Volume 11, Number 3 (August, 2014)
Author: Justin MacIntosh
This is the fatality of every system committed by its own logic to total perfection and therefore to a total defectiveness, to absolute infallibility and therefore irrevocable breakdown: the aim of all bound energies is their own death. This is why the only strategy is catastrophic, and not dialectical at all. Things must be pushed to the limit, where quite naturally they collapse and are inverted (Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death: 4).
This thesis explores the principle of symbolic exchange through the deaths of 96 spectators at Hillsborough football stadium on April 15, 1989. My methodological approach will be that of symbolic exchange in Jean Baudrillard’s usage ( 2004), present, for example, in the “field of language”, including writing or inscription which is used in defiance of the system (195), and method assemblage in John Law’s usage (2004), which uncovers multiple realities and alternatives which remain outside of traditional ‘Euro-American’ metaphysics – the sense that the real is relatively stable, determinate, and therefore knowledgeable and predictable” (2004: 144).
Baudrillard’s ‘symbolic exchange’ (2004), developed from Marcel Mauss’s description of the symbolic order in archaic societies ( 2004), which he understood to be a vital part of these societies, found in the activities of gift-giving, feasting, gathering and initiatory ceremonies. Modern society has increasingly given over to simulation which tries to abolish these symbolic obligations, however, Baudrillard following Mauss, maintains the symbolic resides below the surface. My research focuses on events surrounding ‘Hillsborough’, including events on the day, mass media coverage, and official reports into the ‘tragedy’. My conclusion supports the notion that ‘Hillsborough’ cannot be explained by singular realities of ‘Euro-American’ definitiveness, and can have no resolution in the modern society as implied by the system. It remains an event that resides in the symbolic order, and our continued fascination with it is due to sacrificial death.
BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation
CCTV: Closed-circuit Television
FA: Football Association
SYP: South Yorkshire Police
The event ‘Hillsborough’ is widely recognised as the death of 96 Liverpool spectators on the terraces of the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, that occurred on April 15, 1989 at a Football Association (FA) Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. I explore the principle and theory of symbolic exchange in Baudrillard’s (2004) usage through the potlatch and sacrificial death. My methodology will be in Law’s (2004) usage of method assemblage as a process of “crafting and enacting necessary boundaries between presence, manifest absence and Otherness” (Law, 2004: 144), and additionally, Baudrillard’s usage of symbolic exchange in the process of writing to be used in defiance of the system. For an account of symbolic exchange we need to return to the archaic societies.
Jean Baudrillard developed his theory of symbolic exchange from Marcel Mauss’s The Gift ( 2004), a French anthropologist. In The Gift Mauss detailed intense, and sometimes violent, acts of gift-giving in archaic societies, known as a “system of total services … strictly compulsory, on pain of private and public welfare” (2004: 7). A gift contained the spirit of the giver, and was also present in the gift itself (2004: 13-16, 57-59): “Two essential elements in potlatch proper can be clearly distinguished here: the honour, prestige, and mana conferred by wealth; and the absolute obligation to reciprocate these gifts under pain of losing that mana, that authority – the talisman and source of wealth that is authority itself (Mauss, 2004: 11).
For Mauss and Baudrillard, this potlatch and gift giving still exists in our society today, hidden beneath the surface, present, for example, in the winter festivals, birthdays and weddings. We understand the obligation to give gifts to friends and family, the antagonism, rivalry and anxiety to buy the correct gift, and when we receive a gift, the need to return that gift at the appropriate time. If the gift is not returned it can cause embarrassment or even a collapse of the friendship.
For Baudrillard, the system has given us many gifts which we cannot return: a name, a sex, an education, a race and a biological death. Because we are given more than we can return, we are pot-latched: humbled, humiliated, indebted and obligated to the system (Pawlett, 2012). However, for Baudrillard, this power can be overturned by the ‘counter-gift’ or contré-prestation, contained in the potlatch of the archaics. It is this ‘counter-gift’ which symbolically paralyses the system and implodes it as: “a gift to which it cannot respond save by its own collapse or death. … The system must itself commit suicide in response to the multiplied challenge of death and suicide.… All these institutions … are there so that no-one ever has the opportunity to issue this symbolic challenge, this challenge to the death, the irreversible gift which, … brings about a victory over all power, however powerful its authority may be (Baudrillard, 2004: 37-8).
The archaics, or ‘primitives’ as Baudrillard sometimes referred to them, overcome biological death in symbolic exchange. The terms of death, birth and disease held no meaning for them and death was only ever a “reciprocal-antagonistic exchange between the ancestors and the living. … a circulation of gifts and counter-gifts …” (Baudrillard, 2004: 131, 188). Their society is a symbolic order, as opposed to our modern symbolic disorder, which includes the cyclical symbolic exchange of gifts between the living but also with the dead. For the archaics, death existed in parallel with life and is part of the ‘social’ order (Baudrillard, 2004: 131). “Death is nothing other than this: taken hostage by the cycle of symbolic exchanges” (Mauss, 1968, in Baudrillard, 2004: 134) and, for Baudrillard, “it is exactly the same for us”, existing below the surface of simulation and signs in this intertwining of symbolic exchange and simulation he terms a ‘dual’ or ‘duel’: a ‘duel’ as in a challenge, as well as the ‘dual’ form, spiralled together, inseparable (2004: 2, 134, 138).
For the archaic societies, initiation allowed death into the social, causing the living and the dead to symbolically exchange with each other (Baudrillard, 2004: 131-32). Initiates were symbolically put to death: “consumed by their ancestors, … [reborn to] ‘cultural’ parents, who instruct them, care for them and train them … they pass from natural, aleatory and irreversible death to a death that is given and received, … Initiation is the crucial moment, … the darkroom where birth and death stop being the terms of life and twist into one another again; … to turn the initiate into a real social being (Baudrillard, 2004: 132).
For Baudrillard, in our modern era, life and death were separated by the Church and the State, this separation introducing a range of binary oppositions which constructed the ‘real’ through signs and simulation (2004: 130, 144). They can quite easily be reversed against the system putting: “an end to the linearity of time, language, economic exchange, accumulation and power. … The symbolic … puts an end to the real, … It is the u-topia that puts an end to the topologies of the soul and body, man and nature, the real and non-real, birth and death. In the symbolic operation, the two terms lose their reality (Baudrillard, 2004: 2, 133).
For Baudrillard, the system tries to ‘bar’ symbolic exchange through the deployment of the Saussurian bar (/) which literally forms a ‘bar’, a division between binary oppositions so they cannot symbolically exchange with each other (2004: 130), for example, male/female, straight/gay and white/black.
