Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006)
Author: Akinbola E. Akinwumi
Note: Globalization, the media and the “media spectacle” are intrinsic to the formation of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle.1
[Globalization] is a simulacrum, a rhetorical artifice or weapon that dissimulates a growing imbalance, a new opacity, a garrulous and hypermediatized noncommunication, a tremendous accumulation of wealth, means of production, teletechnologies…2
Today’s terrorism is not the product of a traditional history of anarchism, nihilism, or fanaticism. It is instead the contemporary partner of globalization.3
It was Them and Us with a vengeance now; the sweet freaks and children of nature up against the angry proprietor whose only thought was to drive them all away and sell the empty house for a fat sum. A melancholy change. Or, as some would say, no change at all, but simply the true situation no longer disguised by kindly pretences from both sides.4
It is necessary to begin by mapping the most prominent features of a landscape of the problematics and the degree to which they are interconnected.
In The Spirit of Terrorism, an unsettling book which began as an unsettling article in Le Monde, written shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Jean Baudrillard invokes aspects of his earlier work on the “spectacle” and links these with the spectacular nature of contemporary terrorism: “The spectacle of terrorism forces the terrorism of spectacle upon us”.5 Yet, Baudrillard agrees that what is really at stake in the historic present is globalization and the machinery of antagonism that moves in tandem with it. In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Baudrillard suggested that “[t]he immanent mania of globalization generates madness, just as an unstable society produces delinquents and psychopaths”. He also noted that any expressions of madness – such as terrorism – are merely “symptoms of the sickness”.6 For Baudrillard, the terror acts of September 11 were not only self-referentializing, they were a succinct expression of the self-destructive nature of the modernist enterprise.
The Spirit of Terrorism provides a sharp perspective on otherized terrorism in an age of a mediatized globalization. Indeed, while globalization has fast become liberated from the limits of traditional geography, it has nevertheless intercepted, with a kind of primal immediacy, new geographies of power – new dynamics of “us” / ”other”-centric terrorism. Baudrillard’s primary argument in The Spirit of Terrorism revolves around the issue of the global media7 and its far-reaching network – the “virtual space of the global”, “the space of the screen and the network, of immanence and the digital, of a dimensionless space-time”.8 Baudrillard points a finger in the direction of the media industry, accusing it of contributing to the deepening banality of our always problematic relation to “reality” (which is an increasingly mechanized relationship). Baudrillard strong disapproves of “the planetary ascendancy of a single power and a single way of thinking”,9 elaborating on his view that the U.S. (and, for that matter, its media culture), operating with a superpower template, dominates the globe, and creates a world of disgruntled “others.” It serves as grounds to present a revitalized supplement: that the standardization enacted by a US centered globalization constructs terrains of erasure and – programmatic – resistance along the way:
To understand the hatred the rest of the world feels towards the West, perspectives must be reversed. The hatred expressed at the West by non-Westerners is not that of a people from whom everything has been taken. It is the hatred of those who have received everything, but have never been allowed to give anything back. This is not the hatred of the dispossessed or exploited, but that of a humiliation – of those who can give nothing in return. It is this symbolic understanding that explains the attacks of September 11, 2001 – acts of humiliation responding to another humiliation.10
Globalization seeks to subsume and manipulate the spaces of otherness by invoking the vocabularies of completeness and total control impossible without the extensive globalist paraphernalia. Even more, it aids the construction of media power which in turn is necessary for contemporary terrorism to take place. On the one hand, terrorism reaches out to touch the self-conscious aspect of the times – the ocular which it frees to become entangled in the spectacular. Thus, one can safely say that much of terrorism represents the permanent tension between the gods of modernity and the demons of globalization, a cataclysmic fissure standing astride the liminal boundaries of the factual and the counterfactual. On the other hand, terrorism floats to the surface as both a resistance to and an exchange of power11 – the power of an overwhelming globalism.
