Prepared by Iphigen Sloe for Why War?
The christian right, neoconservative, and corporate ideologies that have never before been in such collaboration continue to announce their alliance; yet the decade of fermenting it took to bring the old neocon ideology back to power strangely coincided with the new left's critique of culture as increasingly 'the real' confounded with 'the simulacra'. The end of history, the strike of events, the lost faith in meta-narratives, and the declared end of the individual all preceded their total return wrapped-up in the alleged re-birth of the event itself — the 'mother of all events', as Baudrillard put it — on September 11th.
Two things have become clear since the neocon rise to power and the subsequent resurgency of empire: 1) The event is not, in fact, dead; and 2) The meta-narrative, the history-making human agency of it, and, well, 'reality' itself, are back at work. Religous affinity too is, to the utter surprise of an atheistic and/or secular left, increasingly assuming that civic spirit once thought to be in cultural decline. How then did the left mistake the decade-long process of subsuming the political-event under a new media regime for a mere pause, a 'strike' in simple appearance?
It should be noted that events were not, of course, on strike, however much American mass media painted-up the decade as if they were. Genocide in Rwanda, which would surely qualify as an event of some kind, was hardly a blip on the media radar; whether it was for intentional or unintentional media-political 'strategies' does not really matter. What matters is that the sudden cultural perfection of filtering political events to a content-less program of 'news' was possible at all. Or, rather, every day featured an event in reserve (produced last week) ready and waiting for a weekly quota of ratings; news was, and still is, as sensational and Disney-ed as possible while simultaneously only finding such sensationalism in the insensational. There was, after all, plenty of 'real' sensational content ready for mass media exploitation; yet only the visual language for it was pumped out to the public.
Either the General Electric-owns-NBC syndrome blocked media eyes from the world it seemed to also own and exploit, or the bland and inconsequential (local news formats, for instance, are dominated by sports, local news, and weather) were dressed up in the jazzy sleek look of a mid-90s every-new-technology-will-change-the-world aesthetic: scrolls, news tickers, stock tickers, inset boxes (within other boxes), moving graphics, epic theme songs, promo budgets proportionally rising, new 'news family' images, identity-targetting through coordinated program-specific advertising, and abstracted design bookending programs for experiential hypnotic value, imploded the medium itself into the featured object rather than the world it pretended to take up as content. This slickness in media was not just an aesthetic, but a vehicle of political ideology that would come to fruition with the Bush Administration's capitalizing on infotainment narratives as sources of, and justification for, exertions of power on a radical, global scale.
Suddenly there was no such thing as a 'non-event' in the media; sensationalized-news outlets (Fox, the New York Post, the Boston Herald, "The O'Reilley Factor") all boomed in the 1990s, and continue to. But the theorists on the left failed to distinguish the media's prolific production of events - a reducing of each to the insignificance of the common - from the institutional control of the event implicit in the ability to change its face and produce it. The new corporate control over the event and its principle medium (television) was simultaneous to broad changes in media formats and aesthetics; yet these vast changes were accounted for (by theorists of the left) as mere manifestations of both a decline of the event as a category of political meaning and a decline in public (civic) interest in traditional categories of political meaning. However, nothing has demonstrated this new and total media regime more than the uniform televising (and incessant playback) of the WTC attacks. Reproduced daily and nightly in nearly every American home that owned a television, which is more homes than have running water, the media-institutions in control of the event have unanimously exported a politicized aesthetic with it.
It is simply impossible for an American not to somehow think of September 11th as a day that changed the 'entire' world. Media, corporate, and government institutions have effectively saturated the mediascape with reproductions of and allusions to 911 as the originary event of all ensuing political 'response' actions. Bush Administration versions of contemporary American history and foundational 'moral clarity' only go this far back in their 'research'. And so, in this way, the whole rhetoric of 911 as being an event outside of any preceding history does not mean the end of the event itself but the media's and the government's ability to reproduce it as a 'first evil', as a plucking from a former and perfect state of the paradisal nation; Bush even consistently refers to the idyllic and absurd protection of the oceans against evil, the very picture of Eden his funders and Pioneers are glad to hear on CNN. The event itself seems to have made its re-entrance with the quintessential version of one, an original, fundamental one. The manufactured 'strike' of events through the 1990s now appears to be a lost paradise.
But while the event itself has been reproduced, the history or series of events that led to it has not been. Years have passed. 911 no longer seems 'yesterday'; a narrative has thus been built from it, and we are well beyond the time of declaring the need to 'begin' a narrative, a journey, a 'crusade' with destination, as Bush so casually put it. The history since what we have now been forced to take as the originary date from which all political justifications will spring, can now be judged according to the new word it promised. 911 is no longer a rupturing origin of a new purpose but is instead now a single event leading a succession of many. History has once again sprung from an event. The questions that have only recently emerged from mass media outlets regarding the Bush Administration's exploitation of 'the 911 tragedy' have come at the only moment it could, for an institution so bound to the government it investigates.