For Baudrillard, the split between the archaic societies and the modern world began when the Church dismantled the symbolic primitive community and replaced it with “the management of the imaginary sphere of death” (2004: 144). The creation of an ‘afterlife’ and the accumulation of material goods reduced the incessant circulation of gift-exchange in the symbolic order (2004: 145). The State went further, bringing the religious afterlife into life itself, making life as an imaginary “objective afterlife” and removing the symbolic demand, replacing it with political economy (Baudrillard, 2004: 144-45, italics his). Therefore, whoever holds control of our imagination holds power over us.
The dead are excluded from our modern society, as for Foucault ( 1989) the mad were excluded from society by power and examined pedagogically. The dead are prejudiced against, banished to urban ‘ghettos’ on the edge of towns where they “cease to exist. They are thrown out of the group’s symbolic circulation” (Baudrillard, 2004: 126, italics his). The system, through modern science, takes death away from us and reduces it to a form of ‘natural’, biological death that is deemed acceptable into ‘old age’: “[T]he only good death is a death that has been defeated and subjected to the law: … Our whole culture is just one huge effort to dissociate life and death, … The elimination of death is our phantasm, and ramifies in every direction: for religion, the afterlife and immortality; for science, truth; and for economics, productivity and accumulation (Baudrillard, 2004: 147, 162).
For Baudrillard, our lives are based on accumulation through economic value, the final balance being our own death of ‘no-value’. Therefore, this desire to regain control of our own death is felt within each and every one of us.
For Baudrillard, violent death is fascinating for us moderns as it is the only kind of sacrifice that we have today, and explains why we are fascinated by terror, natural ‘disasters’ and events such as ‘Hillsborough’. “Violent death changes everything, slow death changes nothing, for there is a rhythm, a scansion necessary to symbolic exchange: … [and so] we dream of violent death” (Baudrillard, 2004: 40, 43). This sacrificial death cannot be simulated, which is why the system at ‘Hillsborough’, represented by police, medical staff, stewards and officials, could not effectively respond to the immediate events and hence symbolically collapsed.
I have provided a lengthy discussion on symbolic exchange according to Baudrillard and Mauss, as it is fundamental to understanding my project. It is also important to contrast it with Law’s (2004) usage of method assemblage because I believe that it also opens some key areas of the discourse surrounding ‘Hillsborough’. For Law, archaic societies, such as Aboriginal Australians, have no singular explanation as to how things came to be and nor is there any ‘locked-in’ reality surrounding events. For example, in the story of Uluru, in central Australia, “[i]ts formation and the creation of its specific characteristics are the outcome of several stories which are not necessarily connected” (Kerle, 1995, in Law, 2004: 125). For the ‘Euro-American’ reality, Uluru is the result of billions of years of geological manoeuvrings (Law, 2004: 127). “Euro-American method assemblage … is ontologically single, and therefore inhabited by a finally limited number of objects, forces and processes that may be more or less well known” (Law, 2004: 137). For Aboriginal Australians, the ‘actors’ in their stories are also “located in naturally occurring objects such as rocks, trees, winds, cloud formations …” (Law, 2004: 133), whereas in ‘Euro-American’ thought these objects are classified as Otherness. According to Law (2004), we can remake our method assemblage which may look something like this: “the crafting, bundling or gathering of relations in three parts: (a) whatever is in-here or present (for instance a representation or an object); (b) whatever is absent but also manifest (it can be seen, is described, is manifestly related to presence); and (c) whatever is absent but is Other because, while necessary to presence, it is also hidden, repressed or uninteresting” (Law, 2004: 144).
What is manifest in accounts of ‘Hillsborough’ is the recognition that there are many truths and ‘realities’ in any such event: there are many witnesses and therefore interpretations. The method of official reports seek to construct this reality using a ‘hinterland’ of interviews, autopsies, witness statements from officials and spectators, legal documents and judicial thought processes which produce a ‘reality’ rather than explain it (Law, 2004: 6). These are the ‘in-here’ objects and things that are ‘present’, and conversely, ‘out-there’ objects present by their absence (Law, 2004: 84) are: the movements of large numbers of people, the layout of a 100 year-old football stadium, why some gates remain locked and others unlocked, why people make decisions that they do, why people ‘freeze’ when confronted with death and why the system imposes a time of biological death. Finally, there is an Otherness that remains hidden from these reports because they exceed our capacity to know them in such a formalised context (Law, 2004: 84-5). For instance, maybe further deaths were prevented for reasons that are not so systematically understood. For example, 730 spectators were injured at ‘Hillsborough’ (Taylor, 1989: 18) and therefore the death toll potentially could have been much higher. It may be that instead of the ‘failure’ of police to manage the crowd, their ‘poor’ crowd management, gained through years of near misses and incompetency, actually prevented further deaths. For Law, “[t]o acknowledge a set of non-coherent realities that escape a single narrative … Those may be cruel realities, but a politics that does not apprehend and make them is also the enactment of its own exquisite form of cruelty” (2004: 97). It then holds that although these instances cannot be measured ‘in-here’ they are nevertheless worthy of consideration. Above all, they challenge us to look beyond the desire for certainty and a singular reality, because maybe there is none. An event such as ‘Hillsborough’ is “vague and indefinite because much of the world is enacted that way” (Law, 2004: 14, italics his) and we must not allow ourselves to become wrapped up in simulated singularities, but accept that events are “complex because they necessarily exceed our capacity to know them” (Law, 2004: 6, italics his). This is where Baudrillard and Law meet, a meeting that acknowledges that the symbolic takes part in our society, regardless of whether the system allows for it.
III. The Literature on Hillsborough
Since 1989 there has been much written about ‘Hillsborough’. Alongside the large contribution from the mass media in the form of reports and documentaries, there have been some attempts to engage with critical theory on ‘Hillsborough’ and some attempts at empirical evidence gathering. However, while these accounts aim to present a definitive account of events, they all seek a singular reality and rely on existing simulations.
Hazel J Hartley, in Exploring Sport and Leisure Disasters: A Socio-Legal Perspective (2001), approaches the subject by applying a socio-legal critical theory, arguing that disasters are not only Acts of God but they can also be creeping disasters caused by years of poor management. It is the neglect of these systems that leads to a catastrophic moment (pp.1-25). She devotes a chapter of her book to the “The 1989 Hillsborough Football Stadium Disaster” (pp.151-220), as she tells a version of it using evidence predominately from the Taylor Report (1989). Her account is a comprehensive examination of events, but it is clearly located in an empirical singular ‘reality’ of how events occurred. Hartley also refers to ‘Hillsborough’ as a ‘disaster’ and thus by labelling it so, actually reinforces the system’s understanding of it and restricts her intervention.
