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All Stories Are…

The self labeled “conflict journalist” is to journalism what the WWF is to real sport. Its news-tainment.

“As ever, then, the imaginations of urban life in colonized zones interacts powerfully with that in the cities of the colonisers. Indeed, the projection of colonial tropes and security exemplars into postcolonial metropoles in capitalist heartlands is fuelled by a new ‘inner city Orientalism’. This relies on the widespread depiction amongst rightist security or military commentators of immigrant districts within the west’s cities as ‘backward’ zones threatening the body politic of the western city and nation. In France, for example, postwar state planning worked to conceptualize the mass, peripheral housing projects of the banlieues as ‘near peripheral’ reservations attached to, but distant from, the country’s metropolitan centres. Bitter memories of the Algerian and other anti-colonial wars saturate the French far-right’s discourse about waning ‘white’ power and the ‘insecurity’ caused by the banlieues – a process that has led to a dramatic mobilization of state security forces in and around the main immigrant housing complexes.”
-Stephen Graham

“Stories..every day they traverse and organize places; they select and link them together, they make sentences and itineraries out of them. They are spatial trajectories.”
-Michael de Certeau

Whenever a mainstream critic says a character or a theme is worn out, they tend to mean the opposite. For these writers, the people at places as divergent as Variety and VICE, the LA Times, or New Yorker, the reality is that in almost every instance they don’t know what it means to call something a cliche.

But I wanted to focus a moment on VICE, because they represent a new faux journalism, and therefore their betrayal is far worse. For their branding, the style codes employed, are all regressive. The orientalism, the overt masculinity, the cartoon machismo of their *field* correspondents, who of course have the same credibility as those CBS dorks embedded during the Iraq invasion. The self labeled “conflict journalist” is to journalism what the WWF is to real sport. Its news-tainment. The prose is close to Sax Rohmer. The deeper problem with this Murdoch owned faux news organization is that their political positions are decidedly pro Imperialist. Go back to their piece on the Balkans.

Never mind the egrigiously patronizing tone, virtually every single historical observation is factually incorrect. This is frat boy pretend journalism. It is racist, it is sub-literate, and so astoundingly patronizing to anyone not white and western as to be the very definition of colonialist. It is also vividly narcissistic. These are the people who one day will run banks, or become start up CEOs or some other functionary of empire, proto capitalists, secure in their privilege. This is kegger journalism, and the flip side are the more hair chested conflict hacks. If central casting had to come up with a cartoon version of clueless westerner hanging with *authentic jihadists*, VICE could provide them. These are the merc protected wanna be’s of the Newstainment industry. Remember, Murdoch runs VICE. Murdoch, you think Murdoch allows dissent? Allows anti Imperialism to have anything like an effective voice in anything he owns? The conflict journo is always accessorized with the proper *field hair* (per Letterman) and at least some native drag tossed in. The hyper masculine is always self feminizing.

The deeper issue is the ideological mechanisms at work. For even if they were factually correct, the problem would remain.

All colonial settler states are based on the violent dispossession of the native peoples – and as a result, their fundamental and overriding aim has always been to keep those native peoples as weak as possible. Israel’s aim for the Palestinians is no different.”
-Dan Glazebrook

The faux activist journalists at VICE are really just appropriating the stories of the third world to then commodify and sell as part of their lifestyle webpage. The default setting for all western journalism today, from the NY Times to WaPo to VICE is the same; it is the inherent superiority of the white western world. And given that, its not surprising that there is a tacit agreement that U.S. military intervention (and by extension NATO) is somehow just necessary.

“Amidst the global economic crash, so-called ‘homeland security’ industries – sometimes more accurately labeled by critical commentators the ‘pacification industry’ – are in bonanza mode. As the post 9/11 US paradigm of ‘Homeland security’ is being diffused around the world, the industry – worth $142 billion in 2009 – is expected to be worth a staggering $2.7 trillion globally between 2010 and 2012. Growth rates are between 5 and 12% per year.”
-Stephen Graham

The business of security is part of this default setting. The current police response to Ferguson Missouri after a police murder is an example of transferring the war zone to the domestic landscape. Never mind that half of the technology one sees trotted out in Hollywood film and TV is almost useless, the narrative is what matters ( And some of that high tech equipment serves to give a sophisticated gloss to the exercise of basic brutal force. So just like VICE, the selling of a threatening underclass which, whether in Detroit, Missouri, Iraq or Nigeria, is in need of pacification. Today’s architectural projects, from new airports to new malls, from the Olympics to financial summits, the first order of planning is the installation of security systems and personnel. There is a two way migration here, too. The U.S. prison system, largest in the world, is now the model globally, while the U.S. created conflict zones are now the model for U.S. domestic control apparatus and deployment. The pernicious part of this is the narrative eliding of context in the new infotainment business. The reductive narratives of Empire. These are the presentation of the most lurid aspects of war zones and conflicts, and the erasing of the historical record, because, well, history is so boring.