911 initiated a whole narrative based on the reproduction of the event to the point of declaring an impossible total fear, an absurd 'danger to everything'. Thus, moving toward the brink of some evasive endgame while simultaneously encouraging its fulfillment through an escalation of violence, the Bush Administration strategically reproduces the conditions of the original event in order to sustain the narrative built from it. On the other hand, when the towers were hit, all the media operated at once, together, and as if in synchronization with a political agenda that had not yet even been declared. The response of the media institutions Ã‚Â— toward the perfect reproduction of the tragedy - was certainly not 'directed' and was not yet the product of a centralized political program. It was the political agenda that reacted to, and capitalized on, the media.
The actual (and mututally) coercive mechanisms between the government and media corporations were confounded; they didn't seem to matter in the sense of one exerting power 'over' the other. They never collaborated so well, in fact; self-censorship far exceeded censorship. Everyone seemed to know what to say, how to act like each other. A one big family sort of thing, 'we're all in this thing together'. But it wasn't really the deaths. Few remember the crash of American Airlines flight 587 in Belle Harbor, a section of Queens on November 12, 2001.  It was 'just' an accident, a mechanical failure. It was not, it seemed, tragedy that the media was going after; the 'event' had not been resurrected, but only specific events tapered toward an often unconscious ideological agenda. And all the power structure worked together. Clinton-led media deregulation now seems ultimately indistinguishable from the reality of Republican corporate-government partnership; both actively decentralize and confound corporate, media-corporate, and government relations.
Thus the dangerous assertions of the left through the 1990s that corporations were achieving a massive centralization — the 'omnicorp' fear — seems a pale underestimation of the restructuring of power that actually did take place. Craftily, and, again, by no centralized direction, the organization of corporate power has been, across the board, seemingly rearranged according to blueprints of 'efficient' power models that Foucault himself brought to light and accidentally clarified for use. The left has, it seems, accidentally educated the wielders of power on how most efficiently to wield power; yet there is a socially-cohesive and powerful idea amongst the postmodern left that the right dismisses their findings, scorns their theories as simple 'moral relativism' and general spineless-ness (as Rush Limbaugh would say) when, in fact, such powerful government think tanks as RAND and the Hoover Institution, the Bush Administration's favored manufacturers of network and power theory, are, perhaps, the most prolific and influential students of Foucauldian models of power.
The corporate reorganization of power has not been toward a simple, dumb centralization, despite the leftist rhetoric of 'mergers' (which seems to seriously take up the premise that culture itself can really be inventoried and consolidated), but toward a defraction of marketing/consumer power to local authorities accountable to, both rhetorically and financially, 'the board'. Wal-Mart, for instance, over the last few years, has come to strategically incorporate the leftist recognition of local narratives and histories, slim population stratifications with narrow identity clusters, the operating of globalization as a fragmentation of communities somehow all under the rubric of a worldwide net and time-instant information network. This is the new late capitalist epiphany: that, rather than finding the common denominator of the 'entire world' of consumers, each local and specific identity can be targetted (and therefore isolated) from the whole. Advertising itself is the locus of attention, not the product. Thus Wal-Mart lets the Chinese franchises run their own Wal-Marts as if it were a local business, rather than, say, overtly forcing un-fit American methods down the throat of an otherwise easily-hooked population. Hawkers walk the aisles pitching products; prices are not even set. With such localization of market control comes localized power, especially within the Wal-Mart corporation, a domain of power not studied as the internal intricacies of a government would be.
Here is the space for a new, leftist media, not just in organizational structure (i.e. Indymedia transparency and collectivism) but in content. Somewhere someone should lock herself up in a room and think only of what domains of culture have so far failed to produce theorists of it; 'news' and even 'academia' only scantily 'cover' what happens outside political handshakes and photo-ops, those crafted 'events' meant to be politically important when, in fact, the more powerful determinants of future social-economic conditions occur offshore amongst corporate negotiations, or, at least, we don't know where. France, for instance, may not have rejected the invasion of Iraq on moral terms so much as in reaction to exlusions from key oil deal payouts, but, of course, we don't know, since no media institution takes such a cultural zone up for inspection. We don't have access to most information (though we can conjecture what it is we don't have access to). There is simply no institution monitoring the mysterious and abundant world of lobbyists that daily fix the political process to new ends, both nationally and internationally; vast domains of power are literally unknown to anyone outside the process itself.
No institution investigates or 'liberates' the process of corporate behavior as if it were a political determinant. There is no institution illuminating the decentralization of corporate structure as a re-working of Foucauldian theory, as a seizing of globalization models of local identity, and, most importantly, as an inevitable displacing of centralized corporate power to foreign locales. Corporations are not treated by the media as political, social, and cultural forces; yet, on the other hand, corporations themselves attack liberal NGOs working internationally — within the UN for instance, as lobbyists — as illegal politically-powerful exemptions from international law that need to be monitored and checked. These new watchdog corporations, which are too 'illegal' NGOs but not non-profits, do not, of course, 'check' themselves. NGOwatch.org is a new and clever mechanism to draw corporate attention to and check those liberal, international NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) that have risen to power to, themselves, check the atrocious corporations that now tactically return the favor. NGOwatch.org is the new media product of a decentralized cluster of conservative think tanks and foundations behaving politically and internationally as governments.