Hillsborough (1996, director: Charles Mcdougall) is a docu-drama following the journeys of four people who died that day and their families. It is an intensely emotional account, very subjective, as the makers of the documentary make it very clear that they hold the police wholly responsible for the safety of spectators at Hillsborough that day. The Liverpool spectators and families are wholly sympathetic characters based on real-life people. It presents them as honourable, caring and happy individuals in a drama acting out ‘real’ stories, while portraying the police and officialdom as mean, nasty, neglectful and inhumane. The drama alleges that key evidence went missing from official investigations into ‘Hillsborough’ and that the Coroner’s verdicts of ‘accidental death’ were wrong. As a docu-drama its format follows events in a clear linear narrative with a beginning, middle and an end. While it may contain elements of truth, it is simulation and a subjective account.
Phil Scraton is a criminologist who has been writing about ‘Hillsborough’ for many years, developing a close relationship with families of the dead. As a confessed Liverpool supporter, his account has to be considered as subjective. In his book, Hillsborough: The Truth, he proposes from his title to offer the definitive account of what happened (as opposed to The Sun’s ‘The Truth’). As we know, this singular truth is not possible, and while his intention is an opposing truth from The Sun’s, he is forced to play on their terms, and therefore that of the system, of a singular ‘reality’. What does comes across is the Liverpool story, sympathetically told, involving a cover-up by police, the government, the judicial system and the systematic abuses by those three agencies. His story is a chronological, empirical account of ‘Hillsborough’, using much evidence that he has collected himself through personal interviews, by attending the original Coroner’s inquests and through being closely involved with the families of the dead and their campaign for justice. He completely exonerates Liverpool spectators, even to the extent that events at Heysel stadium in 1985 were caused “by a small group of violent English men” (p. 30). He presents them as being unwilling victims at Hillsborough, because of lax safety standards, right-wing policies and the ‘lens of hooliganism’ that made them into convenient scapegoats. His is a member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP).
The Taylor Interim Report (1989) is the government’s official enquiry into ‘Hillsborough’. Therefore, it is located in the method assemblage of governmental reports, and gathers available evidence to present a singular reality. This is evidenced in headings that underline the search for a singular reality such as: “What Happened at Hillsborough?” (p. 4) and “Why Did it Happen?” (p. 20). Further, attempts to stifle other realities are manifest in statements such as: “I have not burdened the narrative with citations from the evidence of individual witnesses” (p. 19), which seeks to take individual realities away from the report. Additionally, he thanks witnesses for giving “a full and frank account of what happened …” making it clear that he believes that there is a singular ‘reality’. The second Taylor report, the Final Report (1990), outlined new safety measures for British football grounds.
The HIP report (2012) is different from the Taylor report because not only does it assess all published evidence, some of which was not available to the original Taylor enquiry, it consults with families of the dead and the three established support groups: Hillsborough Family Support Group, Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough, to accommodate their views as part of the government remit (p. 4). This could be seen as an attempt by the system to silence those most in opposition to the previous official view of the event, by allowing them ‘access to the system’. Additionally, this report makes the distinction between the bereaved families and the support groups (p. 1), alluding to distributions of power. In the media discourse, those families that are not affiliated to the ‘official’ support groups are often not heard from. Therefore, this could be seen as the established groups actually playing on the exchange of political power and becoming part of the system. The panel is chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, which could be seen as the Church attempting to monitor the sphere of death, as Baudrillard argues. Additionally, the report claims to foresee the ‘disaster’ (pp. 6-7), identifies systematic alterations to police statements (pp. 22-24) and refutes allegations of blame cast by the mass media onto Liverpool spectators (pp. 24-26). It also concludes that 28 lives could have been ‘saved’ (p. 178), although 41-58 lives is suggested in the wider media from a further ‘unofficial’ disclosure by a panel member (Dr. Bill Kirkup, 2012, in Townsend, The Guardian, 2012), further highlighting the role of science in holding power in the realm of biological death, as Baudrillard argues. This scientific view, could be seen as offering scant consolation to those whose family and friends died, for it makes death more intangible.
My research takes and entirely different approach to ‘Hillsborough’ by utilising the methodological approach of John Law and the theories of Jean Baudrillard and Marcel Mauss of symbolic exchange as introduced above.
‘Hillsborough’, as a national ‘tragedy’ has been buried beneath layers of ‘simulation’. “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory−precession of simulacra−that engenders the territory … (Baudrillard  1994: 1).
‘Hillsborough’ is a simulation, which means that someone learning first-hand about it today would have their experience of it formed and influenced, preceded by, a combination of newspaper reports, televisual montages, the justice campaign and official inquests and reports. This fictitious person would never understand the ‘real’ event because their experience of the subject would be preceded bysimulation that is more real than real: hyperreal. There is too much ‘reality’ surrounding ‘Hillsborough’ and this makes the event too ‘real’. These simulations present themselves as ‘truths’ but only create an illusion behind which ‘truths’ exist, that remain difficult to uncover because they are necessarily complex. The system (for Baudrillard, this is Capitalist or Marxist) uses ‘Hillsborough’ as a ‘disaster’, as ‘tragedy’, to form its own ‘truths’ about the event, but these labels only reinforce the system’s power by reclaiming it on simulated grounds.
Two constructed simulations take either of two positions: that Liverpool spectators were to blame for their own deaths, or, that the police, medical services and other officials were negligent in their duties and did not provide a ‘safe’ venue for spectators and contributed to their deaths. The first of these simulations was formed by the newspaper and televisual mass media during and directly following the event. ‘Hillsborough’ the event was captured ‘live’ by BBC’s Match of the Day and the 71 hours of CCTV footage (Taylor, 1989: 2). In the days following, ‘realities’ were constructed by the mass media, expressly led by The Sun,who titled their front page “The Truth” (Arnold and Askill, The Sun, 1989). It blamed Liverpool spectators for the ‘tragedy’, by accusing them of arriving to the ground late, drunk and without tickets. They were also accused of pickpocketing the dead, urinating on them, the police, and asking to see a dead woman’s breasts.
Secondly, in the case for the spectators, the influential docu-drama, Hillsborough, placed the blame for the tragedy on the incompetency of the South Yorkshire Police (SYP), a cover-up by authorities of what really took place and questioned the imposed time of death by the Coroner up to 3.15pm. What may be true is that neither of these ‘realities’ is entirely true: that there are truths present in both but they are constructed amongst other ‘realities’ which also include the accounts of 54,000 people who were there on that day.
The first simulation, that spectators caused their own death, has now been entirely discounted by the system because of another simulation, the release of a new report from the HIP (2012) which is now the new official singularity for the ‘tragedy’. It has led to another new, future inquiry into the ‘tragedy’, the overturning of the original Coroner’s verdicts of ‘accidental death’, the potential prosecution of police officers involved in a ‘cover-up’, and an apology from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to the “families of the 96” (Channel 4, 2012), which could be seen as a disguised attempt by the system to regain control over the event, and importantly, the dead.