The particular globalization in question is one with credentials that virtually eclipse difference and cultural individuality. Given this setting, another kind of power materializes: one that shakes the foundation of everything that is “modern.” Indeed, terrorism is undeniably a blunt assertion of this kind of power: it is the repudiation of an “us” centric modernity. Terrorism is power that makes its case known in diverse ways. At this juncture, questions arise: Are we witnessing Anthony Giddens’ vision of a “radicalized modernity”12 now fully ripened, coming to play? Is this radicalist fabrication responsible for the apocalyptic quality of terrorism, for its virulent hostility? Are the terrorists not modern(ized) themselves, even though they position themselves against the West and Western modernity?13
It is interesting that the 9/11 terrorists harnessed the power of globalization and modernity – airplanes, the Internet, and the mass media – to create terror spectacles. Yet, that they used modern methods to spatialize their own brand of hyperpower and to launch a sacrificial missile, is another source of widespread amazement. Indeed, contemporary terror spatialization is not the age-old kind of spatiality in which power circled about in a kind of monocular confinement; this kind makes a critical engagement with the globalist orbit of flows, with speed. The actions of terrorists lend credibility to the idea that this is a world in which speed seduces us with its “sweet” fruit. On the one hand, speed links with telepresence; on the other, speed is the progeny of technologization. Interestingly, speed facilitates among others the increased “derealization” of everyday life14 , and it coincides with the trend for massive terroristic visions. Paul Virilio has examined the intermeshed nature of the political economy of speed and instantaneity, information technologies, and the situation of a “lawless globalism”,15 in which telepresence assumes preeminence over real presence and the “chronopolitics of instantaneity”16 become the order of the day.
How then, does a human thinker and writer live and write in such times? How does one find the concepts to begin to comprehend the fragmentary and volatile world we inhabit but barely know as we once thought we did? How does one think not only with but beyond the horizon over which Baudrillard’s increasingly fragmentary texts disappear? How, in short, does one think and write in this state of permanent weightlessness which ultimately leaves one with a nauseating feeling at the prospect of the loss of human imagination:
We are going to end up looking for imagination in places further and further from power… Among the excluded, the immigrants, the homeless. But that will really take a lot of imagination because they, who no longer even have an image, are themselves the by-products of a whole society’s loss of imagination, of the loss of any social imagination. And this is indeed the point. We shall soon see it is no use trying to locate the imagination somewhere. Quite simply, because there no longer is any. The day this becomes patently obvious, the vague collective disappointment hanging over us today will become a massive sickening feeling.17
Set within the context of the above mapping of intertwined problematics, this paper explores the systemic connections between the myriad issues encompassing globalization, mediatization,18 and terrorism. These are also discussed in The Spirit of Terrorism. I make several references to this book as I attempt to both experience and extend Baudrillard’s thought. Specifically I attempt to think/write my way through three main things: 1) A desire to do an ontologization of the present that challenges conventional ontologies and previous imaginations of the mediatized world order; 2) A desire to map the vague contours of a theoretical construction I tentatively term “the ImMEDIAte Spectacle” and, 3) through this fragmentary lens, survey the linkages between globalization, the media, the singularization of culture, and terrorism. As such, I give consideration to the questions: what does terrorism have to do with globalization? Is globalization “image power”, seduction, an experience, a condition, a mantra? Or is it merely a smokescreen for totalizing systems of mediatized dogma, for strengthening a hegemonic globalist culture that not only destroys the basis of multiculturalism but also provokes terrorist violence? This leads me to explore the ways in which the ImMEDIAte Spectacle produces what I call the “hollowity” effect. This is also a jagged and as yet unpolished lens for viewing however partially, that which is difficult to name and which I am motivated to understand by two things: 1) A suspicion of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle and, 2) the tendency of this spectacle to homogenize culture and thus sideline the values and mores of “minor” cultural systems. It is my view that both the ImMEDIAte Spectacle and the problem of hollowity have great implications for terrorism, considering that much of the condition is the product of a disjuncture, the impossibility of an “exchange” between “us” and the “other.” While I am aware of the “sickening feeling” Baudrillard describes, and which is growing more widespread with each passing moment, I am not yet ready to sacrifice the imagination and its possibilities.
