Visual and electronic terror-ism
Someone else's everyday reality is taking place parallel with high culture consumerism, aestheticism and globalism.
This paper is a reflection on visual
art as a sender and a receiver of a social communication medium.
It is also a reflection on the notion of sociological truth telling
and collective belief, as well as the role of the media in relation
to contemporary visual culture.
It questions the production and reception of artworks and how they are mediated, and how they themselves function as mediators in the age of teleportation of wireless signals.
Pierre Bourdieu underlines that in the
case of art, the purpose of art is art. Art has no other goal,
he says, than art itself. Bourdieu claims that "everything
is social" and that includes the art as such.
He says that art is part of a network and it is its "social genesis" that defines a work of art as an artwork. So for Bourdieu the art network is the most important defining apparatus, which brands and legitimizes a work of art.
Jean-François Lyotard, on the other hand, looks into art itself and claims that there is no history of art, there is only a history of cultural objects. The cultural objects which Lyotard is talking about are what each culture believes in, celebrates and sublimates. They are also a way of communicating and defining truth.
The sociologist Bulent Diken says that the artwork is parts of a network and so are the comments to it. The separation of artwork and network leads to misrecognition of this sociological truth. (Diken)
But what happens when commodities and
commercial objects start to consider and sell themselves as artefacts?
Duchamp demonstrates how the field of art as a universe of belief produces "the value of the work of art by producing the belief". So the important point here is the belief and the value attributed to art.
If part of the public, the mass media, or the art network itself believe that commercial and mass-manufactured products and terrorist attacks are in some way art, or related to art, or given art characteristics, then a new and critical clarification, not of what art is, but of the role of art in connection to its network, is needed.
The global network of contemporary media,
which has become the master mind of all arts, has switched position
from an apparatus of communication to an apparatus of ill-communication.
The media world is in a constant clash on the definition of values,
beliefs and sociological truths.
The age of information war, which I call the war of teleportation, is in the making.
Now to what Lyotard calls cultural objects
Coca's role in the neon culture
Looking into the global hegemonic economy
of the Coca-Cola network and its sublimated position, it looks
like a "leading" or a "commanding" product
often connected with the legacy of western cultural imperialism.
Any other similar product made outside the western world has been condemned as being different and not universal, therefore Coca-Cola is not only sold around the world as a culture, but almost as a work of art.
Since its appearance, it has been the legacy of Coca-Cola to be associated with cultural colonialism, imperialism, or, economic terrorism, in some part of the world, a product of hegemony in an unbalanced economic world order. Meanwhile in other parts of the world Coca-Cola as a product has become a cultural experience, an art, a sublime object. One does not consume it but practice it. It secures your membership in the club of high modern culture, a club which I call The Cool Club. An imaginary club for imaginary members that accept commercial commodities imposed on them as art.
Simultaneously with this, the anti-globalisation
product Mecca Cola, the Arab world's answer to the American Coca-Cola,
has become a cult object in France and now in Germany.
The drink's red and white label, which appears to be a direct play off Coca-Cola, calls on the consumer not to drink like an idiot but to drink with commitment. Mecca Cola is becoming an object of communication also for members only and only for those who know the ciphers of the game.
In the consumerism age many thinkers and
theorists such as J. Huizinga, M. Bahtin and J. Lotman have
attempted to compare the art of today and liken it with the notion
of a game.
As a result, Osama bin Laden's WTC plane attack is treated as a blockbuster (a successful coup de force), hence as an artefact.
This has unleashed a total capitalist schizophrenia in all subsequent "similar" cases, in which a plane and a house, under normal circumstances quite innocuous, happened to find themselves in close proximity with each other or in slight contact. (Multikulti - ERI summer 2002)
So both positions, the commercial economic terrorism and the destructive horror terrorism, seek spectacularity and sublimation, characteristics which are often associated with art and culture as such.
Many of the spectacle attacks, which are
called terroristic in one part of the world and heroistic in the
other, have been followed by a video tape to the visual media.
The video is shut in advance and shown after the action. In some unique cases, like in South Lebanon, the statement video of the bomber and the action he or she has taken is shown in one video clip in order to assure the spectators of the result of the attack and to cause a psychological effect on the enemy.
In the sub-society network of suicide
bombers these video tapes have become an art genre, an entertaining
cultural terroristic/heroistic product, produced to praise and
It is an attempt to enter the visual media culture and it leaves behind a Hollywood style effect, beyond the damage such attacks usually leave behind.
For the network of this sub-society, suicide/martyr mission videos have become a true penetration of the real thing. A visual entertainment, carried out by real fighters to virtually and truly compete with Hollywood.
