Control & Punish

lichtenstein oh awright

I think one of the effects of mass corporate culture, especially Hollywood film and TV, has been to create a very clear style code for certain events in the material real world. I was thinking of this in terms of Obama’s new crackdown on what he insists be termed “leakers” (not whistle blowers, and the reason for that is something the next link explains).

The entire NSA saga has generated a certain spin, a certain narrative, from mainstream media. But the facts….and here I will link Richard Raznikov’s recent article:

The facts….the facts are that what this amounts to is almost the exact definition of totalitarian. It is also breeding a climate of McCarthyism. A snitch culture. A paranoid culture. Now, it arrives in a new set of style codes, however. And this is where movie narratives are very important. If you were to survey the average citizen of the U.S. or U.K., I think the word totalitarian would trigger an Orwellian world, a grey and somber universe resembling earlier films that depicted East Germany and the U.S.S.R. (and those were usually, also, inventions to a large degree), or one that borrowed tropes from science fiction, and futuristic dystopian fantasies. Today’s NSA program is being sold to the public (when it’s not being hidden from the public) as *Security* — as part of a vigilant war against *terrorists*. If you ask the average American or UK citizen to come up with an image for terrorist, I’m guessing the vast majority would provide you with some picture of an Arab or dark skinned foreigner, sneaking around with a suspicious backpack.

The normalizing of surveillance is everywhere in popular culture. It’s a constant theme of network cop shows, and programs such as Homeland and 24 and all the CSI franchises, as well as a number of reality shows about Cops. Plots often revolve around the analysis of security video, and employ “facial recognition” and other high tech improvements over the antiquated ‘finger print’. None of this, none of it over forty years, actually resembles reality. In Hollywood these things are presented as close to infallible. In reality, and I will get to this in more detail in a moment, none of these security technologies are actually very reliable. But then neither is torture but that doesn’t stop its being depicted as of vital importance in narratives manufactured by Studios and networks.

The Orwell symbolism was best captured in what is now a stunningly ironic bit of marketing in the Chiat/Day super bowl spot from 1984 for Apple Computers (directed by Ridley Scott):

In terms of Obama and the escalation of surveillance, it is important to remember who is being targeted. In this sense things are not quite McCarthyesque, but in fact have totally lapped McCarthy and subsumed all earlier notions of domestic spying. In a way, terror suspect is simply a widening of “communist”, to include anyone it needs to include. The Stasi, or the Nazi apparatus for domestic control, were quite similar in some ways to what one sees today. However, it is the presentation of “Democracy” that is most interesting. Even the most draconian invasions of privacy and destruction of of the bill of rights, is treated with a happy face, and with a democratic faux debate.

News is entertainment. Smiley face news. And with friendly black faces which PROVES this is a multicultural feel good society of openness. Dick Cheney is trotted out, to play the role he has perfected over half a century, that of snarling vituperative bad cop. Then the freshly scrubbed whiteness of three black happy commentators come on to espouse the openness of Obama in comparison to the Orwellian Chiat/Day world of Bush. The reality is that there is a clear continuum from Reagan onwards, and really from WW2 onwards, toward Bush 1, to Clinton (and it was during Clinton where things took an exponential leap forward on domestic abuses of civil liberties as well as expansion of NATO and the selling and branding of humanitarian intervention) to Bush 2 to Obama.

I mentioned before that the rewriting of history is a staple of Hollywood these days. As the topic of current conflict and social unrest becomes less and less palatable (and censored) the studios and networks are resorting to ‘period’ narratives; and this revisionism instills certain memes in the public mind. The Cold War is reproduced as drab and paranoid, if the topic is politics, but the non-political 50s are reproduced as fun and carefree and “innocent”. A show like Mad Men has come to focus on style before substantive analysis of social conflict. The Bay of Pigs is mostly an excuse to trot out cool fifties TV sets and the encroaching sixties is signified by sideburns or beards, and paisley shirts, with social unrest as merely a backdrop. The trope of “innocence” is one that has been beaten to death over the last thirty years. It is a hallmark foundational construct for liberal America. We were once “innocent”. Innocently enslaving millions, innocently exterminating 600 native american tribes, innocently crushing labor strikes with Pinkerton goons, or lynching black men and launching countless colonial adventures abroad. But the idea has traction because the liberal wants to believe that reform works, that society can recapture something warm and fuzzy if only….if only whatever….people ate organic cucumbers, I don’t know.