II. Mapping the ImMEDIAte Spectacle
In what has been labeled the new world order, the digitalization and virtualization of the spaces of being through a high-powered globalization, are foreshadowed new cloning effects. As techno-modernity strengthens its reach with mechanical efficiency, the subtexts of global communication overlap with socioeconomic forces, becoming radical in a no-nonsense, communicative way, hybridizing the institutions of pure representations and the holographs of audiovisualism. This is the world of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, where the manifold forces of cultural globalization take delight in mono-coloring hitherto multicolored spaces – in a rush of televisual enthusiasm – with the peculiar gray paint I term “postscriptomodernsity”.19 Moreover, we can further look to Baudrillard who had earlier insisted that we are witnessing the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene. Obscene is that which illuminates the gaze, the image and every representation. Obscenity is not confined to sexuality, because today there is a pornography of information and communication, a pornography of circuits and networks, of functions and objects in their legibility, availability, regulation, forced signification, capacity to perform, connection, polyvalence, and their free expression. It is no longer the obscenity of the hidden, the repressed, the obscure, but that of the visible, all-too-visible, the more visible than visible; it is the obscenity of that which no longer contains a secret and is entirely soluble in information and communication.20
To properly outline the ImMEDIAte Spectacle we should establish its linkages with mediatization and communication. In James Carey’s formulation, communication can be seen in a dialectical fashion, encompassing the “transmission view” and the “ritual view”. The transmission view, the type prevalent in Western societies, is one in which media act as transmission channels that convey information from one locale to another, into the minds of the end users by the way of psychic transfer, where it can decide behavior, creating a similar horizon of meaning. The ritual view conceives the transmission process of information via the media as the systematic construction of a common social system, thus evoking terms such as “‘commonness’, ‘communion’, ‘community’, and ‘communication’”.21 As such, the mass media, by creating a pattern of communicative intermeshing, establish processes through which the world is mediatized. As Lars Qvortrup succinctly puts it: “The world is not ‘constructed’, but ‘formatted’ by the mass media. ‘Our’ world, i.e., the world we accept as our common world as citizens, is not ‘reality’, but the mass media’s reality”.22 Hence, we do not own the media – it owns us. The increasing mediatization of the global cultural landscape is almost an entirely American project of globalization and it is no surprise that in this context the reciprocity between the cultures of “us” and “them” is like that of the python swallowing the hare, to borrow Benjamin Barber’s expression.23 In an increasingly hyperreal world, mediatization reflects a duality: first, the communication of a particular cultural set and – as a consequence – the construction of a membrane around the “other” culture; and secondly, its spectacularization. Yet, the scandal of the detail lies in between the spaces of the mediatized and the spaces of the spectacularized.
At this point, Baudrillard’s musings on the subject make for pensive consideration. Indeed, his views on the role of the media in formulating the globalized world are indivisibly connected to those he holds about simulations and simulacra. Baudrillard reasons that in this new stage of history, society is not only marked by the dyadic experiences of implosion and hyperreality – all boundaries are eradicated by the overwhelming power of technology. In Baudrillard’s conceptualization the mass media are “obscene”, designed to ensnare people in a seductive and manipulative world of simulacra where the boundaries between the spectacle and the real disintegrate, where even interpersonal and intercultural relations become increasingly “telegenetically modified”.24 And as such, the masses are dominated by a perverted kind of “reality” – a reality rendered “dissuasive”25 – reduced to apparently passive spectators – albeit in an ironic and dissuaded manner as “silent majorities”.26
Baudrillard sees culture and the electronic media, especially television, as being not only instruments of modernity but, as a consequence, of manipulation and domination. For him, both are capable of representing reality and for this reason able to produce an ample range of effects on the personal and social scenes, especially since they are involved in the constitution of a rather benumbing politics of everyday life. However, the media transcend the orbit of mere representation and move into the realm of the hyperreal, where “reality” loses meaning. And as the media camouflage reality, information/ communication ends up totally neutralized, rendered meaningless. “The loss of meaning,” Baudrillard writes:
…is directly linked to the dissolving and dissuasive action of information, the media, and the mass media. …Information devours its own contents; it devours communication and the social …information dissolves meaning and the social into a sort of nebulous state leading …to total entropy.27
But what is new here? In The Perfect Crime Baudrillard28 makes generous use of the ideas of simulation, hyperreality, and implosion to explicate his thoughts on a new order that feeds on the power of image-ination to create and perpetuate a false consciousness of reality. In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard opined that systemic nihilism and the mass media are responsible for the postmodern human condition, which he describes as comprising elements of “fascination,” “melancholy,” and “indifference”.29 Baudrillard is indeed famous for his concern with the process by which human beings create symbols and en-liven signs and images – graphical representations for communicating a specific perception of reality. In The Consumer Society, on the other hand, Baudrillard writes: “Like violence, all forms of seduction and narcissism are laid down in advance by models produced industrially by the mass media and composed of identifiable signs”.30 With this, the increasingly deterritorialized nature of global space means that hegemonies of a “global” culture can, like wandering ivy, transcend national spaces, to become emplaced fixities, disharmonized from actuality. So, terrorist violence can exploit “the ‘real time’ of images, their instantaneous worldwide transmission”31 and draw attention by focusing on the power of “mass fascination”32 with real time images, the ilk of what Virilio terms “the art of the lie – a series of manipulations of appearances, tricks and, in some cases, a tissue of absurdities”.33
For Baudrillard, the ascendancy and “violence” of the image signifies the concealment – even annihilation – of the real, since the real is a manufactured product. “The image…is violent because what happens there is the murder of the Real, the vanishing point of reality”.34 An image, of course, can attach a picture – however warped – to a name or a word and render non-organic wholes of disjointed subjects. Baudrillard suggests the neutralization of reality through the displacement/destruction of meaning: ours is a world where information increases substantially, but not at the same pace with meaning. So much, then, for the dynamics of meaning; utterly at odds with explicit recognition, it saps the existential force of its own elements. It has thus become clear that “where we think that information produces meaning, the opposite occurs”.35 This is an order fundamentally illusory, ephemeral, and meaningless because information is dictated, valorized and sensationalized by the ImMEDIAte Spectacle.
