Wednesday, June 11
Outrage At Administration Lying, Misses a Crucial Point
Ira Chernus, University of Colorado, Boulder
Wow. The government knew all along there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And they used that as an excuse to take us to war anyway. My generation, raised on the film Casablanca, would say “I’m shocked!—shocked!—George W., to discover lying going on in your administration.” A younger generation would say, “Well, duh!!!” I mean, what did anyone expect? A government that would tell us only the truth?
... we also need to consider the peculiar fate of facts in this postmodern world. While we quite rightly drink in the words of a Noam Chomsky or a Howard Zinn (and we should be immensely thankful for them), we would do well to give equal time to a Fredric Jameson.
Jameson taught us, better than anyone else, that the American empire rests on three legs: global corporate capitalism, digital technology, and the triumph of image over factual reality. He taught us why the empire needs each of these legs to stay stable, and how each reinforces the others in a totalitarian web of seemingly benign postmodern imperium. Most of us already understand the power of, and links between, digitized high-tech and globalization.
The crucial piece many have missed is the third leg. In postmodern capitalism, commodities are reduced to digital images, and images are sold as commodities. The images take on a life of their own. They become the reality. Reality becomes an endless commercial. Advertising is no longer just a means to an end; it is the essential activity of our whole society.
That is a simple truth we all know, because most of us live it every day. I surely do. I think The Matrix and the new Honda ad and my new screensaver are pretty cool, too.
Intellectuals like Jameson help us take the next step, to understand what happens when images replace reality.
Our society stops asking the questions that used to point the way to truth: “Does the image accurately represent the reality it claims to represent? Does it represent any reality at all?” When those questions are no longer asked, the issue of truth becomes irrelevant. [...]
So the Bush administration's warnings of Iraqi WMD were merely images, an ad campaign clever enough to sell us a war we did not need. But no one ever bought the reality, because there was no reality to buy. The public bought the commercials.
In a postmodern society, that is all we ever buy, because images are all that is for sale.
Then, when the truth hits the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, it’s only another bunch of new images. For most Americans, there can be no jarring clash between image and reality, because they long ago stopped asking about the relation between image and reality. [...]
Our outrage at the Bush administration's lies is an attack upon a symptom. Symptomatic relief is always welcome. But it doesn’t make sense to deal with symptoms and ignore the underlying disease. If you want to cure the disease, you first have to understand it. A place to start is through Jameson’s brilliant analysis. Click on LINK.
We must go on unmasking lies and presenting factual truth. It will make some difference. But it won’t make enough difference unless, at the same time, we try to rescue the very idea of truth itself, before it disappears forever into that kaleidoscope of digitized images