It is the sub-suicide society that defines such a product as a work of art. (You have your Coca and Hollywood, now we have ours, Tawfik Mathlouthi).
Similar to the effect of Coca-Cola
commercials in the consumerist society, the video by the suicide
bomber/martyr and its effect has been transformed into a new visual
or digital cultural trend; it has become almost a sublime work
For the suicide bomber/martyr the social consumerist space has lost its eminency and safety, and order should no longer be a characteristic of it.
To Al Misskawi and Nidal Neb. Amaso (the first two suicide bombers in south Lebanon) the action of self-destruction was an attempt to reach for the real thing, real production, to accomplish some kind of life improvement.
Now how can that be?
Pain and suffering for both becomes a lifestyle of co-existence. Moral value has become a question of the "value of violence". They seek complete and immediate destruction of civilization as far as they are not part of it or relate to it.
"Dying people are so alive."
From the FIGHT CLUB movie. I shall return to the Fight Club movie later in this paper.
Contemporary terrorism does not seek
physical destruction but visual sublimation. Fast and mobile trans-national
terrorism must be experienced life on the global digital media.
Such as Al-Jazeera and CNN. High-tech
terrorism is meant to leave a visual impact in particular on the
internet consumer network society or 'the western society'.
Drawing parallels between Al-Jazeera's and CNN's motives while showing the horrors on Manhattan is questionable, but it is rather fascinating if they are shown on two monitors next to each other.
Media play a central role in making
culture. Writers discussing the notion of cultural imperialism
also acknowledge the notion of media imperialism and acknowledge
that the New World Order implies a New Cultural Order.
This New Cultural Order, in turn, means CocaColizing, McDonalizing and Microsoftizing every single society around the world in the name of freedom, democracy and human rights. The paradox is that we do not get any of these self-sublimed products for free. We pay for them; we work for them; in other words: we only consume them.
Let me tell you about the FIGHT CLUB and
what it is all about.
Now what does this have to do with Fared Al Misskawi and Nidal Neb. Amaso who were the first men to carry out a double suicide bomb/martyr mission in south Lebanon in 1985?
And how that is related to Al-Jazeera and CNN?
The movie Fight Club and the suicide bomber/martyr are two sides of the same coin. The only difference is that one of them is real while the other belongs to Hollywood's virtual reality.
In parallel to both the Fight Club as a movie and the suicide bomber/martyr as a new video culture (Middle Eastern blockbuster), we find the arena of so-called global TV networks like CNN in the west and Al-Jazeera in the east.
To western spectators, CNN functions as an informative and entertaining media adviser. It is a network which feeds on informing its clients in a Hollywood entertainment style about the experiences of other societies. CNN makes news on events that mainly take place outside of the US. Almost half of this news, however, are related to, caused or generated by US impacts around the globe. In this way, most of the news on CNN is either made by CNN itself or by the American society and its authorities.
Al-Jazeera, on the other hand, is more
into where things actually take place in the Arab world.
Al-Jazeera, meaning the island, is an expression for the Arab Peninsula, which mainly refers to the Gulf States. It has also been characterized as the voice of the Al-Qaeda network to the world.
How do these global TV stations operate and whose mind are they aiming at?
When CNN showed the events on Manhattan there were no warnings of images containing strong graphics. They chose to show us all available images in order to visually cement them in our memories, knowing very well the visual impact of such scenes on the human mind.
In his analysis of the visual experience
of 9-11 Zizek said:
"Days after September 11, our gaze was transfixed by the images of the plane hitting one of the WTC towers, all of us were forced to experience what the "compulsion to repeat" and jouissance beyond the pleasure principle are: we wanted to see it again and again, the same shots were repeated ad nauseam, and the uncanny satisfaction we got from it was jouissance at its purest. It is when we watched on TV screen the two WTC towers collapsing, that it became possible to experience the falsity of the "reality TV shows"."
Al-Jazeera uses the same tactics. No warning signals while showing images of destruction or brutality exercised on Arab or Muslim populations. Al-Jazeera with its Middle Eastern identity is an international media network designed primarily for the Arabic speaking population around the world.
As a rebellion against the CNN it uses
the same visual tactics but with reverse psychology. It shows
and does the exact opposite of the CNN. But both networks use
the same software for editing their material. The aesthetical
graphic montage is the only space which CNN and Al-Jazeera agree
upon. The contemporary trend within TV graphics functions as a
visual stimulation for both networks and against all odds it works
on both eastern and western minds.