Yet, the ImMEDIAte Spectacle masks the reality about the power of globalization to dishevel. By affiliating with the dazzling impulses of a romanticized informative order in this seductive – and no less gaudy – culture, we have become oblivious to the real. As we celebrate the death of reality, we are left – face-to-face – with an ecstatic hyperrealism, with a regime of jouissance in which the spectacle continues to fascinate but in a strangely absorbing way. Take for instance, the cinematically spectacular effect of 9/11 which would have been meaningless without the media.
It is said that without the media there would be no terrorism. And it is true that terrorism does not exist in itself as an original political act: it is the hostage of the media, just as they are hostage to it. There is no end to this chain of blackmail – everyone is the hostage of the other: this is the end of our so called ‘social’ relation. Besides, there is another factor behind all of this, which is something like the womb of this circular blackmail: the masses, without which there would be neither media nor terrorism.36
From a Baudrillardian position, the 9/11 event was, for the most part, a pure moment of acceleration: globalization’s clash with terroristic vision, an apocalyptic surrealism, a chaotic transference, a humiliation in response to a humiliation. In a related stance, Slavoj Zizek argues that the destruction of the World Trade Center, presented by the media in a movie-type spectacle symbolizes the destruction of an image – that of globalization.37 For Jacques Derrida, 9/11 was a kind of mirage, a mirage of “absolute terror”.38 Manuel Castells also suggested that the terrorists were able to bring about “media-conveyed humiliation of the imperial power of the United States”.39 For Douglas Kellner, 9/11 was a terror spectacle that “was partly a symbolic event, traumatizing many who experienced it live, or on television, and sending out a message that the U.S. was vulnerable to terror attack”.40 In the flurry of 9/11 the universal domain of the media, unarguably, morphed into the universe of terrorism waged between “them” and “us”. But the condition has now been reversed to depict a battle between “us” and “them”.
The contemporary age is haunted by spirits, spirits of terrorism that make life fragile and the future less predictable, even spectral. Indeed, globalization has problematized effectively our perceptions of the subject of “terrorism,” creating new languages that speak unspoken realities, codifying new assemblages of domination and virtualizing the exalted constituents of modern liberties. The lifeblood of the new world order and the leitmotif of a cantankerous and volatile modernity, globalization is constructing the “other” against an approved “us”, tearing sensibilities apart and brewing new questions that demand brutally honest answers. The spirit of terrorism is twin to the spirit of globalization, and sadly it is the spirit of “us.” A complicated affair, terrorism has proven to be a corporeal extrusion, a sweeping idiosyncrasy inflicted in episodic moments from the brazen realm of virtuality. Terrorism takes advantage of the mediatization of the modern self to launch its attack while it “puts finishing touches to the orgy of power, liberation, flows and calculation … while being the violent deconstruction of that extreme form of efficiency and hegemony”.41 It should be added that the sinister legacies of 9/11 are a vicious rejoinder to the voyeurism of an overly feisty ImMEDIAte Spectacle through which we are perpetually kidnapped by audiovisual tendrils that control thought and action, and through unrealities are inscribed upon the global landscape with sheer artistry. In this hyperreal world of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle reality becomes icing without the cake.
