixed or solid.
INTL1800N: Global Media
Film Review: Enemy of the State
According to a September 2007 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), we are on the verge of entering an era of complete surveillance: “It’s six minutes before midnight as a surveillance society draws near in the United States…we confront the possibility of a dark future where our every move, our every transaction, our every communication is recorded, compiled, and stored away, ready for access by the authorities whenever they want.” Those with access to the tools of surveillance have accumulated unprecedented power as the watchful gaze of the camera follows us everywhere in public life. The 1998 film Enemy of the State explores the creeping totality of the surveillance society. It goes beyond the conclusion of the ACLU report and finds that we have already crossed the midnight mark. The idea of a surveillance society is not a piece of science fiction or some future possibility, but rather the reality of the present. In presenting this harrowing portrait, the film also critiques the surveillance society by challenging the primary justification for increased surveillance, underscoring the potential abuse of the tools of surveillance, and disputing the basic assumption that images represent absolute truth. However, despite these criticisms, the film ultimately suggests that the surveillance society is inescapable.
At the most basic level, Enemy of the State effectively captures the all-surrounding nature of the modern surveillance society. Watching the film, the viewer is bombarded with cameras, surveillance technology, and satellite images at every turn. This barrage of images reinforces the central message over and over again: the camera is always watching. This cinematic technique is strikingly similar to the photographic tactic that Frank Thiel employs in his 1997-99 work, City TV (Berlin). In this series, Thiel presented 101 photographs of surveillance cameras to emphasize the predominance of video control in the public sphere. As Sabine Himmelsbach explains: “The focus on the cameras themselves imparts a notion of totality. The repetition of the pictorial motif intensifies the statement. The cameras are found everywhere…The large number of silent observers conveys a sense of total surveillance.” Along the same line, we witness the watchful gaze of the camera at every step in Enemy of the State. From the two-minute montage of satellite images, car chase footage, and video cameras that opens the film (see above) to the hidden cameras in Robert Dean’s home at the end, the viewer is presented with a world that is under constant surveillance.
The viewer also finds a strong critique of the primary justification for expanding the reach of surveillance technology. As James Der Derian argues in his September 1990 article, “The (S)pace of International Relations: Simulation, Surveillance, and Speed,” the tools of surveillance instill international actors with considerable power: “The modern panopticism takes many forms, but it is the communications intelligence…electronic intelligence…radar intelligence...telemetry intelligence…and photointelligence…all operating under the 22,300 mile-high roof of technical intelligence…that constitute a new regime of power in international relations.” States recognize the strategic importance of surveillance in the international arena and often invoke the notion of national security to justify the expansion of surveillance powers. Most recently, we have seen this argument put forward in the wake of the September 11th attacks, with the USA Patriot Act and calls for increased wiretapping authority. From this perspective, a bit more surveillance and a little less privacy are the keys to individual safety.
The film contests this line of reasoning both directly and indirectly. On one level, the plot of the film highlights the pitfalls of too much surveillance and stresses the national security vs. civil liberties debate. Government surveillance may bolster national security to some extent, but it also opens the door for potential misuse and the erosion of personal privacy. On another level, the film subtly challenges the national security justification by having the “bad guys” espouse this argument. For instance, at the beginning of the film, Brian Reynolds (Special Advisor to the NSA Deputy Director of Operations) claims that, “we’re at war 24 hours of every day” in order to convince Congressman Hammersley to support the surveillance-friendly Telecommunications, Security, and Privacy Act. When Congressman Hammerseley responds with the assertion that, “national security’s not the only thing going on in this country” and refuses to support the bill, Reynolds has him killed. Similarly, it is the adulterous Congressman Albert who goes on television to argue that the “tens of millions of foreign nationals living within our borders…[who] consider the United States their enemy” are reason enough to expand surveillance measures. In the end, Enemy of the State cautions the viewer to be wary of the national security argument and raises doubts about the government’s capacity to limit its use of surveillance technology.
Along the same line, the question of whether we can really trust those with access to the tools of surveillance to not abuse their power is also central to the film. Once again, the plot of the film makes clear that the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Enemy of the State is a story of the utter misuse of this technology and a cautionary tale about the risks of widespread government surveillance. In the film, loving wife and ACLU lawyer Carla Dean acts as the primary voice for these concerns. She challenges the idea that the government will only snoop on suspected wrongdoers (“Oh, I know. We’ll just tap the criminals. We won’t suspend the civil rights of the good people. [But] who decides which is which?”) and questions the capacity for objective oversight (“Who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?”). If, as Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt suggests, cameras, computers, and satellites have indeed taken on the role of the “divine eye” and “the almighty function of control,” we must ask ourselves whom, if anyone, we want playing God.
The film also disputes the fundamental assumption that the picture does not lie. According to James Der Derian, there is an “aura of representational truth that surrounds the image.” Surveillance is an effective information-gathering tool precisely because the image is viewed to be the ultimate representation of reality. Enemy of the State, however, emphasizes that images can often be misleading. For example, the FBI photographs of Robert at Pintero’s place insinuate that Robert has mafia connections that do not exist. Similarly, when Carla sees the photographs of Robert and Rachel Banks together in the park, she assumes that Robert is lying and having another affair when that is not the case at all. Finally, donning a police officer uniform towards the end of the film, Brill makes the FBI agents think that Reynolds and his cronies have kidnapped and bloodied a cop. The film takes yet another jab at the idea of a surveillance society by undermining the very foundation upon which this reality is built.
In the end, though, Enemy of the State suggests that there is no escape from the surveillance society. Time and time again the film reinforces the message that we are trapped in this state. While some may argue that Brill is able to escape, he only does so as a social outcast who follows strict rules to avoid the watchful gaze of the camera. His description of his workplace as “unplugged from the world” perfectly sums up his position. In order to escape the surveillance society, he must abandon all notions of normality and constantly live on the periphery. This lifestyle is hardly an appealing alternative for most people. Even those who control the tools of surveillance fall victim to its power. After following Robert’s every move throughout the film, these men ultimately have the camera’s gaze turned back onto them. In addition, the film (through Brill’s words) proposes an intriguing explanation for the inability to escape the surveillance society: “the more technology you use, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you.” As long as we fawn over the newest technology, we continue to enhance the power of the surveillance society. Overall, the film makes clear that, despite its many flaws, the surveillance society is a reality that is not going away any time soon.