What I am trying to underline here is the notion of electronic visual terrorism, or visual propaganda. The comparison of the networks' digital tactics is not to emphasize their polarization only. What I am trying to establish is a third view containing both positions in hope of launching a theoretical and visual dialogue.
During the Manhattan events, Al-Jazeera
was showing both the attack on the WTC and events from the occupied
territories, including the cheers by some Palestinians when informed
about the attack. The implication of this imposed visual experience
was simply that one thing can lead to the other, or, what goes
around comes around. In the days following the attack, this expression
became central for the debate on CNN.
While CNN chose to focus on the event for 3-5 days and keep showing and re-showing the attacks, everyday with a new shut from a different angle, Al-Jazeera was reminding the world of the previous American brutality.
Al-Jazeera can be seen as the CNN of the Arab world. This implies mobilizing the opinion of the Arab masses, exactly as CNN is mobilizing the opinion of the western masses by attempting to deliver the opinion of the strong and unbeatable, and his unquestionable absolute truth.
In this connection I would like to share a vision made and analyzed by Zizek in relation to the Manhattan events:
"The same "de-realization" of the horror went on after the WTC bombings: while the number of 6000 victims is repeated all the time, it is surprising how little of the actual carnage we see - no dismembered bodies, no blood, no desperate faces of the dying people... in clear contrast to the reporting from the Third World catastrophes where the whole point was to produce a scoop of some gruesome detail: Somalis dying of hunger, raped Bosnian women, men with throats cut. These shots were always accompanied with the advance-warning that "some of the images you will see are extremely graphic and may hurt children" - a warning which we NEVER heard in the reports on the WTC collapse. Is this not yet another proof of how, even in this tragic moment, the distance which separates Us from Them, from their reality, is maintained: the real horror happens THERE, not HERE?"2
The difference between Al-Jazeera and CNN is that Al-Jazeera always shows the image of Arabs as victims, except in relation to the Manhattan attacks where the broadcast network chose to interview individuals who embraced the attack. Al-Jazeera holds the same right as CNN to show what it brands right or wrong. Hence, in the video and audio controversy of the Bin Laden tape, Al-Jazeera, unlike CNN which showed the video clip of Bin Laden admitting his knowledge of the attack in advance, questioned the authenticity of the video tape and labelled it as being designed for the western public mind.
On CNN a public survey was launched to
test how many individuals in the US actually believed that the
Bin Laden tape was authentic.
Public surveys and statistics on everyday issues has become daily practice for many western visual media. Public opinion polls are a western media phenomenon. However, despite the ineffectiveness of the public opinion in the Arab world, Al-Jazeera attempts to beat CNN with the very same weapon: by demonizing the US and cause doubt about its motives towards the Arab world, exactly as CNN helps demonizing Arab regimes in general.
CNN lives in a fake world and Al-Jazeera lives in reality, until Independence Day looks like a day accrued.
Again back to Zizek and in his words,
"the ultimate American paranoiac fantasy is that of an individual
living in a small idyllic Californian city, a consumerist paradise,
who suddenly starts to suspect that the world he lives in is a
So it is not only that Hollywood stages a semblance of real life deprived of the weight and inertia of materiality - in the late capitalist consumerist society, "real social life" itself somehow acquires the features of a staged fake.
Christopher Isherwood gave expression to this unreality of the American daily life, exemplified in the motel room: "American motels are unreal! They are deliberately designed to be unreal. The Europeans hate us because we've retired to live inside our advertisements."
Living in advertisements or imitating advertisements you will automatically feel yourself becoming an advertising artefact, a living commodity, and you will act that way too.
If the artwork is part of a network and the separation of artwork and network leads to misrecognition of this sociological truth, then Zizek's description of the ultimate American paranoiac fantasy of the individual who suddenly suspects that the world he lives in is a fake must also apply to our reality, and to the media advisers such the CNN and Al-Jazeera networks which attempt to sell you THEIR REALITY. And it is up to you to consume it or not.
Video and audio terrorism
The media power, its role in society and in regards to its audience.
Cultural terrorism can be defined as
an offensive against dominant systems of meaning, and their definition
of reality and nature, within the realms of propaganda and disinformation.
What the world is witnessing today is a new type of cultural chauvinism which I will call electronic terrorism. It has been associated with cultural and information terrorism carried out via satellite, internet and global TV networks, directed at the intellect rather than the psyche.
The characteristic of the 21st century war is teleportation. War, information war, has been waged by satellite, an advanced way of causing maximum damage first and foremost on the mind and with no human casualties. Some nations impose their culture on others. Others sublimize their own cultural products and undermine the products of others.