Since ‘Hillsborough’, there have been two government commissioned official reports into the ‘tragedy’. These are Lord Justice Taylor’s Interim and Final Reports in 1989 and 1990 and more recently, the HIP Report in 2012. The Taylor Reports were asked “to inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday football ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events” (Taylor, 1990: 1). The implication of blame and a ‘reality’ is maybe manifest in the wording: “needs of crowd control and safety”. The enquiry received 2,666 phone calls from the public in addition to 3,776 statements and 1,550 letters to ministers and to Lord Justice Taylor himself. However, only 174 witnesses attended the enquiry because Taylor was: “satisfied that they were sufficient in number and reliability to enable me to reach the necessary conclusions. To have called more would have prevented me from presenting an interim report in the required time and would have not added significantly to the relevant evidence” (Taylor, 1989: 2).
It is an appraisal of events which alludes to the conclusion that realities are “not explained by practices and beliefs but are instead produced in them” (Law, 2004: 59).
The HIP report was asked to “oversee full public disclosure of relevant government and local information within the limited constraints set out in the Panel’s disclosure protocol” (2012: 4). Allegorically, the “full public disclosure” suggests that ‘realities’ had been hidden from the public, that they now needed to be examined in a Foucauldian atmosphere ( 1990), as the system responded to public pressure. The report found that several factors at the ground were known to be dangerous and together “[t]hese deficiencies were well known … and the crush in 1989 was foreseeable” (HIP, 2012: 6). Which begs the obvious question: If it was foreseeable, then why did it happen? This shows how a report will attempt to create a ‘reality’ that the event was preventable and the ‘tragedy’ need never have occurred. For Baudrillard, “[s]omething or someone must have been responsible for the least accident” (2004: 161). It is part of an attempt by the system to be completely in control of ‘disasters’, both natural and man-made.
V. The Spectre of Death I: Build-up to the Spectacle
April 15, 1989 was a ‘warm, sunny day’ begin the official accounts into ‘Hillsborough’ (Taylor, 1990: 17; HIP, 2012: 3). It is an interesting phrase to begin an official report into a ‘tragedy’ and it suggests an Otherness that is not usually present in official reports. It is a statement which is made present although it is manifestly absent, allegorically suggesting that death was inexplicable on such a weather-friendly April day. The weather, like so many other occasions in British life stirred within officialdom the feelings that good things happen on nice, sunny days and bad things happen on cold, cloudy days. It concedes, allegorically, that there is an aspect of ‘mysticism’ to death on such an inviting day, and therefore, no way to place such violent death into modern ‘reality’. However, for the official reports, a singular ‘reality’ must be found for the deaths: a single, irrefutable ‘reality’, and so the symbolic was buried. The Taylor report concluded: “the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control” (1989: 49), and the HIP concluded: “the fans were not the cause of the disaster” (2012: 1). The reports lead to a singular reason of cause: a lack of control from authority.
This day was of course, amongst other events, FA Cup semi-final day. The teams contesting the Cup tie were Liverpool and Nottingham Forest who were two of the more successful clubs from the 1980s era. In all possible ways, the match was to be a simulation of the previous year, the 1988 semi-final. Same teams, same venue, same occasion. The match was expected to proceed over 90 minutes plus injury-time and a winner would advance to the final at Wembley. Over the course of the day, some 54,000 spectators, would weave a passage from their home to the ground, around the ground and home again. Some movements would be quite random and others would be pre-meditated and functional. The majority of the spectators came from Liverpool which lies to the North-West of Sheffield and Nottingham which lies to the South. The system, here represented by the leaders of the SYP, made a decision, ‘in-here’, that the layout of the 100 year-old Hillsborough ground encouraged a logical path from Liverpool across the Pennines to the Leppings Lane and North Stand areas of the ground, and from Nottingham, north along the M1 motorway to the Spion Kop and South Stand areas (Taylor, 1989: 5). It was the same arrangement as for the 1988 semi-final.
The system gives us the ‘gift’ of spectacle. For Baudrillard, it is a gift which is designed to potlatch us, to maintain power over us (2004: 36). We may pay financially to spectate at a football match but this, of course, is part of the economic exchange which supports the system. The spectacle can be at official engagements such as at a Royal wedding or at the FA Cup final. There is a simulated behavioural pattern for spectators at these events. At a Royal wedding, people line the streets of London spectating on a carriage procession from Westminster Cathedral to Buckingham Palace sending goodwill and cheer to the participants. Crowds then move to the front gates of the Palace to witness all immediate members of the Royal family present themselves on the Palace balcony. The crowds are represented in the mass media through hyperreal televised images, as good-natured and charming and there is a sense of bon homie and jouissance that mark the occasion. To some extent the same happens at Wembley in the FA Cup final. Two different sets of spectators from different areas of the country gather at Wembley in a carnival atmosphere at the climax of a long season of football. The system encourages ‘spontaneous’ displays of spectacle from the people, while maintaining a ‘tight’ systematic, police control so that overt enthusiasm and violence are contained.
For Baudrillard, to overcome the system of power symbolically, we are required to return the gift in the form of counter-gift. In Symbolic Exchange and Death (2004, orig. 1976), he makes clear that the system has violently excluded the symbolic order and the only way we can overturn this, is to symbolically violate the system by reversing the gift with a counter-gift (pp. 36-38). The system has additionally taken hold of our death through Labour and converted it into a Wage: the only way we can return it is violently through sacrifice (p.39). It is futile to fight the system on the “plane of the real” because the ‘real’ is simulated, so any revolutionary actions play directly into the hands of the system (p. 36).
The gift of spectacle contains the duality of symbolic exchange and simulation (Baudrillard, 2004: 2). Football spectators seek to take back the gift of the spectacle by imposing themselves on it. For the system, this threatens to spill over into violence, therefore it seeks to impose simulated control to prevent symbolic exchange. It additionally simulates rivalry between different sets of spectators which is shown in the televisual images of spectators before the match wearing club colours and ‘ridiculous’ hats and costumes. Some spectators take up this challenge and return it in a counter-gift that embarrasses the system by engaging in obscene chanting, fighting, drunkenness and running battles with the police. In the mid-1980s “an ecology of fear pervaded many English grounds, topophobic venues of public disorder that threatened the supporter’s safety” (Giulianotti, 1999: 74). Spectators congregated on the unseated terraced sections of the ground to watch their team and the freedom of this area encouraged boisterous behaviour, drinking, chanting and maybe violence. In two extreme examples: on March 13, 1985, at a FA cup tie between Luton Town and Millwall, violence spilled over into the arena when Millwall spectators invaded the pitch, throwing objects at police and rampaging through the town afterwards (Osborne, 2013). Additionally, in 1985, Leeds United spectators had ‘charged’ at Birmingham City spectators in the St. Andrew’s stadium, and, as police forced them back, a 12 foot wall collapsed killing two spectators (Birmingham Mail, 2011). There are many recent examples of football spectating enthusiastically spilling over during the spectacle, such as when Lazio spectators attacked Tottenham Hotspur spectators in a Rome cafè in 2012 (Rossington, Daily Mail, 2012). Or, as I finish writing this project, ‘spectacular’ outbreaks of violence occurred at the FA Cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan Athletic and at a league match between Newcastle United and Sunderland (BBC, 2013). However, this ‘real’ violence is easily dismissed by the system as it takes the high, moral ground, through its controlled arms of newspapers, television, and politicians, labelling violent spectators as uncontrolled ‘mobs’ and ‘hooligans’. Although the obsceneness of violence embarrasses it, the violence ensures that the system finds new measures to control spectators, all the while admitting that violence will always be beneath the surface (Gibson, 2013). For Baudrillard, the counter-gift needs to be on a higher stage: death.