Terrorism thus follows at once the trajectories of neo-liberal globalization and the culture of a neo-quotidian logic, igniting feverish streams performativity of colossal absurdity, and exploding the non-effect of reality, of indifference. In the archetypal Baudrillardian parlance the argument is that terrorism is a manifestation of globalization’s attack on itself, given the reality in contemporary capitalism, linked to the fantastic spectacle of wealth, which shames those on the downward slope of the economic hill. In actuality, therefore, terrorism is not only contingent upon the politics of maneuvering social space by capital but upon global disjunctions and the annihilation of reality in a world increasingly characterized by an aggressive media constantly manipulating the global citizenry toward mediatized deliriums. As Baudrillard dutifully reminds us, terrorists cannot unleash massive action like that of 9/11 without the enhancements that come from “technological efficiency”.42 And so, “[i]n a sense, the entire system, by its internal fragility, lent [terrorism] a helping hand”.43 The system, Baudrillard argues, is responsible for the “brutal retaliation”44 that terrorism characterizes. Furthermore, the dogmatic machinery is controlled by avatars living in the matrix of global society that refuses to search out the root causes of “terrorism.” It is one that can distort and misrepresent the “other” – (e.g., every Muslim is a terrorist, every Arab is a fanatic, etc.) – and control the rhythm of public opinion through images. And this is not a restless telos of depersonalization that rejects the uncanonized; it is a standard puzzle-solving tendency without a puzzle to unravel. But, of course, this is far from emancipatory and not without dangerous consequences.
Because the globalist media culture has succeeded to a large extent in knocking down the multiscaped spaces of difference, it has ultimately engendered a certain kind of multi-scalar local-global efficiency that springs from the very heart of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri term “Empire”.45 Hardt and Negri’s analysis passes through deterritorialization seeking a vision of reterritorialization, restating the question of the local-global in a renewed way. This local-global presencing creates what Stuart Hall has termed a “web of global commitments”46 and its politics brings to the fore platforms imbued with the power of communications systems, techno-capital, and planetary absorptivity. The media circuit constantly expands in range and runs a conspicuous webopolis47 , an arrangement representing newer constellations of networks, mediatized practices, cultural forms and practices that contextualize a vague but no less powerful sense of hyperreality. This takes us to the problem of radical cultural denigration and hollowity.
III. Hollowity As Product of ImMEDIAte Spectacle
To discuss the condition of hollowity we must first draw attention to what I term “radical cultural denigration”, the culturally sublimated context from which hollowity evolves. The ImMEDIAte Spectacle contributes to the production of this condition, which includes the “synthetic banality” Baudrillard writes of.48 The basic issue is that radical cultural denigration acts as the conduit for direct cultural disarticulation and contempt, and is therefore prone to bring about ferocious resistance. In this case, the beholder gropes in the eye of the beauty, left to wander in a void in which the superimposed is recreated in its own image and “ugliness” and is then left to mutate. A calculus of fragmentation, still ongoing and assuming a clairvoyant stance, globalization’s radical cultural denigration showcases the absurdity of modernity’s impersonality, the meaningless minutiae of the brazenly meretricious. By effecting a seizure of presence, the regressive immediatism of radical cultural denigration conflates with globalization to sweep “away all differences and all values, bringing into being an entirely in-different culture”.49 I would add that as a climactic requirement for indoctrination into the higher echelons of global surrealism, radical cultural denigration fuels globalization’s final leap into the trivial space of hollowity. Yet, having produced itself as the very propellant of derealization, radical cultural denigration has to generate alternative components of reality, new authors, different representatives that influence the roots of political power, knowledge, and social outlook. With this process at work, a residual space is created: the space where the absolute energy of the global triangulates to form a kind of enclosure – what I would like to call the globalist pericardium. This space encapsulates the infosphere in a process enabled by the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, and produces, in real time, the hollowity effect.