Stanley, Jay and Barry Steinhardt. “Even Bigger, Even Weaker: The Emerging Surveillance Society: Where Are We Now?” American Civil Liberties Union. September 2007. http://www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/31846pub20070917.html. 4.
Himmelsbach, Sabine. “Frank Thiel.” In CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Edited by: Ursula Frohne, Thomas Y. Leviin, and Peter Weibel. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002. 136.
Der Derian, James. “The (S)pace of International Relations: Simulation, Surveillance, and Speed.” International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 34, No. 3304 (September 1990). 304-305.
Enemy of the State. Dir. Tony Scott. Perfs. Gene Hackman, Will Smith. Touchstone Pictures, 1998. DVD. Touchstone Home Video, 1999.
Schmidt-Burkhardt, Astrit. In CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Edited by: Ursula Frohne, Thomas Y. Leviin, and Peter Weibel. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002. 31.
"In this war of perceptions, the two sides are watching each other carefully and seeking every advantage to sway the Muslim world, which is their target audience." It seems as if writers at the Times were reading 'Virtuous War' along with the class this week. Check out a NYT feature 'Hearts and Minds' that looks at the Info War channeled through Al Qaeda and the U.S. media, "These and other frank communications by Mr. Libi have led intelligence analysts at the West Point center and elsewhere to pore over his videos like Kremlinologists looking for operational clues to Soviet intentions."
*Extra Credit* Literature Review
Fables of Responsibility by Thomas Keenan and The News Media, Civil War, and Humanitarian Action by Larry Minear, Colin, Scott, and Thomas G. Weiss differ as texts in both prose and function. The profoundly dissimilar agendas of each author force one to teeter on the edge of abstraction (i.e. the theoretical work of Keenan) and concrete practicality (i.e. the grounded case studies of Minear) in order to establish an analytical link between the two texts. Both texts, however, converge in jointly calling for the intellectual to critically address the gaps in current studies of ethics and politics. The following essay comments on the style of each text and proceeds to utilize Keenan’s literary deconstruction of the rights and responsibilities surrounding ethics and politics to investigate Minear’s analysis of the media’s ever increasing role in humanitarian crisis.
Keenan’s text is more about language than application or understanding. Its abstract theoretical nature, although extremely well mapped out and articulated, is inaccessible to the general public. Interestingly, in the text Keenan refers to an instance in which a French publisher advised Marx to release Capital in separate parts to make it more accessible to the public. Marx ardently refused, stating that impatience “leads to change without interpretation” (Keenan 102). Keenan seems to embody this noble approach to his literature, taking pride in revealing the truth in time and only with much deliberation from the reader. He emphasizes that reading, “if it happens at all, happens only in the encounter with difficulty and without guarantees” (Keenan 103). Certainly that is the case in this text. Interpretations are not simply given; the reader must embark on a linguistic journey to discern meaning from the text.
Minear’s text, on the contrary, is extremely accessible to the general public and it situates analysis in context through practical case studies. While the greatest contribution of Keenan’s text may well be its deconstruction of language and eternal questioning, Minear’s greatest contribution is the systematic investigation of the role of media alongside governments and humanitarian agencies in the international system. The authors portray the shifting international stage as a new game of billiards in which states, non-states, and transnational actors- including many components of the media- comprise billiard balls. Minear addresses the gap in research on the important role of media to provide game-winning strategies for success in humanitarian crisis situations, while Keenan’s address provides an intellectual critic of ethics and politics which deconstructs the terms of the game.
Keenan’s book is broken down by theorists Aesop(if he may be named as such), Sade, Marx, and Foucault. Foucault preaches the responsibility of the intellectual to speak for the voiceless, exclaiming, “[T]he chance that misfortune will be left wordless, and not simply the misfortune itself, calls for active and insistent assertion” (Kennan 159). Foucault makes it clear that the individual, and likely in this case the intellectual, has a duty to make complex crisis known to agencies, such as the government or humanitarian organizations. The media has, in many ways, taken up this call to report on humanitarian crisis. A Foucault reading of the increasing role of the media perhaps would view media coverage as a new actor in the international scene, one who uses mediums of the media as strategies and tactics to transgress the prior era of international relations which did not as readily include individuals, non-state actors, the marginalized, or the periphery. But the media is not all the same, as Minear makes clear in a perceptive moment in the text. The authors use media in the plural to stress the variety of entities and interests within the grouping. This crucial component allows for multiple identities within the media.
For one, the media may be used a tool or a force multiplier by states, non-state actors and the media alike. As was mentioned in Grin Without a Cat, French New Leftists burned cars in the quarters of France, but it was the footage that made an impact. They may have burned the same five cars each night and injured no one, but the footage held the message. Likewise, as Major General Lewis MacKenzie, commander of UN-PROFOR in Sarajevo, reported, “‘The media was the only major weapon system I had. Whenever I went into negotiations with the warring parties, it was a tremendous weapon to be able to say: “OK, if you don’t want to do it the UN’s way, I’ll nail your butt on CNN in about 20 minutes.’ That worked, nine times out of ten” (Minear 59). The media has the power to cease human rights violations or exalt or damage image and reputations through photo opportunities.
This power of the media becomes problematic for Minear when it deteriorates public will or finite resources from humanitarian projects in need. As infotainment rules the news, less attention is paid to following through, even on worthy initiatives. Humanitarian agencies, for example, “stand to win greater backing for their actions to provide emergency assistance as they lose support for the more difficult but ultimately more critical tasks of tackling the root causes of distress and of development education in their own societies” (Minear 83). The media’s and the audiences short span of attention can dangerously result in failure to report crisis in dept or oversimplification of complex issues. The media may simply repeat stereotypes rather than analytically question events. These issues demonstrate a lapse in media responsibility, an eithic-policitcal dilemma. Keenan emphasizes that “‘to speak is to do something, to do something other than express what one thinks [or] translate what one knows.’ ‘Discourses are made of signs, but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things’” (Keenan 151). Keenan recognizes that the media does more than simply represent the facts, and that bias may be hard to differentiate. For example, in the case study of Rwanda, media reports reduced the crisis to ancient ethnic hatreds which masked the true nature of the genocide. It is imperative, based on examples such as Rwanda, for future media accounts to research the historical and political context of the events to situate the breaking news.