Michael de Certeau wrote about the celestial eye of medieval painters. He rightly suggests that today, the imaginary totalizations are increasingly hard to escape — the panoptic sense of space that today’s population of the West operates in effects a kind of blindess. The architecture of today’s star architects and their prestige projects is one in which (as I’ve said) the human perspective is removed. De Certeau calls this an opaque or blind mobility. We walk around and do not see. This is the manufacturing of a space cleansed of heterogeneity. Class and political community are not included. The relevance this has for the new surveillance society is seen in the ownership class and their semi-conscious panic. The entire basis of algorithmic and biometric surveillance and security technology, while ineffective, still plays a role in directing the ocular organizing of the world, both on a minute by minute basis, and in imaginary geographies.

This is an instrumentalization of not just systemizing information, but of predictive thinking.

“However, this ‘captured’ face image is only of use if it can be matched with an identifier. It
requires a database of face images with associated identities. Unlike fingerprints or DNA
samples, which are only collected when there is a reasonable level of suspicion of a crime, face
images are routinely collected in society by a variety of institutions, such as when we apply for a
driving licence, or a passport, or a library card, etc. It is the most common biometric in use by
humans to identify other humans. Indeed, in any western society, if one would somehow cover,
or be seen to attempt to disguise one’s face, then there is almost an immediate assumption of
guilt. One could almost say that there is an implicit common agreement to reveal our faces to
others as a condition for ongoing social order.”
-Lucas D. Introna and David Wood

It is worth pointing out that surveillance can be broadly broken down into two major forms. One is salient; observable and conspicuous, the visible, a cop with a radar gun, or any uniform taking down information. The other is silent, hidden, passive in a sense, and whose operation is often secret. Now facial recognition is based on a template, and geometric one, and there are obvious implications (assuming these technologies work, which they don’t) in how people will learn and adjust the reading of faces. One can imagine the atrophy of subtle facial readings by other humans. The look in someone’s eye starts to have less importance.

But back to mainstream criticism, which isnt really criticism, it’s reviewing. And in this context reviewing is consumer advocacy. The critic is trying to, essentially, predict the show’s popularity. He or she may or may not contribute to that popularity, but more often the role of entertainment reviewer is to validate the shows that reflect what is perceived to be the consensus thinking of the public. Increasingly this means to avoid anything not flattering to the demographic targeted by the show or film. Reviewers for fiction or poetry are in an entirely different realm for the audience for new novels or poetry or even such rarified mediums as dance or symphonic music is very small. For fine arts the situation is not terribly different, but more incestuous. Galleries and curators dictate to a large degree the success of new artists. These reviewers are often nothing more than interns. Often not even paid. Some, the star reviewers, those with a brand, are widely read and compensated. But gone are the days when a Pauline Kael could invest reviewing with something like an independent intelligence and knowledge. Even a Roger Ebert stood out, even if not exactly visionary, he still cared about the idea of film as art. And he was unafraid, usually anyway, to take unpopular positions. Today the group think of reviewers reflects the consolidation of corporate media. The message of VICE covering the middle east or Balkans is really the same message as VICE reviewing movies; and the New York Times or Hollywood Reporter or New Yorker or Huffington Post about anything. The ideological underpinning is identical.

The Balkans still looms as the trial balloon for expansion of NATO, and for creating client state-lets that serve as business opportunities for the West. Madelaine Albright and her bid for Kosovo telecom (from which she eventually pulled out) and Wes Clark’s mining interests in the region are not material covered by VICE or the New York Times. The break up of the former Yugoslavia was naked western aggression. Here is a link to Ed Herman’s 2007 in depth analysis of what happened.

The linkage of VICE, Hollywood, film reviewers, and the FRY may seem remote, but stories are how we organize our sense of the world, and even of our daily lives. So a direct connection actually exists, for this is how propaganda works.

There is a reason the U.S. state department spends tens of millions of dollars every year on propaganda. The vultures that descended on the new mini states of the former Yugoslavia are the same ones plundering Africa, Iraq, and Haiti. I mention the Balkans because it probably still stands as the single most successful government PR campaign in modern history.

But nothing of U.S. foreign policy is really secret.