In the name of globalisation, rich nations attempt to enforce their products on poor nations, attempting to transform as much as possible of the nations of the world into materialistic consumerist societies. This has been characterized as cultural terrorism aimed at keeping the world divided in two hierarchical sections: the producer and the consumer. In the 21st century war, however, all this has been explained as an important and positive aspect of the global process.
The suicide bomber/martyr and the Fight Club
With the obsession of the current level
of control, order, power and wealth, a new form of fantasy has
been established: the visual fantasy.
In real life many outside and inside the western world have been branded as destructive terrorists, who seek destruction of the peace and order of the self-sublimed society.
In virtual reality, however, the sublimed society itself is no longer satisfied with its product and achievements. At least virtually it seeks a process of self-terrorisation. It wants to destroy the very culture it produces by virtually attacking the food industry, blowing up financial and banking buildings, sabotage the credit-card network society, in order to start once again.
The obsession to escape from commodity is based on the dream of a new utopian society. This fantasy was imposed and transformed into reality during the Manhattan attacks. Not a terrorist attack, some will say, but a realization of a Hollywood visual fantasy, putting theory into practice, penetrating the real thing and make it look like the inspiration itself. To some, the rolling towers were a sublime work of art. (Stockhausen)
The will of destroying capitalism itself still exists in the Hollywood fantasy. This is contrary to the Al-Qaeda network, which seeks to penetrate the Hollywood fantasy with real action. What Bin Laden's project is all about is disrupting the global project and stop the flow of western culture, including the media imperialism, into the Arab world. His interception in the global project is felt in the speed of the process. The timer is now counting backwards. However, while the global project is witnessing a setback, Manhattan's events actually energized the multimedia culture more than any other sector.
Based on Zizek's vision, in his analysis
of the Fight Club, Bulent Diken says:
"The movie Fight Club is framed by the fantasy of undoing the social, destroying consumerism and exploding the American paranoiac fantasy.
In the final "romantic" scene the protagonists walk hand in hand, while behind them is performed an orgy of devastation as buildings explode, clouds of dust rising as the buildings collapse. With the collapse of the World Trade Center, this fantasy is realised, and violence, once more, returned in the real, transforming the WTC into the symptom of the contemporary network society, paralleling the manner in which the Titanic had become the symptom of industrial society.
One should recall the other defining catastrophe from the beginning of the XXth century, that of Titanic: it was also a shock, but the space for it was already prepared in ideological fantasizing, since Titanic was the symbol of the might of the XIXth century industrial civilization."
Does the same not hold also for these
bombings? Ask Zizek. According to him, not only were the media
bombarding us all the time with the talk about the terrorist threat;
this threat was also obviously libidinally invested.
Recall the series of movies from Escape From New York to Independence Day. Therein resides the rationale of the often-mentioned association of the attacks with the Hollywood disaster movies: the unthinkable which happened was the object of fantasy, so that, in a way, America got what it fantasized about, and this was the greatest surprise. (Zizek)
In the Fight Club movie played by Edward
Norton and Brad Pitt, the experience of the real thing only happens
when fantasy becomes real, an obsession with real adventure in
order to reach the unique.
Fight Club stands, and I quote Bulent Diken, as a "testament to a civilization for which the everyday life is banal and the repetitive is death."
The essence of the film is to be found in the final scene. Fight Club is about self destruction and society destruction, going down all at once and together. Jack, the suicider, is looking at the city which he helped building as one construction rolls down after the other. This is a moment of joy, the moment when the film achieves its most visual climax, for in his schizophrenic visual fantasy Jack finds himself a losing hero who can only win the game if he dies.
This is what Bülent Diken has to say about the last scene of the Fight Club:
"However, in Jack's suicide, there
is an act in the proper sense of the word.
Regarding Jack's suicide [or his attempt at killing Tyler, his own schizophrenic image - kdr] it is important to delimit two kinds of sacrifice/suicide.
The first aims at securing a position within the symbolic order. The second, and the more radical one, aims at the denial of this very place within the symbolic. The radical act sacrifices the sacrifice itself, condemning the actor, excluding him or her from the symbolic order. Killing himself, and thus Tyler, who is posed throughout the film as an object of desire and of identification, Jack sacrifices the social bond (Fight Club), assuming the limit-position of the impossible zero-level of symbolization. As such he is, while still alive, regarding the symbolic order already dead and excluded.
"Dying people are so alive," as Jack says.
That is what Hollywood or CNN would like to say about dying people and that is exactly what Al-Jazeera is saying as well.