Minear calls for each pillar to become more responsible, for example by situating news stories in a broader political context, while Keenan questions what responsibility is. Keenan prompts that perhaps, “Responsibility begins in the bad example; one could even say that the only good example, the only one worthy of imitation, interiorization, and identification that the example calls for, is the bad example” (Keenan 45). Theoretically, Keenan’s posited statement holds, but in practice sometimes a lesson learned does not result in increased responsibility. The horrific scenes of dead US Marines dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in Somali, for example, “at the very least hastened- and perhaps also drove- a policy reversal by the administration” (Minear 55). Yet, this example, this bad example, did not necessarily help the US to become more responsible in international intervention, more cautious, but not necessarily more responsible. Although America soaked up a lesson, it might not have been the right lesson. It can be argued that due to the Somalia intervention, the U.S. delayed intervention in Rwanda, an intervention that may have prevented the full scale of the genocide.
It seems that one venue to reach greater responsibility in the media, appropriated by both Keenan and Minear in different forms, is to intellectualize media, perhaps through prevention and post-resolution media coverage surrounding complex emergencies. For example when US troops arrived in Somalia in 1992, the worse part of the famine was over, arguably. Minear reverberates, “A recurring lesson from the crises reviewed in this study is that prevention would have been more effective- and less expensive- than hurry-up responses to existing emergencies” (Minear 81). The best venue for pre and post conflict media attention, if not in infotainment, may be documentaries, researched publications, series, and specials directed at public education. The media should feel a responsibility as an international citizen to ethically research and contextual humanitarian crisis, however daunting this task may seem.
Keenan powerfully states, “‘Humanity’ is this madness, its subjects and its object. It is not simply the ignorance of not knowing what to do; it is rather the terror of still having to do, without knowing. And we have no magic caps, only ghosts and monsters” (Keenan 133). This pessimistic ending to his book leaves the reader ungrounded. Minear’s text helps re-ground the reader to reach for tool to help ensure rights and responsibilities, even if (as Keenan continuously reiterates), “Like rights, responsibilities are unlimited and unguaranteed- if they are anything at all” (Keenan 176). Minear’s tools involve increased cooperation and communication among the media, governments, and humanitarian agencies to reach a deeper understanding and produce better solutions. Although the media, governments, and humanitarian agencies may not know the next step- terrified of the ghosts, monsters, and lack of responsibility in the world- they can collaborate and use information from each other to lesson the fear. This cooperation will, ideally, prove that the international community can better defend rights, establish responsibility, reach security and end humanitarian crisis through increased interaction. Although Keenan’s theories posit that the ethico-political is forever insecure and endless, Minear’s practical manual takes steps to secure ethics and responsibility in humanitarian crisis through increased international transparency and collaboration.
1 of 2
2 of 2
Brought to you by:
Rosalinda Pascual & Anne Krapu
Global Media Lab
March 19, 2008
We hope you enjoy!
Also--be sure to check out Blackfive's review of BVW, as it's been getting a lot of "press" on the 'net. (For those of you who don't know, Blackfive is one of the most widely read "milbloggers" out there and was one of the participants in last October's conference, Front Line, First Person: Iraq War Stories, as was Sfc. Toby Nunn, featured in BVW)
Here are some links on Deborah Scranton's new film Bad Voodoo's War that just aired on PBS:
Bad Voodoo's War (PBS Frontline website)
From the War Zone (Wall Street Journal)
... and more to come
War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception
By Paul Virilio
Translated by Patrick Camiller
“War is the art of embellishing death” (-Japense Maxim).
This ominous quote begins and highlights the main themes of the book “War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception”. Author Paul Virilio, born in 1932 Paris, is a cultural theorist. He is best known for his writing about technology as it has developed alongside the arts, urban life and the military. In his own words, Virilio describes that, “this essay investigates the systematic use of cinema techniques in the conflicts of the twentieth century” (1). As readers, Virilio’s work allows us to explore several questions through the concept of the art of war. Is war imaginative like art is? Can violence be aesthetic? Is combat valorized? While the answers to these questions are debatable, it is clear from this book that war lives in its own ironies. War is both a highly studied and executed art form, as well as a horrifically, unexplainable tragedy. Virilio challenges the reader to see that both the tragic and artistic side of war can be tied to its strong media component, and more specifically to war’s relation with cinema. Virilio's interests in war, cinema and the logistics of perception are rooted at his thesis that military perception in warfare is similar to a civilian’s perception through the art of filmmaking. Thus, according to Virilio, the manipulation of images through human imagination and technological power is a process that is directly linked to both cinema and war. The author labels this parallel connection as the “war of images”, and depending on the perception we see that war like art may be “one man’s trash and another man’s treasure”.
The representation of war inspires new forms of reality. Virilio begins his examination of war by stating that there is no war without a strong component of representation. This representation can manifest itself in several ways and highlights the multifaceted components and capacities of combat. While war is scientific and premeditated, it is all the while ignited by its representative notions of exhibition and delusion. This paradox can be understood when we consider, for example, the representative positioning and camouflaging qualities of a battlefield. In addition, the intimidation factor of war is largely based on depictions of loud sounds and menacing explosions. Virilio believes so much in the representative forces of war that he goes on to say that in industrialized warfare, the representation of events outweigh the presentation of facts (1). Similarly, the author examines cinema as a method of symbolism. Virilio places great emphasis on technology and production and believes that what defines cinema is the exploitation of the projected images. Virilio connects the representation of war to cinema when he writes, “A war of pictures and sounds is replacing the war of objects” (4). Thus, the depiction of the examined fields inspires new forms of reality based on strategy and perception.