The new series Magic City, set in 1950s Miami, sees the Cuban Revolution only in terms of the disruption to the Hotel kitchen staff and a few gangsters mourning the loss of gambling profits. More time is spent on the invitation of Jackie O to a brunch than it is to what Jackie’s husband might be doing vis a vis Cuba.

The media avoids the reality of mass incarceration in general, and certainly the treatment of dissidents such as Lynne Stewart, who suffered under the post 9 11 attack on defense lawyers…

or Bradley Manning, or Guantanamo Bay, or the release of death row inmates found innocent. The few items that do leak through are treated as aberrations. Mass incarceration is not a popular topic. There have been a number of reality shows about prison, but these are lurid tabloid voyeurism, and usually with a strong masculinist subtext, so that really they amount to extensions of MMA contests or WWF shows. The criminal is stigmatized, a freak, an object of derision and laughter, but also, somehow authentic and virile. In fact, it’s interesting that there seems to be an increase in protagonists with prison pasts. This has always been true to a degree, but it seems on the increase and is worth thinking about. Also, with such a huge prison population (more below on that) the stigma of being an ex-con is fading a bit on one level, even as the state further cuts all rights and benefits for former felons. Without intending this, the convict’s prison record is being normalized.

ensor skull kiss

The culture sells itself. The government sells itself. Corporate media is there to sell a certain idea, and different shows target different demographics. Time Warner or FOX know who the audience is for any given show, and that includes news programs. The government creates marketing campaigns, and in 2010 the Department of Homeland Security launched its If you See Something, Say Somthing campaign. This is institutional snitching, but it also encourages “responsibility” from citizens, it distributes responsibility to everyday people. It asks for free police work from the general population. But, it is patriotic to be a snitch, an informer.

Now, there is an obvious contradiction in this. On the one hand the state sells its invincibility, while at the same time expressing a barely concealed need for the population to help in policing. So all that high priced technology Bloomberg just bought isn’t really enough I guess. The message here is compromised a bit, and hence all the more reason to double down on the idea of the effectiveness of high tech crime fighting in Hollywood film and TV, and in encouraging the patriotism and courage of informers. Self policing has gone from Community Watch and the Guardian Angels, both of whom were thinly concealed authoritarian entities to begin with, to a formal collaboration with the state.

And, as Joshua Reeves wrote:

“As policing responsibilities continue to be dispensed to a tech-savvy populace, we should be mindful that these
market-driven surveillance technologies will take on an even more pernicious character as the state
increasingly relies on technologized citizens to be the eyes and ears of the post-sovereign police.”

There are several questions embedded in this….one is how social media platforms (facbook, twitter, et al) and the social behavior that grew out of these, and its intersection with the society of hyper branding created new models for the casual invasion of privacy, and how also the master narrative of fear has encouraged a form of paranoia that is coupled to notions of risk (the intersection is with risk management and an appraisal-reification of friends and institutions and communities). Now, it is estimated by the U.S. govt. that there are over 50,000 neighborhood watch programs in operation. How does this relate to how these people see the police? There are contradictions in here, too, for on the one hand, there is a high level of adoration for authority at work in US culture, and on the other, in more working class neighborhoods, a total adversarial relationship to the police and courts. The motivations for Neighborhood Watch groups are going to differ from area to area, depending a lot, I suspect, on race and economics, and on the history of that region.

The poor have never trusted the cops. Period.

All these forces contribute to this new subjectivity, in a sense. Or subjective positions. The police have always protected property and those who own that property. The lateral redistribution of informal surveillance (suspicion) is probably also a part of a new (or re-manufactured) identification with power and wealth. Virtual policing connects to virtual lives and identification with things only our virtual selves have any chance to share in.