The perfect omnipresence – the seductive effect of technologization and its political, spatial, and technological geometries – hollowity is at once its own apparatus and repudiation. This signals to a large extent the fact that hollowity is the condition where our relationship to technology is opened up to the spatiality and materiality of seduction: “Everything is seduction and nothing but seduction.” As Baudrillard further puts it, seduction is a kind of death, death to reality and the reconstitution of oneself into an illusion.50 In this seductive milieu, spatial relationships are created between “us” and “other” but socially constructed to be meaningless. Hollowity is the vulgarity of seduction gone berserk, significantly situated in the antagonism of the monocultural, in the world of its immediacy. The opus of appearance, hollowity flourishes in a soil fertilized by the rays of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle. It usurps power at every scale – from the body to the global, penetrating every sense. Yet, insofar as hollowity and seduction both spy on and conspire against themselves, they do influence terrorists to seize upon the surroundings of a megalomaniacal culture in which domination alone is the most probable source of fury – the most probable source of power. And, as Baudrillard puts it, “the increase in the power of power heightens the will to destroy it”.51
Aside from being driven by a unilateral excessivism and designed to gain global attention such as when it invokes the “spirit of terrorism”, hollowity speaks the postmodernistic language of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle. Singed into spectatoral reality and irradiating through a constricted passage of information, hollowity reflects the ceaseless salience of an ever more extravagant media industry in scripting and shaping social life with an absolute slow motion, residing outside the horizon of meaning. Hollowity is because it is the manifestation of meaninglessness; meaninglessness is, too, because it travels through mediatized thinness and flattens into a plain of singularity where noncommunication then echoes resoundingly. Hollowity thus reflects the seductive tension between meaning and non-meaning, a state of uncertainty where “nobody … is completely taken in: the news is experienced as an ambiance, a service, a hologram of the social. The masses respond to the simulation of meaning with a kind of reverse simulation; they respond to dissuasion with disaffection, and to illusions with an enigmatic belief”.52 Within the domain of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle hollowity becomes a tool, viciously systematized and customized for greater forms in a new, shockingly charged way for the “webopolites”.53 The webopolites, in this case, are a globalized and non-globalized populace equipped or unequipped to relish the hollowity of a maximum culture that thins out everything else, propagating a tepid view of the world – one pulled by the strings of neoliberalism in a deterritorialized, yet omnipresent control.
I want to suggest further that hollowity functions in such a way as to reveal the excesses of an ambivalent mode of self-reflexivity, to reveal an almost psychic fixation with a hegemonized model of “otherization” that is simulated by the culture of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle. Moreover, the opaque complexity of hollowity takes an unavoidably self-serving, self-conscious form, actuated with the audience ordered around it and functioning to the extent that the noncommunicating potential of the media is intact. In many ways, hollowity makes its engagement with the social, cultural, and political apparatuses of this narcissistic fixity, becoming representative in an autopoetic way of a public culture that is idolized to the point of frenzy. Through this social totalization, the chilling effect of hollowity is foreground precisely in the fetishistic impulses of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, projecting a referentiality of singularity from the circulatory machinery of the media. With the hollowity effect in place, we find a lot of room for questioning the very values that the global celebrates, for reflecting great suspicion about the primacy given to a singular and exulted signifier. But this is the paradox: being inside and outside its magnetic pull, yet to view it with a disinterested, critical eye. To make this claim is to call into view the structural balance between the articulated and the silent, in both public and private.
The product of local-global spatial logic characterized by a visible-invisible continuum, hollowity is fragmented by center-power in a pull that makes (image) power a totalizing exemplar, a fortified, non-corporeal internationality. It is within this space that we must give consideration to the abnormality of the blatantly residual, to the visually “pornographic” localization of the global, and the globalization of the local – all through the media. But the ImMEDIAte Spectacle is not serendipitous; rather, it is a brazenly optic illusion machine that is purely projective rather than reflective. Take for instance the “pornographic” images beamed across the world from the Abu Ghraib prison. Referring to them, Baudrillard suggested that 9/11 ended up becoming a front for humiliating and dehumanizing those on the other side of imperial power. For Baudrillard, the pictures reflecting Iraqi prisoner abuse, was an “obscene banality”, a “banal degradation”.54 It also depicted the hollow nature of global culture and the sounds that move with it – as those who live by the image perished by it.55 And this kind of projecto-dominance requires, essentially, projecting the ImMEDIAte Spectacle unto the wanton plane of indivisibilities where terrorism becomes localized. Whilst terrorism may be a fragmented question, it is an ontological malaise, connected to and regulated by the tropes of the spectacle, the electronic community, vis-à-vis a global image-ination and the maxims of sacred habitation. In the place of normal social situatedness, reality is defined in terms of systemic penetrations, in terms of audiovisual circulations, manufacturing a network of spaces, the hegemony of the social arena, an immanent realm crisscrossed by a horde of “legitimated” representations where radical cultural denigration results in terrorism.