With the representation of war at the foreground of his essay, it is no surprise that Virilio relates political propaganda to the dependency between war and cinema. His exploration of propaganda is based in the context of the 1920s, with the rise of popular cinema. Subsequently, the technology and illusions employed by this growing art form became the foundation for the expansion of national governments and the emphasis placed on patriotism. In the case of Germany, the manipulation of reality was an essential aspect of the growth and sustainability of Nazi “culture”. With the anticipation of World War II, a new breed of both military and revolutionary leader arose. These leaders understood that real power was now shared between both war cabinets and propaganda departments (53). Through their direction, the employment of sounds and images was beginning to hold similar if not greater value to the logistics of weaponry. Impart, Hitler rose to power so quickly and was able completely alter the social order because of his manipulation of the projected reality. As historical witnesses, the possibility of such genocide that occurred during WWII can only begin to be understood if we take into consideration Hitler’s daunting violation of everyday reality through his “extraordinary technical knowledge of stage-direction” (53). Virilio suggests that Hitler’s plan for a new German empire required a “transformation of Europe into a cinema screen” (3). Thus, a pivotal piece of Nazi propaganda was Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will. This film featured, among other things, several speeches giving by Hitler in order to emphasize the overall theme of Germany as a great power. Undoubtedly, Hitler was presented as natural born German leader who could bring back strength and purification to his country. In the context of war and cinema, the powerful and ever shocking dictators were no longer simply rulers but were themselves directors (53).
Virilio’s insight into the creation of the “other” through war and media presents some striking parallels with the current War on Terror. Ironically, Virilio’s book was published at the end of the Cold War. Now, almost 20 years later this essay seems to highlight some of the exact paradoxes of what has been coined as the “9/11 Generation”. The hate of communism during the Cold War became in a sense what terrorism is today. It was the common enemy that evolved into having an ambiguous identity. Elements of fear from different sides created a totalitarian way of looking at the “evils” of the world, and the causes of tension lost their meaning overtime. Virilio writes that terrorism, “insidiously reminds us that war is a symptom of delirium” (5). War cannot be separated from its demonstrative qualities because its main drive is to “produce spectacle”. In the case of terrorism, its very purpose is to instill the fear of death before actual harm occurs. For example, even when weapons are not employed there are “active elements of ideological conquest” (6). This point could arguably be compared to the controversial search of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the succeeding war that continues today.
Virilio ends his unique insight into war and cinema with the words, “Scan. Freeze frame”. After being taken on a historical and critical journey of the evolution of technology and the development of psychological conquest, it is as if we the readers have been manipulated into a new dimension of reality. As a writer and critic, Virilio’s reflections seem very ahead of their time. Many of his historical examples of the strong component of media in war can still be applied today. Although the author erases all doubt of the connection between war and media, he does not place an enduring emphasis on cinema. Instead, he encourages us to reflect upon what types of media currently change our own realities and what methods of perception and conquest will be executed in the future. It seems that as society develops a greater media conscience there is a growing distrust for the stage on which war is performed. Our familiarity with media will of course not eliminate the possibility war, but it should challenge us to redefine what war is and how it may occur.
I hope everyone took advantage of the spring break to think about their final projects. Today after the class break we'll have a brief discussion about the options, but as a sneak preview, for those pursuing the trailer treatment option, here are some, but by no means the only, offerings:
*Revolution in Military Affairs - using on-the-road footage from Virtuous War, with JDD
*Synthetic biology — designing of artificial life systems through hypermeda, with Phil Gara
*Terror Media - the history of terrorist use of media, with John Santos
There is also the possibility of working with Koji on political film, Rob Jensen on gendercide, and Chris Lydon on opensource convergences, but these options would require further development/negotation with them. Let's discuss. And come 'armed' with questions today for our military guests....
“All are struggling with the uncertainties of the post-cold war era.” (xxii)
“Dreams have started wars, and wars, from the very earliest times, have determined the propriety and impropriety – indeed, the range – of dreams.”
Walter Benjamin could not have predicted the state of war today, but his words ring true for our current state of affairs. The two opening chapters of James Der Derian’s book, Virtuous War, describes just this present state of war and how its has come to the point of not just being virtual, but virtuous. Der Derian’s travelogue through his investigation of Fort Irwin to the Salisbury Plan and Andrew Marshall brings in theorists Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin to understand the virtuosity of war. These theories applied to concrete examples in reality expose the dream we live in today, where “realism has become virtual” (37). Virtuous war is a technological running of war from a distance that displaces both viewers and fighters. It is Der Derian’s project to investigate this dangerous, current state of war and its implications in our interwar period through critically questioning this new space of technologies and war.
The fifth dimension is now upon us in the form of virtuality. This higher level is defined from the post-Ford, postmodern, post-cold war state of affairs. Here we are in flux. All ethical change is influenced by technology. Der Derian’s definition of virtuous war: “diplomatic and military policies are increasingly based on technological and representational forms of discipline, deterrence, and compulsion” (xv). Taken away from previously understood ways of war, virtuous war works to threaten violence at a distance. This network of fear and terror is brought to us, the viewer, through virtual technologies and we are left detached from war. For the fighters of such pixilated wars, they learn to kill, but not take responsibility for their actions. They too have become displaced and detached actors. The military now aided by computer games and other virtual technologies has created warriors in “cyberspace,” to use William Gibson’s 1987 term. Here is the “edge of globalization” (xviii) where the virtual has collapses all distance and left a dangerous space for war to inhabit.
“New technologies of imitation and simulation as well as surveillance and speed had collapsed the geographical distance, chronological duration, the gap itself between the reality and virtuality of war. As the confusion of one for the other grows, we face the danger of a new kind of trauma without sight, drama without tragedy, where television wars and video games blur together.” (11)
Der Derian’s first stop is Fort Irwin where the virtual war trainings first began in 1981 with Operation Desert Hammer VI. This simulation of war was created with the belief that such practice would enhance combat, especially the efficiency and speed of war. The question to be asked then is if war can be scripted from a distance, tested out like a mathematical equation? Carl von Clausewitz, a 18th century Prussian strategist, warned of the dangers of scripted war and the sheer arrogance of any leader to believe in such predictions of war. Today, we have a cyberdeterrent that proves these old theories wrong. The cyberdeterrent is the digitized superior who enacts war from a distance. It is the replacement to the cold-war nuclear balance of terror. The danger of the cyberdeterrent lies in the danger of all media – it is not readily apparent or visible. Digitization is a force multiplier of war, making it faster, more efficient, and smarter; however never without consequences.