But there is likely also a surplus subject hovering around, unattached and suspicious of its own suspicions in a sense. I have a feeling this is partly a nagging doubt and skepticism, especially among the young, that these vast systems of identification are prone to massive mistakes. Just try getting your driver’s license straightened out at the DMV, or changing your address for some type of govt. check. The poor know all about this, and increasingly I suspect the young do, too. As someone said to me, the future is not Orwell so much as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. There is a good deal of truth in this. Technologies such as facial recognition are simply doomed to chronic mis-identification. And no amount of testing will ever change that fact. Humans are not silverware, stamped on the bottom, nor are they fixed and unchanging. Pets are now microchipped, and even that has led to chronic failure in tracking.

franz-gertsch girls back mirror phot real

The point is that the Kitsch Orwell future of Chiat/Day isn’t the real nightmare, the real nightmare is a smiley face volunteer surveillance coexistent with social media and porn and exhibitionistic socializing of all sorts, as well as a genuine fear of institutional authority, indifferent unless property is involved, that will create both good community services, and authoritarian community entities.

Hillary Clinton departs Malta for Liyba

The constant reiteration of certain themes in media and Hollywood film has defined the parameters of a new paranoia. It has also defined a new social enclosure, where a risk averse model for efficiency extends to the personal as well as the business world. People are advised by pop psychologists to ask ‘is that new friend good for you’?

One argument goes like this; CCTV monitors (for example) traffic. It is a service to people, it alerts them to traffic jams, to accidents on the highway, and it is possible to control parking for clients, at busy shopping mall parking structures, or insurance forms where the applicant is asked if he or she is a smoker, to adjust insurance premiums, or the demand for identification to collect a parcel at the post office. The list goes on and on. The argument is that these monitoring functions are benign and helpful. But are they? No, of course they aren’t. They are all part of a fabric, and reserving a parking space hardly mitigates the fact that your car is tracked and your location logged and that data collected. Any mention of insurance is really just black humor. This is the instrumental logic of the liberal (and yeah, of most conservatives, too), it is the logic of the manufactured modern subject. There is a question lurking in all this, and that is how technology itself has contributed, vis a vis a pardigm that is often still pre-modern, actually, in shaping consciousness. In other words, the Big Brother cliche version of totalitarian society engenders a certain perspective in how we look at ourselves, and in fact the individual is rapidly and tacitly adjusting his or her sense of identity to the need to be plugged into a system that grants reserved parking spaces…at the same time punishment increases proportionately. The surveillance state is manufacturing guilt. If one needed any proof of this the numbers for incarceration should be enough.

frost hallway tunnell

What needs to be kept in mind (and I intend to write a much longer post on exactly this) is that, as Bernard Harcourt put is:

“The faith in the free market emerged, hand in hand, with a theory of legal despotism according to which the state’s most legitimate function, and the one it was best able to carry out, was to police and punish.”

The evolution of capitalism and markets is tied to the growth of a framework of regulation and laws. The state (and its extension the police) were always there to enforce order, and to enforce it as if it were perfectly natural and necessary.

“In protecting property, the government is doing something quite apart from merely keeping the peace. It is exerting coercion.”
Robert Hale

Today’s advanced surveillance state is now extending this coercion even further. The illusion of security as the driving motive for state activities of control is not surprisingly the key message of both media and the culture industry. There is no space that is not intruded upon by the state and by regulations. By laws and legal restrictions of some sort. And there is now less and less psychic space, as a result of the constant drumming of certain models of reality. By the need to remember an almost impossible number of restrictions. And by a deterritorialized labor force, and by the nature of financialized capital. Living under constant surveillance means living as criminals. Its only a question of does one’s crime meet the criteria of actionable offense for the state.

All of this is reflected in Hollywood film, and in media. The mega corporations that produce the hyper violent fascism of today’s police franchises is deeply invested, both literally and metaphorically, in neo-liberal beliefs in capitalism and free markets, and in the protection of their privilege. As the prison population continues to grow (as it has since Reagan) so has investment in security and in surveillance and policing. In fact, in California, eleven per cent of state employees work in prison affairs. It is even higher in Texas and Florida. Private prison construction is a growth industry. What is really being revealed by the new NSA boom (and its secondary level manifestations in local CCTV surveillance, etc) is the insecurity of property owners, and their wealth. The state is now focused on control and punishment. As other aspects of the state seem ever less legitimate, the role of providing security is intensified and increasingly legitimated.