For Baudrillard (1993, orig. 1990), once the system has conquered other peoples and cultures, it then sets about turning against its own people. In the 1980s, Liverpool was a city torn asunder by the vehement right-wing policies of ‘managed’ decline (Sim, 2013). For Baudrillard, the Thatcher government attacked Liverpool with a ‘fury’ that it had reserved for its worst enemies with a “wilful pursuit of draconian policies, policies of provocation … attempts to fill entire sectors of the population with despair, to drive them to the brink of suicide” (1993: 77, 79). Severe unemployment and social degradation led to televised riots at Toxteth and ‘charging’ in Heysel stadium, where Baudrillard counters, Margaret Thatcher turned the spectators into “commandos” and sent them abroad as carriers of “state terrorism” (1993: 77-78).
Additionally, for Baudrillard, the Liverpool spectators turned themselves into “actors”, under the watchful “gaze of the media” to “invent their own spectacle” (1993: 76). He continues: “Now is this not precisely what is expected of the modern spectator? Is he not supposed to abandon his spectatorish inertia and intervene in the spectacle himself? … Where exactly does participation pass over into too much participation?” (1993: 77, italics his). For Baudrillard, the system would prefer a simulated product devoid of spectators who “may cease to be spectators and slip into the role of victims or murderers” (Baudrillard, 1993: 80), and so “the event becomes acceptable on television’s mental screen” (1993: 79), the symbolic safely contained.
At ‘Hillsborough’, there were 1122 policemen and women on duty which represented thirty-eight percent of the total SYP force (Taylor, 1989: 7); one policeman for every 50 men, women and children present, an extraordinary presence of police at the spectacle. Every week in Britain thousands of police were required to supervise spectators, stretching the system’s resources. Such a saturation of police, compared to those patrolling the remainder of the South Yorkshire community alludes to presence made by its absence that spectators were ‘safer’ than others in the community. The FA Cup semi-final was a spectacle that was to be simulated as a hyperreal version of the spectacle on television. The BBC would broadcast the match ‘live’ that day into the homes across the nation. Along with the BBC, a multitude of CCTV cameras would record 71 hours of football, all areas of the stadium and the approaching traffic of cars and people (Taylor, 1989: 2; HIP, 2012: 7). Each camera would record and transmit a different version of ‘in-here’ and ‘out-there’ events. The watching audience of millions would interpret their own version of events. Before the match, television presenters and pundits would talk about a fictional match that would never be played according to how they foresaw it. They would describe players running across parts of the ground and passing balls that in ‘reality’ would never occur. Before the kick-off they would cross to a match commentator who described the match as played, according to his interpretation of events.
At ‘Hillsborough’, the ‘in-here’ presence of Liverpool spectators became part of the spectacle as they approached the ground. After travelling by foot, train, car and bus, they congregated in their thousands (estimated over 5000, Taylor, 1989: 11) on the approaches to the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Despite gates for the stadium opening at 12 noon (Taylor, 1989: 9), spectators delayed their approach into the stadium, probably to avoid standing on a terrace for hours. There was also a social aspect of the spectacle when people meet friends, family and other like-minded spectators before the match. As kick-off drew closer at 3pm, the main concern of the spectators was to be inside the ground. Some 23 turnstiles required 24,256 Liverpool spectators to pass through to gain access to the stadium (Taylor, 1989: 5). Official reports conclude that the stadium turnstiles at the Leppings Lane area of the ground were too old and too small to allow huge numbers of people to gain access in a short space of time (Taylor, 1989: 33; HIP, 2012: 7). As the numbers of spectators increased in the area surrounding the turnstiles, people began to be crushed, moving outside of their own volition, losing their footing as they were pushed and shoved against one another which lead to discomfort and sometimes injury. People were jerked forward as their legs gave way, jabbed and prodded by elbows, shoes and heads as they struggled to remain in control. The private space of non-contact reserved for ‘normal’ life was broken as people moved against each other, felt each other’s breath, sweat and bodies. These ‘in-there’ actions were seen as a threat by the system which sought to maintain control. Some spectators were pushing from the back of the crowd while others climbed onto the roof of the turnstiles to escape the panic and crushing (Taylor, 1989: 11). Confusion reigned and a policeman conceded that “the position was useless from a control point of view” (Cammock, 1989 in HIP, 2012: 322). The police struggled to maintain control as, for example, a CCTV image shows a horse rearing against the crowd as the policeman seems distressed, lashing out against a spectator who seems to be squashed by the horse (Taylor, 1989: 34). Another policeman described how the “people were getting hysterical around me both male and female and begging for help. … The situation was literally out of control. … I tried 3 [sic] times on my radio to contact ground control but received no answer” (Cammock, 1989 in HIP, 2012: 322). Radio contact was widely reported by the police and emergency services as non-existent at crucial times during the day and there is never any satisfactory explanation for this (Taylor, 1989: 54; HIP, 2012, 324-28). This Otherness could be seen as the symbolic beginning to break through the surface of simulation. For Baudrillard, this was not the ‘real’ violence against the system as seen in previous bloody battles; it was more of a challenge on the symbolic level.
VI. The Spectacle of Death II: Counter-gift and Sacrificial Death
Sacrificial death is the only way in which passion can be aroused for death in our modern society (Baudrillard, 2004: 164-66). Sacrificial death for the ‘primitives’ was a “cursed” and misunderstood death, as death was freely exchanged in the initiatory ceremonies of life and death (Baudrillard, 2004: 132, 164). Because our biological death is given by science, sacrificial death claims back our passion for death: “because it works on the group itself, and because in one way or another it transfigures and redeems in its own eyes. All passion then takes refuge in violent death … something like sacrifice … through the will of the group. And in this sense, it matters little whether death is accidental, criminal or catastrophic: from the moment it escapes ‘natural’ reason, and becomes a challenge to nature, it once again becomes the business of the group, demanding a collective and symbolic response; in a word, it arouses the passion for the artificial, which is at the same time sacrificial passion” (Baudrillard, 2004: 164-65).