“As providence has it, Mr. Bush likely launched the last large-scale U.S. land war in the Middle East. U.S. funding and development of al Qaeda in the 1970s and 1980s could have taught that proxy militaries have a propensity to eventually fight their own battles. Through the CIA current U.S. President Barack Obama funded and developed the Syrian opposition that has now morphed into Islamic State. This leaves al Qaeda, Islamic State, neo-Nazi thugs in Ukraine and a few remaining dictators as the residual representatives of U.S. foreign policy in current U.S. conflicts. Lest this seem less than evident, while the U.S. undoubtedly ‘deserves’ these ‘partners,’ they aren’t likely to (mis)represent U.S. interests as enthusiastically as sequential U.S. Presidents and militaries have (mis)represented them….Finally, to U.S. President Barack Obama’s dim blather about ‘who we are’ as a people in the U.S. U.S. foreign policy in my lifetime has included grotesque slaughters against the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Iraq and ‘lite’ wars in Panama, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria and now once again Gaza. Domestically the U.S. has the largest overall prison population and the greatest percentage of the population in prison in the world. Mr. Obama himself has claimed the rights of absolute monarch to kill citizens and non-citizens alike at his whim without evidence. In Iraq the U.S. resurrected the Abu Ghraib prison and ran it pretty much as ‘one of the worst dictators in world history’ Saddam Hussein ran it. And as events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri illustrate, America is a racist, quasi-fascist open-air prison for poor people of color. This is who we are as a people Mr. Obama.”
-Rob Urie

So it is not fringe rhetoric or conspiracy theory to state the obvious. As Mr Urie says, the government dimly blathers about abstractions such as patriotism and freedom, but says nothing. And huge chunks of the populace accept this because they have been trained by faux news services, infotainments, by Hollywood narratives of militarism and white superiority, and by the billion dollar advertising industry who colonize consciousness at almost every level of our existence. They accept and will defend these lies. They embrace the familiarity of denuded language and endless homilies. One of the greatest fears of the public today is that someone might call them crazy, or a conspiracy theorist. They fear for their professional lives, and they fear being ostracized by their friends.

“police forces are getting militarized globally, and global military organizations such as the UN “peacekeepers” can be used for police purposes when they come back home. Police organizations in Europe are being gathered into multinational military structures like the European Gendarmerie Force (EuroGenFor, or EGF). Brazil’s favelas are undergoing a “pacification” process administered in large part by former UN “peacekeepers” who have been recalled from Haiti. In general, soldiers from all over the world return from occupation missions overseas, habituated to urban warfare, to serve at home in newly militarized police or private mercenary forces such as Xe (formerly Blackwater).”
-Gilbert Mercier

What is to be understood in the Ferguson police reaction, and the original murder, is that the new U.S gendarme has absolute impunity. This was true to a degree even when I was a kid. In my youth, which included a decades long interface with the criminal justice system and with cops, it was understood that the police had total and absolute power. They could and did plant evidence, they could and did beat you. I’ve had both happen to me. And I had the slight advantage, though poor, of being white. It was a given. Cops were to be feared and avoided. The roll call of Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Kendra James, James Perez, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner…are the product of a new escalation in police executions. The difference between my youth forty years ago, and today, is the lethality of police aggression. Forty years ago a cop might beat you with night stick, kick you, break your arm, but he didn’t kill you. Not as often anyway.

“The War on Drugs and the War and Crime carry a heavy price tag. A generation’s worth of “wars on crime” and of glorification of the men and women in blue have engendered a culture of law enforcement that is all too often viciously violent, contemptuous of the law, morally corrupt, and confident of the credulity of the courts. In Chicago, police ignored witnesses, dis counted testimony, as they bustled the innocent onto Death Row…Those endless wars on crime and drugs – a staple of 90 percent of America’s politicians these last thirty years – have engendered not merely 2.3 million prisoners but a vindictive hysteria that pulses on the threshold of homicide in the bosoms of many of our uniformed law enforcers. Time and again, one hears stories attesting to the fact that they are ready, at a moment’s notice or a slender pretext, to blow someone away, beat him to a pulp, throw him in the slammer, sew him up with police perjuries and snitch-driven charges, and try to toss him in a dungeon for a quarter-century or more.

The price for decades of this myth making and cop boosterism? It was summed up in the absurdity of the declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2000, that flight from a police officer constitutes sound reason for arrest. Actually, it constitutes plain common sense.”
-Jeffrey St.Clair

Stories, the narratives of the culture industry, have affected not just a mentally numb public, but it has shaped the self image of the American cop. The steriod epidemic among cops is widely known, documented, but rarely reported. The steady diet of police drama in which heroic police violate all civil liberties and basic evidentiary protocol has provided the white affluent class with the mind set of the fascist. This is joined at the hip with the also constant fear mongering. The demonizing of the poor. The criminalizing of everything.

