The Berlin Wall Phase Of The War Spectacle

If there's a talent for which the broadcast media are too seldom given credit, it is the facility for turning any event, no matter how dire or gruesome, into a marketing opportunity. The product (audience) is sold to the advertiser; the value of the product is chiefly its size (the more eyes that can be lured to a network, the better, which means that content must appeal less to specialists and more "to average people"), and the size expands according to the degree that external circumstance can be enlivened by shrewd audio-visuals and made salable by family-friendly editorial. Thus, coverage of the Iraq war that can't readily be distinguished from slick movie trailers: lead-ins, for instance, that are both dramatic and a tad chauvinistic; drum-laden music that is jumpy but has that "patriotic feel"; pictures and montages, not of dead children or screaming mothers or blood-stained streets, but of handsome, valorous soldiers, sometimes caught tending to the enemy's sick and wounded, other times standing fearless in the height of battle. The product is meant to sell, as a movie is meant to sell, and no reasonable person should ever expect a convergence between bottom-line imperatives and deep explorations into social truths.

The spectacle has already reached its Berlin Wall moment -- the moment when a coveted statue of S. Hussein tumbled amid crowds of cheering and excited people (in 1989 the wall was chiseled away, and the mood was equally celebratory). There's the illusion of a happy ending, military victory being confounded, even if momentarily, with the story's last chapter. There's the gloating value of the moment, war enthusiasts everywhere being able to share vicariously in the victory and snicker at every naive and wrongheaded opponent (including, presumably, existing allies). There's the claim that military victory has justified the rationale to go to war; here the heart tries to convince the head, for who can look at torture chambers, smashed statues, torn posters, cheering throngs, and the disappearance of a despot and doubt that the adventure was worth it?

And the "lessons to be learned," at least as the reigning species of pundits will likely interpret them? That war isn't all that bad; that a colossal military (getting fatter all the time) can take a nation further than endless negotiations with troublesome allies and countless foes; that the United Nations is irrelevant, a hindrance to America's benign foreign policy; that television broadcasts full of jingoists and chauvinists and devoid of moral criticism "really work." Expect Berlin Wall 2 to be shown over and over again, and tirelessly invoked to mute the voices of scepticism and internationalism.

(Tim Ruggiero, April 9, 2003)

(Further Reading: Chris Hedges, "The Press And The Myths Of War")

- Return Home -