At ‘Hillsborough’, the system began to collapse as it failed to respond to the ‘in-here’ human crush developing outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles. All attempts to restore control, through tannoy speaker, police presence and police horses failed and eventually senior police, fearing deaths outside the stadium, instructed Gate C to be opened on the right-hand side of the turnstiles to relieve pressure on the crowd (Taylor, 1989: 11-12). This happened at 2.52pm which allowed approximately 2000 spectators to enter the stadium (Taylor, 1989: 12). It appears that the lack of communication, due to lost radio contact, meant that spectators and police on the inside of the stadium did not realise what was happening on the outside of the stadium.
The Leppings Lane terrace had been divided into seven different sized ‘pens’ over a number of years; a series of low or high fences that were erected radially along the terrace for a combination of segregation, crowd control and safety reasons (Taylor, 1989: 4-5). A tunnel led into the middle two pens, those called ‘three’ and ‘four’, which were directly behind the goal. The capacity of the pens had already been exceeded as kick-off approached (Taylor, 1989: 11). Spectators entering a stadium less than ten minutes before the kick-off were drawn towards a central tunnel located beneath the West Stand seated area that led directly onto the Leppings Lane terrace. Spectators possibly were ‘seduced’ by the cavernous tunnel and the ‘signs’ of the spectacle as the voluminous noise echoed along the concrete tunnel, while official reports mention that it appeared right in front of them and was the easiest way to access the terrace (Taylor, 1989: 12; HIP, 2012: 38). In these reports, there is lengthy discourse about why wooden doors that were attached to the tunnel were not closed to prevent spectators heading into the tunnel, which would instead have dispersed them ‘safely’ to the near-empty pens either side of the middle pens (Taylor, 1989: 40; HIP, 2012: 8, 117-127). In the 1988 semi-final, police had closed the tunnel when they considered the middle pens ‘full’ but this year they did not, and it is never explained who had responsibility for this procedure, who was in control of this procedure and why it was not enacted (Taylor, 1989: 40; HIP, 2012: 11). The Otherness of this procedure and why it was not enacted can never be officially explained. Nor is it explored what may have happened had Gate C remain closed. The police reason for opening Gate C was that “Superintendent Marshall realised the crowd had become unmanageable … he feared fatalities would occur” outside the turnstiles (Taylor, 1989: 11). Indeed, it needs to be made manifest by its absence that deaths may have occurred had Gate C remain shut.
Despite official reports describing Hillsborough as a ‘neutral’ venue (Taylor, 1989: 1; HIP, 2012: 3), they do not allow for the Otherness that some spectators may have been aware of the layout of the Leppings Lane terrace from previous matches. Liverpool had been playing away matches at Hillsborough in the First Division for the previous six seasons and some spectators had previously complained of crushing the previous year in the Leppings Lane terraces (Taylor, 1989: 31; HIP, 2012: 5-7). The official reports blame the police for not ‘heeding’ the warnings of previous matches, as far back as 1981 when another ‘near-fatal’ crush was avoided when the capacity was exceed in the Leppings Lane terrace (Taylor, 1989: 21-22; HIP, 2012: 5-7), but they make no allowances that some spectators may have had knowledge of the terrace from previous matches. It may be that no spectators were aware of the layout, but it seems unlikely that the group of spectators in 1989 completely differed from 1988. However, it is not taken into consideration and is never investigated or explained, and remains part of the Otherness not captured by these official reports.
Those going down the tunnel would come out into pens three and four (Taylor, 1989: 6; HIP, 2012: 32). At some stage people were no longer able to divert left or right because the pens were ‘full’ and the mass of bodies surrounding them prevented movement (Taylor, 1989: 13). One spectator said: “Suddenly you couldn’t go forward or back. You couldn’t raise your arms even [sic]” (Derbyshire, in Thompson, Channel 4, 2012). Those trying to retreat found it impossible because of the mass influx of people who were in the tunnel and from those at the back who kept coming down the tunnel, until those at the front were ‘locked’ together on the terrace, unable to move (Taylor, 1989: 13). Participation in the spectacle resulted in an overcrowding in pens three and four and this line between participating in the spectacle and a deadly crush was so miniscule as to be invisible. As the game commenced the enormous pressure being applied from the people at the top of the terrace transferred downwards to the people below as spectators became ‘locked’ together. Those at the very front were pressed up against the small concrete wall and wire-meshed fences that were eight feet high and had 15 inch metal barbs at the top of them protruding 45 degrees back towards the spectators (Taylor, 1989: 4). The enormous human pressure broke limbs, bruised bodies, snapped rib cages and forced the lungs to compress as people lost their breath (Taylor, 1989: 15-18).
For Scarry (1985), pain has no language because it is difficult to find the ‘right’ words to express pain. Two people being crushed may show different signs of pain but we have a limited language for pain. Someone who experiences pain in their leg will find it difficult to describe and convey how they ‘feel’. It is difficult to comprehend what is happening. Screams of pain intermingled with screams of singing and shouting were indistinguishable at the time. Senior policemen, in an elevated control box to the right-hand side of the terraces who had the use of CCTV cameras, which had ‘zoom’ facilities, were unable to recognise pain and death (Taylor, 1989: 43). For the system, there is no sign for death so it was not clear who was dying. It can never be known when a person passes from life to death: signs are made redundant, unlike the archaic societies where life and death co-exist and freely exchange (Baudrillard, 2004: 188). Some people may have been unconscious and looked ‘dead’ but were not dead. Others may have looked ‘alive’ but they were dead. Police, prepared for outbursts of violence, and emergency services, were slow to react to death, and “[s]ome young officers were shocked into impotence by what they saw” (Taylor, 1989: 15). Police, ambulance paramedics, officials were all powerless to respond during the immediate scene of death and injury because they were unable to identify death as it was not given biologically.
While spectators were locked together with no way of escape, “[t]he football continued to joyous shouting and singing round the rest of the ground while those trapped and crushed slowly expired” (Taylor, 1989: 13). Spectators at the back of the terrace did not realise what was happening at the front and refused requests to move back out through the tunnel (Taylor, 1989: 15). The game progressed for five and a half minutes while people were alive, dying and dead (Taylor, 1989: 14). A near-miss at goal from a Liverpool player, Peter Beardsley, is when it is officially believed that crowd pressure broke a crush barrier in pen three. Ninety percent of the dead were in pen three. For Taylor, “evidence does not establish with certainty when this happened. Probably it was triggered by the surge at 3.04pm. But I am sure that it occurred after the surge from Gate C so greatly increased the pressure in the pen” (Taylor, 1989: 13). What is present by its manifest absence is that no-one knows when the barrier broke. For the police, their command had collapsed, and the senior match commander called police dog handlers to deal with the crowd and to maintain control and supress ‘violence’. (Taylor, 1989: 13).
