Friday, July 28, 2006

Image Warfare

night on the News Hour a panel session debated the media “prism” of reporting perspectives on the war in Lebanon. They made all the panel noises you would imagine, but someone then made the importantly obvious observation that what Arabs see on their television is a different war than the war we don’t see on American television. We are forbidden to see flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers, after all, and as far as the carnage American weaponry inflicts collaterally on the innocent, let’s just pretend we’re too good, morally as a nation, to bother witnessing our oops. As one panelist said, Arab television is full of images of disemboweled children and severed body parts and “pieces of flesh.” Another chimed in, “I agree. You can never overestimate the power of images.”

The Bush Administration doesn’t overestimate the power of images, which is why we don’t see the images the rest of the world sees every day. Maybe the administration believes the American public lacks the heartless fortitude to fight the war with the steely relentlessness that’s needed (should it be shown the physical reality of warfare). Maybe Americans don’t want to see images that would show Americans we’re not the blameless peaceful god-blessed humanitarians bringing democracy and Wal-Marts and apple pie to the world we claim we are. Americans can be spurred to war by stereotypes of the evil-other, but to maintain those stereotypes no humanizing images of the suffering inflicted on the evil-other can be permitted. The gutted corpse of the four year girl who may or may not have grown-up to hate America undermines the will of the sympathetically simpering, who can only enthusiastically support war if they are fully engaged with the propaganda while simultaneously remaining shielded from the carnage their engagement allows. Heaven protect our self-image, and protecting that self-image requires that all images that contradict that self-image be suppressed.

Meanwhile the Arab world sees daily not only images of crippled children and rubbled hospitals and grieving families, it sees the sanitized version of the world on American TV. The New York Time today reports that Hezbollah is winning the war of Arab hearts, and since that was their primary goal, they’re winning the war. The Arab world can turn on the television and see the devastation wrought by all sides – al-Q, Hezbollah, Israel, America – and, understanding the complexity and tortured history of the situation, that there are good and bad people on all sides, they then switch to American TV and see the candied-American version of the war, which bears no resemblance to the war they are living through, and consider.

And they can turn on the TV and see the United States President say:

"It's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability. For a while, American foreign policy was just, 'Let's hope everything is calm' -- kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th. And so we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.

"And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for. In the long term, to defeat this ideology -- and they're bound by an ideology -- you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom. And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible. And I believe it will happen.

"And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.

"For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them. And so they respond. They've always been violent.

They watch this fricking moron, and then they switch the channel and see children decapitated by US bombs. You can never overestimate the power of images. No wonder Hezbollah's winning the war for hearts. The only question is how much more anti-American hatred can we generate.


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