Finally, hollowity is a perpetual agent for objectifying, willy-nilly, the cycle of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle – a cycle in which we are all caught up, its motion producing a symptomatic impulse, an abstract insufficiency, a prevailing effect immersed in the river of the ethereal. In this spatially closed process, the ImMEDIAte Spectacle becomes “effective motivations of a hypnotic behavior” with the “tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations”.56 As hollowity enmeshes diverse elements of the complex, the resultant “complexity” can only be managed by more complexity – hypercomplexity – to draw from the well of Lars Qvortrup.57 Because of the hollowity effect, Webopolites are subjected to forces that congeal in the brutal universe of the media, to metabolic hypertrophies. Indeed, by violently asserting the monstrously spooky nature of the global, hollowity brings about a hyper-transformation, sautéing together narcissism, individualism, and “magicalism” to consume reality, aware of itself as such.58 The extraordinary process of hollowity thus leaves behind a cognitive compression, a thicket for commandeering globalization, or, for globalizing chaos, because hollowity forces unreality to be dispensed in a real way, compelling a hypercomplex openness to “the vertiginous seduction of a dying system”.59
It is difficult to disagree with McKenzie Wark’s assertion that “[o]urs is a world that ventures blindly into the new with its fingers crossed”.60 In this world, where nothing is determined but “everything is antagonistic”,61 new realities make for re-envisioning – new realities like terrorism. I am particularly inclined to entertain a view that sees the modernist terroristic vision as the product of a “victorious” globalization, as a struggle between the ability to transcend the lure of perception and the possibility of reconfiguring consciousness. Yet, as much as terrorism is a multi-layered phenomenon resisting any simplistic definition, it is easy to see that it may in fact be a violent metaphor for all that is wrong with cultural homogenization, with a globalized culture that has played a major role in permeating and organizing everyday cultural life. Indeed, as Baudrillard captures it, “[w]e can no longer draw a demarcation around [terrorism]. It is at the very heart of [the] culture which combats it”.62 Clearly, as the infosphere continues to be aggressed and disarticulated by the potent vitalism of the omniscient gaze of the global, terrorism becomes a validation, bearing the signatures of radical cultural denigration and hollowity at its interior. Given an alibi by “globalization” for illuminating the horrors of exclusionism, terrorism – the dark innards of a regime of proto-conscious subordination – hovers like a ghost above our horizon, expanding the matrix of violence.
The argument therefore against the globalization of American norms – or “modernization” – and its mediatization is no doubt against the classical separation it fosters between “civilized” and “barbaric” cultures. From the point of view of the media, almost everything can be reduced to a question of how modern or how civilized – and as an implication, how globalized – we are. And this raises alongside the conjoined issues of otherness and otherization, the rocky road of globalization that makes the ride anything but smooth. The “other” in the globalization discourse, we must note, is the faceless, focalized, and fatalized, purely irrational – if not inhuman – person who materializes out of the mixing bowl, out of the relativizing culture of the West. But effectively, “what we deem fatal … is the Other’s sovereign otherness with respect to us”.63
True, in the heavily mediatized order of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, the simplistic singularizing paradigm of otherization births the debasement of diversity. But at the same time the “other” does not exist as “an object of passion but an object of production. Maybe it is because the Other, in his radical otherness [alterite], or in his irreducible singularity, has become dangerous or unbearable”.64 Moving in tandem with a marginalist consciousness bites deeply, otherization allows for the feeling of being lost, being submerged in spectacles; as such, it is the surprising fatality of “the Other’s sovereign otherness with respect to us. The otherness which erupts into our life, with stunning clarity”.65 Indeed, the globalization of the singular and its wanton ingredients coalesce to form an overarching knowledge, a “social bond,” that indoctrinates us deeper into the web of simulacrum, into Webopolis. In a swirling system of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle – where praxis is no longer a question of what really is but how we are – the power of cultural and mental homogenization, media saturation and subtle effacement snuffs out the reality of the “other.”
In all of its illusoriness the ImMEDIAte Spectacle remaps “us”/”other”-ness via the mainstreaming of images and symbols in an archetypal, yet paradoxical arena empowered by communications technology. Because the ImMEDIAte Spectacle is a vagabond, a synthesia of words, images, motion pictures and sounds, a vacuum of seduction and fascination, it traps individuals into this systemic plasticity, into the luxurious sensuality of delusion. And the end-result is the pervasive of all that is non-Western in the face of a “victorious” global. The multitudes, it seems, must blend into One, enculturated into a dominant mode of being. Where this does not occur, we are couched in an atmosphere of sympathy that is disconnected from reality. A sympathetic aura that absolves the guilty one of every sense of blameworthiness, and instead proclaims its innocence as well as its impotence.66
It is no wonder Susan Sontag attempts to make us realize that true spaces of safety require something that is, if you will, extra-violence – a movement from violence as the scepter for dispensing vengeance in return for violence.67 Perhaps a recall to a multicultural view of the world? The first step toward achieving this, Sontag has identified, is becoming sensitive to the pain of others, because no particular group of people’s pain – or even pleasure – is superior to that of others. The essence of this new awakening to multiculturalism is the “multi” aspect of the word. It is a reprocessing of the modalities of culture so it can have multiple and free expression – like the die having more than one face – over a de-mediatized global space. Following this understanding then, globalization ought not to displace, in a disappearing act, cultural differentiation.