The US neo-liberal state, following on the Industrial Revolution, is predicated on control. From schools to factories to prisons, the logic is one of punishment and control. Today the culture is one of institutionalized snitching, and in another register it is one of shaming. The criminal is stigmatized, forever. And the definitions for criminal continue to expand. Poverty is a crime, and shameful as well. Madness is criminalized even as it has fostered a moderate size industry of treatment (and more on that in a future posting). Many countries in Europe tended to institutionalize those problem individuals in mental hospitals rather than prison during much of the 20th century, but that trend is changing and many now follow the U.S. preference for prisons (not, it must be said, Scandanavian countries, however). But none ever approached the percentages of the U.S. The sociality of new media platforms has increased an exhibitionist dimension, that connects to surveillance, and the state’s desire to control these platforms speaks to the desire to mediate psychic space. But all of it is in play as part of a shift toward totalitarian values — the extreme wealth, ever more concentrated, means that the mechanisms of protection for that wealth will become more acute and absolute. This neo-liberal model is branded with a smiley face. It creates a chatty happy Spectacle of entertainments, a good percentage of which feature non-stop hyper violence, misogyny and racism, but always with an engine of glossy, facile and very attractive jingoism. As distrust increases, however, especially among the underclass, among those growing numbers of people disposed of, homeless or in prison, or just lost, the message must be imposed with greater force for the remaining populace still effectively plugged in.

The Obama regime is now openly exercising vindictive punishments, symbolic punishments, and arbitrary demonstrations of power. Recently Hillary Clinton was interviewed on TV, and laughed gleefully at the propsect of war. It was the cackling sound of the state, now unmoored from any rational justification for it’s actions. It is hegemonic, and it openly sneers at the misfortune of its citizenry, while plotting its next military act of “humanitarian” protection.


  1. Another interesting post John… I’m going to swing this back to a minor a point you made about Mad Men. Personally, I find the show intriguing, although it was much more interesting during the first couple of seasons, but while Mad Men has shied away from dealing directly with the cultural and political turmoil of the 1960’s, it is silently becoming a feminist show that investigates what it’s like to be a woman in a world of “mad” men. The fluidity of gender and sex within the character of Peggy Olson is worthy of analysis. What is Peggy but a “small peg,” that is… a small phallus, perhaps even a clitoris, where her power as a person lie. Her last name is “Ol-son”… the heir to “Dick” Whitman, the woman who denied herself motherhood by giving up “Peter” Campbell’s child (Pete Campbell what a name, a name that evokes the fraudulence of the male in relation to both the fractured American dream and the meaningless of the image in pop art). I’m rambling here a little… but I think that Mad Men, while it has its faults, is more than just a pretty show about the 60’s (or like Molly Klein stated before, really the 80’s… and I agree with her). I think the show is really like an inside out gynocracy – especially when you start breaking it down from the angle of a castrated male.

  2. John Steppling says:

    @joe….yeah, i dont think its absolute junk……and I think certain things have surfaced in that show…..even via the cosmetic aspect….that are interesting. And i do think draper aka whitman, and his back story are quite compelling, but i wish more had been done with that. Still……….its in the end a show MORE about fashion codes than it is anything else. Its probably not deserving of being singled out given the really atrocious stuff that gets aired….but i think I did single it out because it was close to being sort of important. An interesting show this year was The Americans. COld war spies ….undercover in the US. But what was rather moving in that show were the flashbacks. Whoever did set design and wardrobe was brilliant. So in that case something genuinely moving was captured through the right east euro sweater being chosen. Maybe because i lived in poland for 8 years….but that sense of sort of melancholy was perfectly captured, oddly. And it cast a curious shadow over the narrative. Its still basically junk….but was interesting in terms of finding this quality of eastern bloc nostalgia.

  3. John Steppling says:

    @joe….and your point is quite right in a sense……and i think Christina Hendricks character, too, has become sort of an interesting part of what you describe. So there ARE things, but the problem remains its always detached from real history……so that as you say, quoting molly, its the 80s, its always not really about what its about. And this is the formula for managing to talk about something worth talking about.