“Deterrence precludes war – the archaic violence of expanding systems. Deterrence itself is the neutral, implosive violence of metastable systems or systems in involution. There is no longer a subject of deterrence, nor an adversary nor a strategy – it is a planetary structure of the annihilation of stakes.”
Jean Baudrillard, The Precession of Simulacra
Der Derian’s near death experience out in the field proves this theater of war and the consequences of deterrence. As a viewer of the simulated, practice battle, there is much confusion to the untrained eye. For instance, Der Derian stayed too long to catch a photograph of an oncoming tank. In his epiphanic moment of traumatic voyeurism, Der Derian experienced what few will ever. The collision of reality and simulation, a reality of death twice displaced. This 5th dimension battlefield that is there, but not there. The effect on both warrior-gamer-soldier and viewer is the splitting of the self, a fragmentation between simulation and experience that blurs reality. This dangerous situation trains soldiers to kill, but not feel for their killings. It trains viewers to watch, but not connect with the representations shown. War becomes a copy of a copy of a game played in Fort Irwin.
“What is qualitatively new is the power of the MIMENET to seamlessly merge the production, representation, and execution of war. The result is not merely the copy of a copy, or the creation of something new: It represents a convergence of the means by which we distinguish the original and the new, the real from the reproduced.” (xx)
The new virtual alliance, the military-industrial-media-entertainment network, in this hyperreality created Third Wave Warfare. This warfare is defined like a video game or cyberpunk novel. For example, Bruce Sterling, a writer for Wired magazine, was assigned to write the press packet for the Office of the Secretary of the Army. Invoking these rhetorics of science fiction and gaming the twenty-first century army reads well. However, their vision speaks to the hyper-postmodern condition of relative safety and dynamic instabilities. The cyberdeterrent is the twenty-first century army because it is a simulation, a spectacle, and a sheer technology. As a hybrid being, like a Borg on Star Trek, it is in the order of metaphysical signs.
“The pacification (or the deterrence) that dominates us today is beyond war and peace, is that at every moment war and peace are equivalent.”
Jean Baudrillard, The Precession of Simulacra
Next, Der Derian brings us to venture a look into the Salisbury Plan. From August 1927-1931 in Britain, the Salisbury Plan acted out “battles” like a laboratory testing a new form of warfare. The event was a huge success in performative spectacle. The first report, “Tidworth Tattoo – Modern War Staged,” explained the positive response from the audience on trains viewing the fight. It also brought to light how the modern machines of man worked in the realm of exhibition. Around the same time the concept of television was beginning to form. The idea of “seeing by wireless” was tempting and intriguing. The first broadcast was a missile attack onto New York City. These two examples of the desire to watch from a distance were not unknown to the American army.
Coming back to the interwar period, Der Derian sought out Andrew Marshall, officially the director of the Office of Net Assessment. This man’s work brought about a revolution in military affairs as he set up the first systems to measure how the military was performing during the Nixon era. What Der Derian’s interview brought out was that the interwar can be considered a revolution in technology, like the 1920s. In the period of the 1920s, as mentioned above, a “military technical revolution” occurred. The outcome was not clear, the factors had changed, and the forces multiplied. It was also a period of illusion, self-consciously thinking about what the world was going to look like after such technologies. In our similar period, it too must be our effort to self-consciously think about the revolutionary implications of technology on warfare.
With this turn of events, Der Derian turns to theory to look at such implications. Beginning with the work of Friedrich Nietzsche on understanding virtual powers through his theories of security and sovereignty. With life’s uncertainties, power rules through a virtual security in debt to the death of our ancestors. Fear becomes death and the repressed. The “good life” is security from those fears given to use by the sovereign power that prevents all struggle. Thus, a sovereign state is unnatural. Realism is built into this system as a means of check, a claim to world order. However, realism is virtual – it is “a perverse mimesis of the living other” (37). Nietzsche writes: “Life is a consequence of war, society itself a means to war.” War is the ultimate ratio between realism and sovereignty because it is an expression of those two illusory powers. Herein Nietzsche we find the core of the sovereign problem.
Moving onto Walter Benjamin opens up the power of mimesis or representation in interwar period. Mimesis, for Benjamin, is “imitation and repetition as a fundamental force in human development” (41). As in development of language and children, mimesis involves an important function of play. This play is the play of signs, called semiotics. The mimetic has a paradoxical danger for political problems because of this play and shirting “phase transition” between order and disorder. To quote Benjamin: “I am speaking here of an identity that manifests itself solely in the paradoxical reversal of the one into the other (in whichever direction).” There is a problem of identity with mimesis because, as seen in questions of violence, reality is dreamlike. Modes of knowing and ways of being are thrown into the air.
“I came to realize that the interwar was as much an invocation of a dream, conveyed in the guise of the virtual and inevitable reality, as it was a demarcation of past history.” (46)
Benjamin asks his readers to find a critical consciousness to battle this mimetic allure, and Der Derian takes up this mission for the interwar period. As subjects of mimesis we have unstable and fragmented identities. The methods of sovereignty and realism are to soothe us through deterrence of realism. Follow Der Derian’s travels through the rest of the book for a deeper look into such critical questioning of this virtual dream reality.
The “Morbid Symptoms” of Online Journalism
Q. If the old media is dying and the new is not fully born, what morbid symptoms do we see online?
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” (Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks)
Before I begin my diagnosis of any “morbid symptoms,” it would help if I gave some background on the author quoted above. Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian Marxist whose philosophy went on to influence everyone from Fidel to Foucault. Writing behind prison walls he described a “cultural hegemony,” whereby the ruling class uses media, education, and other institutions to maintain its power. Marx’s predictions of a proletariat revolution had not come to fruition, he argued, because the working masses were caught up in those same capitalist values which suppressed them. In order to break free from this bourgeois influence, Gramsci called for a redefinition of social values – in essence, a “culture war.” (“Antonio Gramsci”)
I like to think that, if he lived today, Gramsci would have been a blogger. I could imagine him sitting at some Italian internet café fighting the culture war one keystroke at a time. In some ways, Gramsci’s Marxist fantasy has come true in our computer age. As Jay Rosen noted, one need only look at Ukraine’s recent history to see how the web can disrupt state power. It is no surprise that the internet poses such a threat to oppressive regimes; where anonymity meets an endless supply of information, freedom of expression is all that much easier to express.