Some spectators scaled the front of the fence and dropped to the ground while others climbed up into the seated West Stand above them where spectators above helped them up (Taylor, 1989: 15). Nottingham Forest spectators chanted derisory songs at the Liverpool spectators because they believed a ‘pitch invasion’ was taking place and Liverpool spectators attempted to confront them, but the police formed a line across the pitch and warded off further provocation as violence bubbled to the surface (HIP, 2012: 131). Masses of dead, dying and alive bodies lay at the front of the pens and were trodden on, crushed and bruised, clothes torn, and arms and legs broken and intertwined with other bodies (Taylor, 1989: 15). Some spectators began to confront those in authority, demanding action, verbally shouting insults and photographers, “avid to secure photographs at point blank range of those dying through the wire mesh and those laid on the pitch” (Taylor, 1989: 15), were also confronted. Anger at the system was beginning to spill over.
For Baudrillard, we can only give back our life as an effective challenge to the system: “so that we can respond to death only by an equal or superior death” (2004: 36, italics his). Death at ‘Hillsborough’ was at least equal to or superior to biological death and it was through this symbolic death that it symbolically challenged the system. For Baudrillard, death at ‘Hillsborough’ was transgressive and redemptive and willed through the group (all of us) because we took our own death back, and were not prevented from doing so by the system of law, science, and the Church (2004: 164-65). Because we do not really believe in the system, we know that willed death has meaning (2004: 164-65).
For Baudrillard, the rest of society found passion through sacrificial death, a jouissance in the excitement of chaos and mayhem as the spectacle was wrested from the control of the system, which redoubled in our imagination. The closest example that Baudrillard offers is the automobile accident as a form of symbolic counter-gift against the gift of driving, which offers the “collective satisfaction” of artificial death and its “aesthetic doubling” in our imagination (2004: 165, italics his). Transgressive and redemptive death explains our endless fascination with the images of ‘Hillsborough’. We watched the event ‘live’ on the hyperreal “mental-screen” of television as the match was abandoned and as we heard that people had become trapped and died violently behind large metal fences, so that it became too tragic and too real. For Baudrillard, this hyperrealisation of death was more ‘real’ than the actual act of death itself and the newspapers and televisual media presented death as simulation, making the event more ‘spectacular’ through the sensational and graphic pictures of dead, injured and terrified spectators such as: “The sad and sorry scene at Sheffield as injured fans receive attention” (Uncredited, Daily Mirror, 1989), and “Agony of trap pair … The picture which shook Britain” (Uncredited, The Sun, 1989) which shows two fans crushed against a wire fence. Those still photographic images or the endless television montages that were nauseatingly repeated, nearly succeeded in being as passionate as the death itself, but not quite. We were moved because this death was transgressive, redemptive and superior.
The same is true, for Baudrillard, on 11 September 2001, when the “malicious desire” in our hearts was glad to see the global order challenged (2003: 6). The endless montage of the planes crashing into the twin towers consumed “the event, in the sense that it absorbs it and offers it for consumption” (2003: 27). Capitalism (and indeed Marxism) takes ownership of the event, simulating it, turning it into a product that can be consumed, seizing it from the symbolic. For Baudrillard, the most extreme form of prejudice is that we segregate the dead from ‘Hillsborough’ and exploit them as consumer objects. Today, ‘Hillsborough’ is still continually consumed through montage, documentaries and reports as we try to recreate passionate death in our passionless society. For Baudrillard, this obsession of cloaking death in consumerism exploits the dead. For example, a group of ‘celebrities’, known as The Justice Collective, recorded a new version of The Hollies’ hit song, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, to assist with ongoing legal costs of the families of the dead seeking justice, timing its release to go to No.1 for Christmas (Topping, The Guardian, 2012). It merely succeeded in promoting the ‘celebrities’ and turned the dead into products to be consumed. Rather than privately supporting the campaign anonymously, the event needed to be simulated and consumed.
VII. The Spectacular Layout of the Dead: the Gymnasium and Biological Death to 3.15pm
For the archaic societies, the exchange of death was entirely reasonable: “It is remarkable that we have returned, in the heyday of the rational system and as a full logical consequence of this system, to the ‘primitive’ vision where we impute a hostile will to every event, and particularly to death. But it is ourselves and ourselves alone who are full primitives … For the ‘primitives’ themselves, this conception corresponded to the logic of their reciprocal and ambivalent exchanges involving everything around them; even natural catastrophes and death were easily intelligible through the categories of their social structures, whereas for us it is plainly para-logical” (Baudrillard, 2004: 161).
The system, through science, sought to impose biological death and take back power and place death within simulation. The dead and the dying were taken to a gymnasium and laid out. Later, the dead were placed in body bags, their faces were wiped with a wet flannel, and a Polaroid picture was taken which was placed on a noticeboard for identification (HIP, 2012: 39). The cleaning of a dead body is important for the system to retain control over death: “by dint of being washed and sponged, cleaned and scoured, denied and warded off, death rubs off onto every aspect of life. … It is necessary to ward off death, to smother it in artificiality in order to evade the unbearable moment when flesh becomes nothing but flesh, and ceases to be a sign” (Baudrillard, 2004: 180).
Until the body becomes a skeleton, when it again takes on the system of signs (a skull and crossbones), it is decomposing, and during this stage death remains a threat to the system (Baudrillard, 2004: 180-81). For Baudrillard, it is vital that the system maintains the “simulacrum of life”, whereas “the primitive concedes the dead their difference, for it is at this cost they will be able to become partners and exchange their signs” (2004: 181). Consequently, at ‘Hillsborough’, the dead were hidden from the living in a gymnasium, not allowed their “right of difference along with every chance of a social status” (Baudrillard, 2004: 181, italics his). When the relatives came to identify their dead, the body was ushered into them, where a quick identification took place before it was again whisked away from them (HIP, 2012: 39). For Baudrillard, it is dangerous for the system to allow people to proffer amongst the dead and death is made “shameful and obscene” (2004: 181). The relatives of the dead were unable to communally share with the dead, unlike the archaic society in Palermo, where Baudrillard writes that the dead were visible to the living “for the relatives and friends who used to come to see their dead, to acknowledge them, show them to their children with the familiarity of the living, …” (2004: 181-82).
For Baudrillard, “[t]his death, … must be conjured up and localised in a precise point of time and a precise place: the body” (2004: 159). Therefore, biological death was administered by the system from South Yorkshire West District Coroner, Dr. Stefan Popper as occurring up to 3.15pm. This time was arrived at because: “the pathological evidence, … is the damage that caused the death was crushing … The medical evidence was that once … that chest was fixed so that respiration could no longer take place, then irrevocable brain damage could occur within four to six minutes … I felt that the evidence which I had heard and in the light of what I had read that the latest … when this permanent fixation could have arisen would have been approximately six minutes past, which is when the match stopped” (Popper, 1990 in HIP, 2012: 296-7).
