Reality: Image Warfare in
By Michael I. Niman ArtVoice
(etc.) April 17th, 2003
The American media is awash in images of cheering Iraqis
welcoming their American “liberators.” Our
visual lexicon will forever contain toppling Saddam statues along with images of
Network anchors are obsessively telling us we’re witnessing history. And we are. It’s just not the history they’re telling us we’re watching. What we are seeing is the ultimate triumph of the image – with the pivotal battles of war playing out in the theater of informatics. Welcome to the post-modern media war.
Last week’s toppling of a
Marshall McLuhan’s War
Marshall McLuhan once said that World War Three would be an
information war. We’re certainly
seeing that. From a military
Here’s how it worked.
US forces charged forward and put Ted Koppel in the
The statue event quickly became
a metaphor for “liberation.” NPR
reported how Iraqis first tried chipping away at the legs of the bronze
dictator, then at the concrete base, before ultimately asking the
And nobody was likely to venture out to ask questions.
That’s because on April 8th, US forces, in a preliminary
Pentagon officials claim they were simply “returning
fire” after being fired upon with rockets from the
Pentagon officials also claim they were being fired on from
the Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV offices as well – charges that the journalists
adamantly deny. US forces also
shelled an Al Jazeera office in
The end result of these attacks is that most journalists
not “embedded” with the US military were basically pinned down under fire
and unable to easily or safely move about Baghdad when the “fall of Baghdad”
images of a toppling Saddam were recorded by embedded journalists.
Riding Saddam’s Head
The powerful images of the Saddam statue’s bronze head
being dragged through the streets of
In the American press nobody questioned the fact that the footage shot by embedded journalists of the initial images of Iraqis cheering on their American “liberators” was looped, with the same few seconds running over and over again. Once these images entered our visual lexicon, reality followed suit – and we suddenly were awash in images of Shock and Awe survivors suddenly celebrating their liberation. But these images dangled severed from history and without context. Pundits compared them to World War II era shots of French citizens cheering on their American liberators – but absent from this dialog was any reference to near identical images of citizens cheering on their supposed German “liberators” as the Nazis brutally marched across Europe.
The sad reality is that people quickly adapt to political realities and suck up to whoever is in power – often as quick as possible. Hence we quickly saw images of Iraqis carrying pictures of George W. Bush – and we quickly forgot that they were carrying around similar images of Saddam Hussein last month. For people weaned on generations of totalitarian oppression and colonial occupation, such behavior typifies survivors. We certainly shouldn’t humor ourselves into believing we are loved – we’re just the new game in town. And people are hungry.
Big Brother Says Keep Your TV On
The images are powerful – and they are toxic to a democratic discourse. They are extremely sophisticated and designed to elicit an emotional response – which should quickly trump a rational response. Watching these images reminds me of the final scenes in George Orwell’s classic work, 1984. Life would be much easier if we could just learn to be like everyone else and love big brother – cheering on the global conquests. Even the best read peace activist feels a twinge of self-doubt. That wasn’t so bad. Then the SUV ad comes on. And it doesn’t look so bad. If only we could get with the program. This is propaganda theorists call the bandwagon effect. People like to cheer for perceived “winners.” There’s a natural urge to suck up to power. To line the streets and celebrate your own destruction – as we saw in Nazi Germany.
Then the horror of reality sinks in. The endless deaths. The endless war. Boundless hate. Generations of terror. And the Pearly Gates slammed shut in your face because, whether or not you voted for George W. Bush, because you’re a citizen in a democratic country and this travesty occurred under your watch. Then you turn your fucking television off. Wipe off your brow. And realize how close you came to succumbing to mind numbing emotionally targeted propaganda.
April 21-27th just happens to be the ninth annual TV turnoff week. I was planning on writing my usual TV Turnoff week article – talking about addiction, obesity, consumption, debt and the decades of life the average American loses to the tube. But there’s just too much horror in the world today and I needed to write about that too – this is no time for journalists to make pretenses toward normalcy. So just turn the damned appliance off for a week. Especially now – before it seduces you into complacency. And go out and look for some real news.
Dr. Michael I. Niman’s previous TV Turnoff Week articles are available by searching http://www.alternet.org or visiting http://mediastudy.com.
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