But what about in America, where First Amendment laws have long been a part of our national identity? If we the people are fighting a culture war, then who exactly are our enemies? At some point not too long ago, corporations and Washington represented the cultural hegemony and the mass media was on our side. War reportage from Vietnam was perhaps the clearest example. But sometime around the early nineties the media came to be viewed as an arm of the corporate machine. Perhaps it was a reaction to Reagan’s talking head politics, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or something else altogether, but American youth culture, Generation X, grew to distrust all things corporate. In music, art, even typeface (see Gary Hustwit), they demanded authenticity.
Yet if the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world had their media machine, Generation X soon found its own in the blogs, what Jay Rosen calls the “little First Amendment machines” (Rosen “The People…”). For a while, it was an Us versus Them binary, an underground “authentic” blogging to counter the supposedly manufactured reporting of professionals. In recent years, however, the media moguls have caught on to the success of blogging, both in terms of its popularity and its coverage. More than ever, the reader has become the writer, and a two-way conversation has begun to emerge. As Rosen notes, “bloggers vs. journalists is over” (Rosen “Bloggers…”); the debate has come to an end.
Or has it? The “little First Amendment machine” has its kinks like any other, and the benefits of blogging, a culture still in its infancy, are perhaps not so clear. Problems will arise whenever the alternative becomes mainstream (just look at break dancing or Avril Lavigne) and electronic journalism is no exception. This is an exciting time to be reading the news, but we must do so with a critical eye. The real problem is in finding and defining trustworthy reporting. And somewhere in this transition from top-down to bottom-up journalism, in this interregnum of old and new, the “morbid systems” appear.
The first problem is linked to the very freedom of speech that makes the internet possible in the first place. Given the First Amendment, there is no licensing process to become a journalist; anyone with a computer can publish online. However, this does not mean that everyone must do so. The web is not the intellectual wellspring that its founder made it out to be; in fact, the vast majority of online content is porn. For every Deep Throat there are thousands of Deep Throat’s, and that disproportion cannot be overemphasized. My point is not to rant on porn, but rather that finding the right online news source is more complicated than your regular visit to the newsstand. Consider the New York Times, for instance, a daily general interest paper whose editors and publishers decide what an educated person needs to know. Politics, stock quotes, even crosswords are included; the status of Britney’s crotch is not. The New York Times has barriers, a front and back page that contain within them “all the news that’s fit to print.” The internet, on the other hand, is borderless; any given website is linked to a vast network of other sources, some of which are bound to be unreliable. So while a Google search may gauge popularity, it overlooks authenticity.
With free speech also comes a tendency toward anonymity, which can be a blessing and a curse. Since this essay focuses on the latter, I will address the problems of bloggers who hide behind pseudonyms, who speak their minds without taking responsibility for those ideas. The blogosphere is full of these “trolls,” as they are called, hecklers with too much time on their hands. At best the trolls are annoying; at worst they can disrupt a productive discussion or even change policy. I once sat in on a meeting where a Brown administrator made reference to the Jolt, our on-campus discussion forum. It comes as no surprise that Deans read the Jolt. The frightening part is that they sometimes use the forum to gauge student opinion. In truth, some Jolt contributors do not even attend Brown, and those who do make up a vocal minority that seeks, more than anything else, to instigate controversy.
Anonymity also allows for plagiarism. With no top-down structure, no built-in system for fact-checking or cross-referencing, the internet is a hotbed for intellectual theft. This is only magnified by the fact that bloggers are not held accountable for plagiarism; with pseudo identities, there is no one to accuse. Professional journalism has had its fair share of unoriginal material in recent years, but the barriers to entry, and, more importantly, the byline holds reporters accountable for the words they write.
Finally, a newspaper is an institution with a physical building, traceable history, and material product sometimes dating back to the 19th century. The newspaper is tied to a community and mirrors that community. It is permanent and tangible, a primary source in the making. If I wanted to find out about violent crimes in 1950s St. Petersburg, Florida, then I would go to the archives of the St. Petersburg Times. Will blogs play this same role twenty or thirty years from now? Perhaps, but probably not to the same degree. Blogs are constantly evolving and changing; an entry can be revised or deleted, and a website can be shut down altogether. The electronic text simply does not have the same veracity as the printed word. Seeing is believing, and I think that, in the back of everyone’s mind, the internet or parts of the internet can still disappear.
From a Gramscian point of view, the internet is the best thing to happen since the printing press. It gives an uncensored, instant voice to the masses, an alternative to institutionalized media. Yet blogging is still in its early stages, and, as it becomes more accepted, the rules and expectation are bound to change. We are witnessing a point of transition, a revolution in the access of information and the ability to freely express our thoughts. Morbid symptoms are a part of any major transition; with time, perhaps these symptoms will cure themselves.
“Antonio Gramsci.” Wikipedia.
Rosen, Jay. “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over.” 2005. Pressthink.
Rosen, Jay. “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.” 2007. Pressthink.
In The First Casualty, Phillip Knightley traces the extensive history of war correspondents. Beginning with the Crimean War, he shows how these reporters gradually ingrained themselves in the fight at hand, bringing truthful, unfiltered coverage to their readers or viewers at home. Yet sometime around the Falkland War, the tables turned, and the military realized the strategic importance of manipulating the media. The role of the correspondents suddenly became more ambiguous, and, forced to work on the military’s terms, these reporters found themselves at a “crisis point in their short history” (525). In chapters 19 and 20, which cover the Gulf War and the NATO bombing of Serbia, Knightley shows us the questionable tactics with which the U.S. and Allied militaries manipulated war coverage. By severely limiting access to information these officers managed to turn the reporters against one another, and with carefully spun propaganda, to turn the home front against the more resistant reporters. At points in these chapters, The First Casualty reads less like a history text and more like a Dan Brown novel; such is the level of the government’s conspiracies. In other places Knightley uses cold hard statistics to make startling revelations about the wars. While the writing sounds one-sided, even preachy at times, it never strays far from the question at hand: is war coverage in today’s age a right or a privilege?