  4. I think you make a valid point that many of us Americans don’t want to hear: Hollywood rewrites history. Just look at the movies of this past year and you’ll see the revision in place: Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Argo, hell even Django Unchained. The fact that the audience accepts this simply as a “dramatization of real events” is problematic. Every big news event or scandal becomes a TV movie feeding the audience that it’s the way it happened. And the culture sells the products easily: do the rounds talk shows (obligatory Stewart and Colbert), land on the cover of a magazine, have something go viral on Facebook and voila!

    The lines between entertainment and reality are increasingly blurred. This past week people gushed about James Gandolfini: He IS Tony Soprano! Um… no he’s not. Tony Soprano is not real. But he is because people want to believe he is. That’s enough. I think a similar distortion applies to how we consume Hollywood film.

  5. Great piece. I would’ve loved to see a bone thrown to Neil Postman and Aldous Huxley for their contributions of creating non Orwellian dystopias. These characters saw it coming and did that best to sound the alarms.

  6. John Steppling says:

    @joe…..the rewriting of history is a huge huge huge topic. I dont think it can over-estimated at all the effects of this. Of course it intertwines with this value system that is implicit in narratives. I was thinking the other day of *Weeds*….which molly and I did a dialogue about. The final episode of this long (I think it was six seasons?) show was so awful, so moralistic and conservative and so undercutting of what one had been “reading” through six seasons that I think I am only now, a year later, starting to fully process it. The message of the show, at least in part, was non conformist, independent single woman negotiating the misogyny of various sub cultures and groups and of institutions…..and the hedonisitc pot smoking sub culture of the sixties lingering on in its west coast-ness…etc etc etc etc………..and then in one fail narrative swoop, in ONE episode really, this woman, Nancy Botwin, is stimatized, made to apologize and is painted and shamed as a bad mother and her promescuity is implied to be the cause of her children’s problems as young adults. And it was very dishonest because we tuned in each week to root for nancy, and to enjoy her smart , attractive,independent and yes neurotic kids as they grew up. In fact the final message was the opposite. And I bring all this up because that final episode is so representative of the culture right now. Snark, and shaming. I should open a bar and call it “Snark and Shaming”.

    Anyway, the historical revisionism is layered over the morality in many cases. There seems two versions…one is the Mad Men version in which its a period show and the cuban missle crisis is treated a certain way……or Django where slavery is treated a certain way………or it is modern day film or series in which past events are spoken of with specific slant (The chinese revolution, the cuban revolution, the USSR, or even Viet Nam or Iraq). One thing you NEVER hear…never…is anyone ask WHY a revolution took place in Cuba. Its as if this group of totalitarian and evil monsters fell from outer space and imprisons an island. Never WHY the cuban people revolted, and overthrew a dictator. Never. The revolution happened TO the cuban people, rather than the cuban people were revolutionary and radicalized by years of oppression and led the revolt themselves .

    It seems that politics is treated as somehow without historical causes. Things just are….they are commodity items….”The Viet Nam” war……just happened. The most you might get it is we are fighting communism. The absolute dire poverty of most of China, the landowners and the serfs, the slavery and rape and child labor…..all gone. Its just Mao appeared one day as a cult leader or something. And I think the result of this is that a lot of americans think of history as alien invasion from outer space. Its the alien flying saucer version of history. Mao, FIdel, and Ho Chi Minh just arrived from Alpha Centauri. Even a figure like Churchill, nasty racist colonial prick ….he has no history……or if they do a bio pic, trust me, you wont hear any of youthful speeches before the house advocating for gassing the north african savages. So…..i feel like there is reflex moralizing underneath most corporate narratives, and its often embedded in these fake histories.

    yeah, copy that.

  7. John, excellent article; incisive. I think you are right about the increasing “Security” regime that is slowly (and not-so-slowly) wrapping around our bodies. Judith Butler has been bringing this new ‘securitarian’ ideology into a higher-academic analysis. She is confronting her colleagues to address the increasingly visible and invisible ways social and public space are reversing the minor progress of the bodies on the street against oppression that was made in the 1960s… Funny as I write this I am listening to “Open Up” by Leftfield where the lyrics are “burn Hollywood down/ burn down Tinseltown/ to the Ground!” and I am thinking about Kathryn Bigelow and her war-porn videos; a radicalising of film by what was a neo-feminist filmmaker and one of only 3% of women in the official director’s guild! Did you know that 97% of directors in the guild are MEN???? So there is the patriarchy-war-paternalism-security and Bigelow’s water-boarding-is-good-for-YOUR-health Zero Dark 30 nonsense, which shows that some members of that feminist 3% are actually brokers of patriarchal powers.