Another six minutes was added and then rounded up to 3.15pm to coincide with the time an ambulance drove onto the Hillsborough pitch (HIP, 2012: 297). This process of constructing a time of biological death, like ordering the sequence of lottery numbers, is illogical and clearly demonstrates how the system remained in control of death. For Baudrillard, science “literally produces the dead, …as a conceptual object … from which [it] can be legitimated” (2004: 152). For example, one of the dead, Kevin Williams, was still alive after the 3.15pm cut-off time according to Police Constable Bruder who testified that “there was a pulse and if that means he was alive then he was alive” (Bruder, 1991 in HIP, 2012: 308). Further, Tony Bland remained alive in a comatose state until life-support was removed in 1993 (HIP, 2012: 51-2). Therefore, it is illogical to declare that all people died up to a certain time of the day because there is evidence that this has not been the case. The futility of imposing a time of death is a desperate attempt by the system to remain in control of death. Science barred symbolic exchange with the dead.
For the system, any death that escapes “reason” is “sabotage. … An evil demon” that takes hold of events and induces a “collective paranoia” subject to the “death drive” outside of our control (Baudrillard, 2004: 161, italics his). Therefore, every ‘disaster’, natural and man-made, ‘strikes a blow to rationality’: ‘[T]he accident, like death, is absurd, that’s all there is to it. … Something or someone must have been responsible for the least accident, the slightest irregularity, the least catastrophe, an earth tremor, a house in ruins, bad weather; everything is an assassination attempt. … For no-one knows to what extent the ‘death drive’, primed by the accident or the catastrophe, may be unleashed on this occasion and turn against the political order” (Baudrillard, 2004: 161).
Hence, there is an underlying attempt by the system to take what happened at ‘Hillsborough’ away from irrationality, to administer blame, to relay justice. In short: to take it away from the symbolic and clothe it in simulation. Firstly, following the HIP report, there has been an attempt by the system to rewrite the ‘truth’ of ‘Hillsborough’ by the mass media, specifically through the newspaper medium, by reversing its original reason for ‘Hillsborough’ as being the fault of Liverpool spectators and placing the ‘real’ reason as the systematic failure of the police, emergency services and officials as the cause of the ‘disaster’. For example, The Sun newspaper,which published the original headline “The Truth” (Arnold and Askill, The Sun, 1989), changed its position after the publication of the HIP report to “The Real Truth”, saying that “[a]n independent report showed police tried to cover up catastrophic failings by disgracefully smearing Liverpool football fans, pinning the blame on them and falsifying reports” (Moriarty, Veevers and Newton Dunn, The Sun, 2012).
Secondly, justice is administered on the terms of the system. For Baudrillard, the system instils in us this ‘right’ that “[i]t should be possible for everyone to reach the term of their biological ‘capital’, to enjoy life ‘to the end’ without violence or premature death”, but this ensures society becomes responsible for the death of each individual, extending “social jurisdiction over death” (2004: 162). He is clear that this is a “repressive jurisdiction” as “[e]veryone is disposed of their death”, forced to live life as accumulation and not be free (2004: 162-63). Justice operates on the terms of political economy which can only be given through the law, financially, and through judicial imprisonment of ‘guilty’ persons, but who, as representations of the system, only imprison us. For Baudrillard, it is far better to take death prematurely than live a slow death as a slave to the system (2004: 36). Therefore, the dead are now free. Biological death cannot be reversed, but if life and death were exchanged like the ‘primitives’, biological death would also hold no meaning for us. “The symbolic is the inverse dream of an end of accumulation and a possible reversibility of death in exchange. … exchanged in a social ritual of feasting”, whereas our death is redeemed through “the individual work of mourning” (Baudrillard, 2004: 147).
After ‘Hillsborough’, the system tried to take back death by ensuring ‘safety’ for spectators, implementing a series of recommendations from Lord Justice Taylor in his Final Report which included the conversion of all stadiums to ‘all-seater’ status. (Taylor, 1990: 16). This had the two-fold effect of the system increasing control over the spectators while taking away their death by ensuring a safer space for spectators to watch a match. For Baudrillard, this ‘security’ further buries death beneath simulation and takes away our last ‘great escape’ from the system (2004: 177). “This is the secret of security, like a steak under cellophane: to surround you with a sarcophagus in order to prevent you from dying” (2004: 177). Like the seat-belt in a car which restrains us from death, all-seater stadiums ensure that we have no control over our own death. They have additionally succeeded in taking football further into the realm of political economy, increasing the economic value of the player. Spectator groups seek a return to ‘safe-terracing’ where supporters are safely contained on a simulated standing terrace (BBC, 2012). For Baudrillard, to take back our own death we would need to demand unsafe stadiums. The system maintains the gift of spectacle all the while controlling death. Now, the system seeks further control over us as it transports us into the digital (1/0) where things are either ‘on’ or ‘off’. The digital removes responsibility from a referee and places it in the hyperreal televisual images. It may soon extend that digital repression to all of us, barring us from the stadium and replacing us with pixelated dots on television, especially if violence continues. For Baudrillard (1994), the system looks forward to the future where through cloning we may never know death (or reproduction) and this will be a near-completion of its extension of control and power.
The primary aim of this project has been to find a different approach to our understanding of ‘Hillsborough’. This research is important because it uses a methodology and theory that has not previously been applied to ‘Hillsborough’. It is important to reconsider our approach to ‘Hillsborough’, especially as we enter a new phase of official inquests and Coroner’s verdicts, as the cases of the 96 dead are reopened to find the ‘truth’. This research has demonstrated that there can be no singular ‘truth’ and understanding of such an event. The nature of death on a large scale does not occur according to a particular interpretation. The official reports may have considered all the available evidence from that day, but we could consider the evidence that was not gathered in this form of method assemblage. The testimony of the dead or that less than five percent of the 54,000 spectators gave evidence to the Taylor inquiry. Additionally, our society does not take the symbolic order into consideration in this event. I have shown, through the theories of Jean Baudrillard and Marcel Mauss, that we could consider the symbolic which, for Baudrillard and Mauss, reside below the surface of our society, regardless of whether the system allows for it. The potlatch was a celebration of not just exchanging gifts but exchanging the spirit of the gift and the giver, the communal aspect coming to the fore in these societies. At ‘Hillsborough’, the counter-gift of a superior death to the biological death that we are given collapsed the system, temporarily suspending it. Sacrificial death reclaims the passion of taking our own death back from the system, with a death that is transgressive and redemptive, showing that if we take back our own death, we start taking back control of our society from the system. Our vulnerability is that we believe in biological death too much, which makes mass death incomprehensible to explain and absorb into our society. And that is the point, we should not need to explain mass death when life and death could exchange with one another, a circular pattern as opposed to a linear timeframe. That is our hope.
About the Author
Justin MacIntosh is working towards his Bachelor’s Thesis at the University of Wolverhampton, School of Law, Social and Communications, 2012-13.
The author expresses his sincere gratirude to Dr. William Pawlett for his guidance during this project.
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