Much of chapters 19 and 20 are dedicated to revealing government fabrications, news stories that have little or no basis in true events. However, as Knightley points out, such tactics are now part of standard military procedure. Press officers are even instructed to “lie directly only when certain that the lie will not be found out during the course of war” (484). Time after time, Knightley claims, the United States did just that during the Gulf War – it lied. The justification was usually that winning the war trumps less immediate ethical issues (the same argument has been made regarding domestic wiretapping).
But how does one justify lying to begin a war in the first place? In 1991, seeking to influence an American invasion of Iraq, the Citizens for a Free Kuwait signed a $10 million contract with Hill and Knowlton, a well-known American public relations company. Together they found a fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl and coached her to give a moving speech in front of Congress about how Iraqis had murdered “incubator babies” before her eyes. Two years later, it was revealed that the story “was a total invention” (488), long after the U.S. had fought and won. The distraught girl was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. The president of Hill and Knowlton, Craig Fuller, had actually been Vice President Bush’s chief of staff during the Reagan years. When I read about this elaborate scheme, Jay Rosen’s facetious advice came to mind: if you want to outsmart the media, create something huge - conspiracy huge. This corporate branding of the Gulf War seemed to come right out of Wag the Dog, especially the scene where the “Albanian” girl runs screaming across a Hollywood soundstage. Given the relative success of the Gulf War, few people later questioned the terms of its inception, but with the less successful and more prolonged Iraq II it is easy to see how this model of dishonesty can turn against itself.
Knightley reminds us that “propaganda works best not with arguments but images” (507), and the Gulf War, the “deadly videogame,” is full of such images. Unfortunately, much of this consists of stock footage, videos of flying missiles and building explosions drawn from official press packets. Occasionally, a maverick reporter like Peter Arnett of CNN would broadcast from across enemy lines much to the chagrin of press officers. The general public had a similar attitude: if anything gruesome or “unpatriotic” made it to broadcasting, their response was somewhere between apathy and outrage. For these viewers the Gulf War was clean, quick, and surgically precise; anything that contradicted this storyline was considered a threat to U.S. moral. By the time the Kosovo conflict rolled around, NATO had developed a system of pools whereby a small group of selected journalists, led by military personnel, could report back to the larger group waiting at base. Members of the press were made to wear uniforms and threatened with detainment if they did not comply by the rules. As a result, almost no one took risks, so starved were these reporters for even the slightest bit of news. In vying for the few spots closer to the front line, journalists turned on one another, so that a correspondent’s “worst enemy turned out to be his colleagues in the pools” (492). Sadly, the days of collaborating in the name of some common, higher standard had come to an end.
In narrating the fall of the idealistic war correspondent, Knightley often comes across as one-sided. The history of media in the Gulf War and NATO bombings is still quite recent, and I would have appreciated a more objective viewpoint. Born in 1985, I am too young to remember these conflicts as current events and too old to have studied them in my history books. I therefore read The First Casualty with some hesitancy, aware that Knightley may be less objective than he had been in earlier chapters. There were some lines where he even sounded accusatory. “Why did the war end when it did?” he asks, “If you believe Nato or any of the alliance governments it ended because the bombing campaign had succeeded” (517). Such phrasing reminded me (not so pleasantly) of Michael Moore’s style. There’s even a point where Saddam Hussein starts to look like a down-on-his-luck, victimized saint. Later, Knightley gives a string of key words relating to journalism in Kosovo: “lies, manipulation, news management, propaganda, spin, distortion, omission, slant, and gullibility” (525). I’m not saying that I disagree with this attitude or dispute his claims; only that, in my opinion, the author loses some credibility by resorting to such emotionally charged word choice.
Most of the time, however, I found Knightley incredibly informative and convincing. His use of numbers, especially, was both straightforward and resonating. Commenting on the trend from field to tactical warfare, for instance, he notes that “at the beginning of the century, ninety per cent of casualties in war were soldiers; at the end of the century ninety per cent of casualties in war were civilians” (505). These types of statistics put the radical changes into a broader perspective. I also trusted Knightley’s insider status as a journalist. Throughout the book he managed to bring the history to an individual level, but in these later chapters those individuals sounded less like research subjects and more like personal colleagues. Moreover, I trusted his status as a non-American. In criticizing the leadership behind what were essentially two America led conflicts, he could afford to come across as critical without sounding unpatriotic (a dilemma for American journalists at the time). Overall, Knightley managed to focus on the media’s role without losing site of the broader political issues.
I put down The First Casualty feeling wholly informed and terribly disturbed. My trust of war correspondence, even recent history itself, is at an all time low. And, while I pity the loss of that idealistic war reportage that seemed to have peaked with Vietnam, I am also awestruck (and a bit horrified) by the grand scale and careful genius with which the Pentagon has managed to manipulate the media for its own good. With the current war in Iraq, I like to hope that correspondents have regained some of the edge they lost in the nineties. Either way, Knightley has taught me to look at the news with a much more critical eye.
Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty: the War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimean War to Iraq. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
In Peter Weir’s “The Truman Show,” Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a friendly insurance salesman who is married to a sweet-as-pie woman, Meryl (Laura Linney). The seemingly happy couple lives in the town of Seahaven, a perfect setting, where lays row after row of pastel-colored houses, with manicured lawns and friendly neighbors. But such perfection has been achieved not through normal societal development, but rather has been entirely fabricated for the purpose of a television show. In fact, Seahaven is the largest set ever built, a sort of dome where everything has been perfectly reproduced to look like the picture of an iconic American town, and in which every citizen is in fact an actor playing a part on “The Truman Show.” Every citizen, that is, except for Truman, who is the star of the world’s most popular television show of all time, unbeknownst to him.
The film opens on day 10, 909 of Truman’s life, a day which is about to offer him the first clue that the world he lives in is not all it seems to be when a cinema light suddenly falls from the sky, apparently coming from nowhere. But the 5,000 cameras that have been installed in Seahaven by Christof (Ed Harris)—the creator and “televisionary” of The Truman Show—continue to take us along Truman’s journey as more clues unravel, until he soon realizes that he is indeed trapped in a world that is deprived of reality and in which he can trust no one.