The left meanwhile pretends it is the bastion of enlightened 'decentralized' organization, as if it is the only example of it, and, furthermore, as if it is 'accidental' and somehow just the manifestation of an organic, democratic ethos inherently pure and opposed to power. Hence the troubling cellar of most anarchy theory — that the erasure of government is equivocable to both an eradication of power itself and the vesting of power equally amongst the people.
This anarchy power model, which has considerable sway amongst the antiglobalization and student-antiwar wings of the global justice movement, posits a utopia of homogenous power, rather than heterogenous, which is a model that is (rightly) absurd in light of globalization's effects on (or illunination of) interacting and highly incongruous local narratives and identities. Anarchy theory takes as its incomprehensible ideal (what would such a world 'look' like, never mind function as?) a mysterious elimination of power by giving an equal part to each.
But difference is a good thing, so, though anarchy theory takes as starting point the framework of a network, it considers the destruction of oppression to be the totally-equal diffusion of power, a mystical erasure of power itself as if it is something external to social relations and therefore an appendage that can be resisted and eradicated. Thus the anarachists, and especially the theorists of anarchy, are declared as in 'opposition to' power. Yet, and from this position, a new and emerging 'post-left anarchy' theory is beginning to undermine the old notions of structural sameness, but only through a hazy lens of universalized binary concepts that seem still to fail a coherent framework of organization. Post-left anarchy is often promoted as an innocent rubric through which new critiques are fomented; 'unity in diversity' is the all-inclusive and puzzling catch phrase. Local groups are stressed as nodes to work from in the construction of a collective, larger model. Networks are said to grow 'organically' and on different 'levels'.
The lack of specificity in this new direction is not exactly comforting, but the most important element for a new organizational principle of power is in place: the idea of a rubric or network implicit in the structuring of power. The network is that most important premise of information theory that realizes media and vehicles of information as the increasingly dominant locus of power exertion, which, beyond the Marxist centering of power in the control of production, is the centering of power in the control of information access, production, and dispersion.
Hence the anti in everything; the movement has seen itself for the last decade as a prefix to power, an adjustment that essentially 'allows' Bush to call it a focus group when millions and millions — the "second superpower" as the New York Times was able to call it/us — marched (like an army). I have witnessed, and partaken in, moments of hesitation over complying with attempted engagements with media and/or government institutions, as if interaction with the 'opposition' itself — and the opened power relations it entails — is forbidden by the lurking movement imaginary of anti-power.
The movement too has its fascism, its own willingness to fix to an ideology and be controlled by it; various rhetorics and 'short-cut' slogans operate as social bonds less on the target-public as on each other; hence the creepiness that I and, I'm sure, others feel in the midst of a march, which is why it is I linger now on the periphery taking pictures and 'observing', not knowing what is worth doing in such an environment. Break the line? Why? We seem an army in every way, but without the discipline and immediate or meaningful purpose. And even if we break the line, I wonder, who will know besides us and maybe even a few of them?
Correction Many thanks to Yuriatin for the following astute corrections. For the record, the prior error read: "Few remember the crash of flight 587 in Washington Heights, a section of Manhattan, on November 14, 2001." Yuriatin offers two corrections: 1) The crash took place on November 12, 2001 - not on the 14th, and 2) The crash took place in Belle Harbor - in Queens (not Manhattan). "Washington Heights is a large neighborhood within Manhattan at the far northern end encompassing streets from about 168th to 190th whereas Belle Harbor is a very small neighborhood near Howard Beach/Far Rockaway neighborhoods which if you drew on a map a straight line from it to Manhattan would put you well below the far southern tip of Manhattan past the Wall St/WTC area." Yuriatin further notes a possible reason for my error. It is no coincidence that the crash sites of 'accidents' are made less iconic than those of nationalist 'attacks.' In the press, the non-displaced mourning site (where the dead once lived) appropriately usurped the happenstance geographical locale of the event. Contrast this to the WTC footprint's effacement of the necessarily dispersed and non-iconic many centers of mourning. "Perhaps the reason you got confused as to the location/date of the crash is that the vast majority of the passengers resided in the New York City neighborhood known as 'Washington Heights.' Many articles about families 'mourning'/services held etc referred to that neighboorhood rather than where the crash actually occured. The NYTimes article a couple days after the crash linked to within your piece is an example of this 'mourning' and is not about the actual crash site/location/date itself." Then: "This is the first time I have ever been to this website and discovered your article there. Since so much inaccuracy/revisionism is prevalent in the media and society at large these days, especially in Web postings, I thought you might wish to be informed of these factual errors and hopefully will correct your article in the interests of any who might rely on it in future for 'history.'"