    I just watched a film, excellent btw, called “As If I Am Not There” by Juanita Wilson – in this film we follow the experience of a young woman during the Bosnian-Balkan post-Communism wars – 1992 to 1995 – the concentration camps, the rapes (continual in the case of the main character), the mass graves – It really was/is a film like no other. The sombre and also human aspects of this film, with its notes to Trauma and War from this perspective of this young teacher. The narrative is un-expecting, it is hard to feel where you stand… I recommend you watch and do a review because it addresses these types of ‘intimate oppressions’ that are imbued within the very framework of our culture. Juanita Wilson is a great filmmaker so you may have already scene the film. (Note: I rarely if even recommend films so take this more seriously than a ‘causal’ recommender – those people annoy me!!!)

    On the last points, I think that memory here – the politics of it of course – but also the actually archiving and transmission of it – the ‘nuts and bolts’ of it are essential; this is especially true in the so-called ‘post-racial’ US – whereby entire narratives, histories and happenings are being disavowed, denied and obliterated. Even the much lauded Civil Rights Movement Memory is now being targeted for the neuropolitical hatchet!

    Warm regards, Eilif

  8. john steppling says:

    @eilif……….indeed, Butler is writing very interesting stuff……and exactly regards bigelow….she is to film what hillary clinton is to state department. Or Condi Rice is to both gender AND race. Bigelow became the most masculine director possible… that even her lead character (in this sense it is rather an auteur film) is much like her….woman in patriarchal world, succeeds by embracing patriarchy more than the men.

    Now per the balkans….i dont know this film, but looking at it, and seeing that its written by a Croat journalist (the fascist side in this conflict, largely) and reading that it is based on material submitted to the Hague…….oooof, well, the demonizing of Serbs vis a vis propaganda about rape camps and so forth is a highly complicated narrative. What actually DID come out during the milosevic trial at the Hague…..and my friend chris black was the leading attorney for the defense…..was firstly the corruption of the hague and carla del ponte, but also that propaganda was directed at making Serbs into demons and so forth. Stadiums full of rape victims etc, concentration camps, etc. This was largely propaganda. The NATO bombing of belgrade was a trial balloon for seeing if the US could expand NATO powers and unilaterally dictate new wars of aggression.

    here is a piece i wrote almost ten years ago now………………

    So, there are several important themes that emerge from all this. One is that the balkan narrative has been stage managed and carefully constructed since before Clinton — and that no amount of debunking of lurid propaganda from Hill & Knowlton or the Renden Group or whoever else was hired by the US govt to spin these stories ( and they continue to stick. Sometimes well meaning people simply get caught up in these narratives. Ive had countless debates with “victims” of serb atrocities etc-. Are they lying? I dont know. Obviously a lot of stuff happened, atrocities happened…..but, when these war accounts are placed within an extended narrative built on the lies of the US govt, they become something other than just personal accounts of tragedy. When Chomsky pointed out that the Srebenica “”massacre” was hardly that, and wildly exaggerated, the hate campaign against him was so extreme the Guardian had to retract the interview. Peter Handke, who defended serbs and was anti NATO, had his plays banned in France for a while. (…..

    Anyway, I almost hope to avoid the topic these days, such is my fatigue with it. And on the heels of being called bigoted about cancer or some other illness or disorder, it seems to be forming into a pattern. These are not popular positions with liberals. Why? Because the truth requires work. Its out there. The trial of milosevic was taken off TV because it was becoming a fiasco for the prosecution. Even people who have asked me for background material will stop asking once I provide some of it….they DONT WANT to know the fact because it would compromise their relationships with other liberals. How many TV shows include a Serb villain? How man show a kosovar villain or a Croat? The answer is obvious (I hope).

    and this piece describes exactly my point:

  9. John Steppling says:
  10. I”m curious to see this film – so much propagandistic shit has been made about the Balkans, but this Slavenka Drakulić whose work is the basis looks interesting;, she has recently published what looks like a fun book A Guided Tour through the Museum of Cmmunism.