“The truth of the matter is that Michael Brown was murdered for walking in the street while black. The cop who shot him several times, even while he begged for his life, committed murder. He was not in any danger, except perhaps in his own mind. As the police response to the protests against the murder proved in a very graphic way, this cop was part of a force whose first response is to weaponize on as grand a scale as possible. The fact that a fair number of US residents seem to support the cop and the department he belongs to is evidence of a very disturbed society. It is not a society that believes all of its members deserve the same justice. In fact, it is a society that seems to consider its poorer members as something approaching savagery.”
-Ron Jacobs

Stories. The stories told and re-told nightly in kitsch entertainment product. The public that supports the police is one that perceives poor neighborhoods, of any color, but especially black, as strange frontier regions from which only the thin blue line protects them. This is a manufactured mythology. But it is part of the same fabric of myth found at VICE, or FOX News, or CNN, or the Washington Post. It is exactly the psychological ligaments connecting the valorizing of Quintin Tarantino and 24 with State Department propaganda about ISIS and the Ukraine. It is the same story that was told about Milosevic and those non-existent rape camps, or with the Israeli settler/colonizer as victims of dastardly Arab malfeasance, or babies torn from incubators or yellow cake or those evil socialist dictators in Latin America. This is why even when VICE tells the truth (accidently, or on purpose) they are lying. Because you cannot, finally, separate the ideological frame from the picture within the frame.

I have said all stories are crime stories. But all stories are also travel stories, as Michael de Certeau points out.

“Every story is a travel story — a spatial practice.”This is why the deterioration of culture is so significant. Stories are a labor that transforms the map into the tour (per de Certeau). The ever more reductive stories of Empire are now transforming public space into distinct class segregated areas of fear or safety. The imaginary totalizations of the public exist in a dialectical tension with that propriator class that helps actually build the material world we live in. New buildings in that sense reflect the stories being told. Gentrification of old neighborhoods reflect this same narrative.

“The map, a totalizing stage on which elements of diverse origin are brought together to form the tableau of a ‘state’ of geographical knowledge, pushes away into its prehistory or into its posterity, as if into the wings, the operations of which it is the result or the necessary condition. It remains alone on the stage”
-Michael de Certeau.

On early atlases as on the theatre stage, there were several forms of knowledge coming together in a ritual space. Euclidean geometry, the observations of people, handed down, or immediate, coupled to historical knowledge, cultural inheritance, formed something in which people experimented with a practice. Perhaps this is why theatre remains so disruptive and why it is always so quickly suppressed. One has to be able to see the building of a bridge as theatre. It inhabits this space where cultural memory meets instrumental logic. But is creates a new space. Or dams, or even roads.

All stories are crime stories, and all crime stories are travel stories. Or all stories are travel stories, and all travel stories are crime stories. It is probably both. It is obvious, if one steps away from the regressive pedagogy that is bound to the master narrative, that Shakespeare understood this, for his stage is alive with several registers of meaning. Genet, Pinter, Beckett; this is the essential intuited poetics at work. I believe it can happen in film. Maybe this is what mise en scene really means, I don’t know. Pasolini, Bresson, Dreyer, Fassbinder, Antonioni, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Tarkovsky, and perhaps a few others. This is a society in general that has lost that sensitivity. The ability to deeply place these vectors of meaning. If space is being rendered opaque, but marketed as transparent, then a certain sensory shut down is bound to follow. The culture industry then doubles down on the pornographic, and the literal. Today’s kitsch film is without subtext. To watch, say, Django Unchained is to see what the disappearance of sub-text means and feels like. There is no uncanny in Tarantino, just as there is no uncanny in James Cameron or Speilberg or anyone working in Hollywood features.

Ron Jacobs has a telling post script that I shall end with:

“Missouri has an especially racist legacy. The last of the slavery states, it was a launching pad for numerous raids into Kansas by slaveowner militias hired to turn the vote in that state in favor of the slavers. It was from Missouri that raiders went to the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas and burned it to the ground. This led to a guerrilla war that involved John Brown and his band. Symptomatic of the US’s racism is how so many history books cover that war. John Brown’s campaign is consistently labeled as murderous, while the actions of the raiders is often portrayed as a response to Brown’s tactics. This is despite the well-documented attacks on Lawrence, including one known in history as the Lawrence Massacre. The coverage of the Michael Brown murder in the mainstream press suggests that the actions of those who carry on the raiders’ task (in this case the Ferguson police) continue to be excused for their violence.”

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