But as a member of the audience, it is almost unavoidable to see how Truman’s difficult journey toward finding the truth eerily echoes the culture of fear that is part of today’s society, guiding the decisions of most, and leading us to either overreact to problems which we face or—as is the case for Truman— to simply live undisturbed for 30 years rather than search the truth even if it means facing its painful reality. Indeed, when Lauren (Natascha McElhone ) confronts Christof and accuses him of having imprisoned Truman in this fake world, Christof responds that “Truman prefers his cell” and that it is simply fear that has kept Truman from really finding his own truth. Simply resigned to our fate, and not wanting to challenge our lives, Christof points out that “we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” In many ways, this televisionary is right: most pursue the possibilities that are offered them and which appear to be the safest, because they also are the easiest.
The culture of fear that exists for Truman in Seahaven innocently begins when he is only a schoolboy and when, in all the vigor and enthusiasm of his youth, he proudly announces to his schoolteacher and classmates that, like the great Magellan, he will be an explorer when he grows up. Swiftly, his matronly teacher pulls down a map of the world and promptly proceeds to discourage this young soul with the words: “You’re too late! There’s really nothing left to explore.” Indeed, the colored map of the world, already chartered, compartimentalized and categorized, serves as one of the first “proof” given to Truman that he should abandon any ideas of freeing his self, and discovering his own soul.
Not long after we first meet Truman, he seems to be, more than ever before, ready to finally break free of his world. But carefully planted elements in the town of Seahaven only further serve to strengthen his fear of the world. The fear of open waters has been implanted in his mind by Christof, who created the scenario of Truman’s father drowning when Truman was only a boy. Therefore, a carefully placed sunk boat is enough for Truman to cancel his trip away from the island, on a small ferry. But Christof’s manipulation goes further. When Truman attempts to book a flight to Fiji, we see a poster in the travel agent’s office that depicts a plane being struck by a lightning, with the caption: “It could happen to you!” When Truman finally drives across the bridge that leads away from his town—with the reluctant help of his wife—and heads into the distance, we see roadside panels gravely cautioning: “Forest fire warning! Extreme danger!” At that moment, it is hard not to feel that we, like Truman, are trapped in a world of chronic alarms—even if ours have largely been color-coded from green to red.
But by now, Truman has figured out the truth about his word: although he does not understand the reason why, he knows that his world is being controlled and manipulated, and that the residents of the town are “on a loop,” going around the block in a specific order, such as the lady on a bike, the person with flowers, and the Volkswagen Beettle with a dented fender, all of which keep reappearing in this sequence behind the driveway of his home. Truman finally realizes that these human puppets are only playing the roles of normal citizens, and he decides to no longer live in this manipulated world if it means he is not experiencing truth.
Although Truman plans various escapes, his attempts are frustrated by the creator of The Truman Show. When he determinedly walks in to the travel agent’s office to book a flight to Fiji—the farthest place he can dream of going—he is told that no flights are available for at least a month. He then buys a seat for a bus ride to Chicago only to find out that the bus will not budge, until it is announced that there is a mechanical failure that will prevent the trip from proceeding. Truman then finds himself driving away from Seahaven, through the forest fires that miraculously appear right in front of his car, until he is tackled by the police for attempting to pass through an area that has been sealed off due to a “nuclear accident.” Brought back by the police to his home, Truman is once more put in his “cell,” the place from which we can better watch him.
Indeed, Truman’s hometown of Seahaven is used by Christof as a sort of Panopticon, a place in which the audience can observe Truman’s every move, but from which Truman can never see his audience, even if he can “feel” them, or senses being watched. Director Peter Weir chose the architecture of the urban development of Seaside, Florida, in order to portray Seahaven, a place that is drenched in insufferable predictability and “niceness.” The traditional neighborhood design of Seaside enabled Weir to create the perfect studio setting of Seahaven, being sufficiently small and quaint to allow Truman to have a contained life that could be filmed and easily followed by Christof’s cameras. Many of the outdoor scenes were shot on location at Seaside, as were the scenes filmed in Truman’s home. Although the architecture is wildly different from that used by Terry Gilliam in his film “Brazil,” we can still find in Weir’s world the Orwellian quality that was present in “Brazil.” Although both worlds are manipulated and controlled by a higher authority, Gilliam uses the help of fascist architecture to represent this oppression, while Weir uses the sweeter aspect of new urbanism in order to achieve a similar feeling of imprisonment. But in using a seemingly more “friendly” architecture in his set design, Weir succeeds in bringing this Orwellian world closer to our reality.
Just like Brazil’s protagonist, Truman’s deeper need to escape his world eventually prevails, and after his previously futile attempts to leave Seahaven, he finally plans the perfect getaway, being able to fool his surveillants so that he may reach—undetected at first—the sailboat which will take him to the end of Seahaven’s “perfect world” and in to freedom. After braving his deepest fear, that of drowning, and after storm and sun, Truman finally hits the wall of the studio, a beautifully painted mural of a false horizon. As Truman reaches the final exit door of Seahaven’s set, Christof reaches out to him for the first time ever, and his voice resonates through the studio as if he were God: “There’s no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you. The same lies, the same deceit. But in my world, there’s nothing to fear.” This time, Seahaven’s culture of fear is directly “spoken” to Truman. There is no time left for insinuations. “You’re afraid,” Christof adds. “That’s why you can’t leave.”
But as Truman walks out through the door, out of the set and into society’s frightening reality, we are left to wonder why many of us never take this leap of faith. Christof may not be the one manipulating our world, but we are still allowing our selves to be controlled by our very own fears. Truman’s courage makes us wonder if we will ever have the audacity to free our selves from what was created for us, or if we will simply continue to accept the world with which we are presented, as Truman did until day 10, 909.
Glass, Fred. “Brazil by Terry Gilliam.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Summer, 1986), pp. 22-28.
Smith, Neil. “Which New Urbanism? The Revanchist '90s.” Perspecta, Vol. 30, Settlement Patterns. (1999), pp. 98-105.