    I was surprised to read a kind of romance/chick lit novel called, in Britain, “Alice’s Secret Garden” and in the US “Slave to Love” that managed to treat the problem of the propaganda about Bosnia in a way fully integrated with generic demands and psychological truth. A young woman goes into a strange funk have “fallen in love” intensely in a second of meeting the eyes of a young man crossing a street in London just before he is hit by a car and killed. She remains obsessed with him in the weeks after this fleeting encounter and researches his identity, discovering he was Bosnian. She develops a mythology about his heroism during the siege of Sarajevo, and finally meets his grandmother. The grandmother is ferociously proud of him, and then reveals that he was a sniper whose expertise was shooting a child, but not killing, to lure the mother and father out who would then all be shot. It was a surprising subplot in the middle of a romance novel and it managed to really convey that sort of baseless bewitchment television audiences in the NATO nations felt, the certainty about the reality and the emotional engagement based on these little vague prods (the glimpse of the eye before the hit and run is accepted as some kind of infallible experience of truth, a whole mythology built upon the fragment of trauma, emotionally intense and sincerely felt and false to the core) and the resistance to disillusionment.

    Even if film of this kind is very careful with history (and it is difficult to believe one could be that was financed as this one was- btw Lugan’s truth telling book on another topic chris black has tried to illuminate – Lugan’s “Contre-enquete” about the Rwandan genocide that investigates Kagame and the assassination of the presidents – is £75 remaindered paperback!), it is encouraging at this point the exploitation of its manipulations in war propaganda – training the emotions and affects to be responsive to the narrative machinery and image stimuli that you John hav been analysing in a lot of these posts.

  11. John Steppling says:

    there is a really interesting and important discussion to be had about depictions of specific violence, specific and historical violence…..and the ways in which the form of this depiction is presented……buy a ticket at a movie theatre to see Rape in Bosnia…….which is different, I think, but I open this up for discussion, from buying a ticket to see lincoln shot… some bio pic……..there is a real question lurking here about “the real”…..the treatment aesthetically of rape . Or lynching. I know that in theatre Ive never believed you can present stage violence , just as a rule of thumb , because it doesnt work, it releases something , some tension, and as paradoxical as that might sound, I think its true. This is why I dislike anything that veers too far toward the naturalistic (welll, one reason i dislike it) …..for it often aestheticizes violence…..or genocide or torture. The performative is implicated in something that is fundamentally in bad faith. And again……one can feel other questions immeditely surfacing. —– and perhaps I will devote an entire post to this.

  12. (Lugan btw is a kind of monarchist quasi fascist, action française style, like the guy who wrote Travesty about the ICTY)

  13. John Steppling says:

    John Laughland……..royalist almost, but Travesty is well researched book, and he’s a legal scholar, so thats what it is, an indictment of the ICTY.

    The problem with the topic, as with all US aggressions, is that there is a ready-at-hand supply of denouncements…..genocide denier, etc…conspiracy theorist….etc….and this is what Chomsky endured, and Handke, and even Pinter (who was part of the committee to defend milosevic). Its why I end up having a problem with Drakulic, and her love affair with Havel and western EU business interests and so forth. One saw it in Poland, too…though there it was mediated by the Church. The fact was that NATO was needed to break up the FRY…..but more importantly, to see if the role of NATO could be re-defined and function as an arm of the US military. Which it did, quite successfully.

  14. John and Molly, thank you for this enlivening discussion about the context of the film. I found it – when one watches it – to neither be pro-Croation of anti-Serbian; in fact, the notionality that the entire region was within a series of breakages, and that people were being ‘mis-identified’ etc, is largely a part of the film. Plus, it is based on the story of one woman who – in the film – radicalises the Kantian tropes of female as beautiful viz. male as sublime when she flip-flops this as a mish-mash. Also, I am interested in the work of Juanita Wilson, the director. What is your (Molly and Johns’) take on her – sorry if I missed that in the comments 🙂 Warmly, Eilif

  15. Thank you for the suggested reading list on the Balkan’s wars. Yes, I also found Chomsky’s book ‘The Thin Blue Line’ about this conflict to be very incisive.

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