But as it stands, multicultural image-ination remains a fictive project, unequipped to integrate disjointed visions, having no meaning except the meaning of meaninglessness, embodying the formless form of formlessness. Baudrillard points to the rapid proliferation of “singularities” such as religion and cultural power, as the basis for the new wave of terrorism. On the whole these singularities emerge as potent forces and platforms for radicalized resistance to the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, employing gingerly the methods of globalization to fight globalization. Fundamentally, terrorists denounce the swallowing power of an ImMEDIAte Spectacle diffusing a destructive presence that sensualizes the cold realities of modernity, enfolding the world into a fake caucus of existence through which terrorism can explode. By and large, these terrorists quibble with the endangering of cultural identity and relevance. Their acerbic activities infiltrate our cozy system of sounds, images, and illusions, bringing about a virulent shaking to exemplars of reality that rake the stakes in the society of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle.68 The manifestations of a hyperreal order measurable by the heightened level of its “hyper-egoism”?69 Or the humdrum of hollowity, stewed by the techno-mechanization of audiovisualism, penetrating the fortresses of our life-worlds and transformed into a seedy but glamorous fetishism? The answer certainly comes at a stiff price even if it is just a smidgen of what remains beneath waiting to be mined.
Still, it is only reasonable to recognize contemporary terrorism as the historico-social product of the media, of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle. In Baudrillard’s words:
The media make themselves into the vehicle of the moral condemnation of terrorism and of the explosion of fear for political ends, but simultaneously, in the most complete ambiguity, they propagate the brutal charm of the terrorist act, they are themselves terrorists, insofar as they themselves march to the tune of seduction.70
The historical aspect is virulent and it brings to mind Deleuze and Guattari who state that “history today still designates only the set of conditions, however recent they may be, from which one turns away in order to become”.71 A logical consideration of becoming thereof is how mediatization creates impulses for the construction of terrorism: how it fashions “the syndrome of confinement”,72 how audiovisualized singularities precipitate new focalities of “us”-ness that incapacitate the possibility of broad spaces of pluralisms, and engender a flat-out insistence on closure, on re-producing globalization’s “other”. But a “conquest” of mediatized otherness can be achieved through a sort of soul-cleansing that rethinks cultural production, cultural hierarchy, and cultural power emanating from the media, and to expose the rotten core of much of what constitutes modernity, a “project” that literally carves out the lived reality of the “other”.
As long as the entire world remains caught up in the banality of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, awash in its ostentatious and omnivariate orbit of flows and dichotomized (read: “us” vs. “them”), terrorism has no looming finality. The difficulty arises, Baudrillard suggests, because “[b]y seizing all the cards for itself, [the system] forced the Other to change the rules. And the new rules are fierce ones, because the stakes are fierce”.73 Given this setting, a new world of less terrorism is possible to the extent that the widest concern is for affinities with the axes of connection and difference, with a revitalization of every component of the whole human spectrum. Even in the face of the incredulity of the hyperreal, in an ontologically insecure universe of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle where the effects of “hollowity” are deeply felt, there remains the experience of freedom, albeit in a permanent weightlessness. In doing so we can terrorize our own ineptitude and enjoy the sensations that come from reconceptualizing the Manichean dialectic of the spaces of “us” and “them”. Perhaps, this requires an overturning of the problem Baudrillard has labeled the “excess of reality”?74 For now, we attempt to think and write against the tide.
About the Author:
Akinbola E. Akinwumi is a graduate student and writer in Lagos, Nigeria. His recent investigations explore interconnections between critical social/cultural theory and various critical geographies.
1 – Globalization, the media and the “media spectacle” are intrinsic to the formation of the ImMEDIAte Spectacle. The ImMEDIAte Spectacle is a labyrinth of a repertoire of presences, a proto-consciousness, properly exterior to a culture of seduction, of illusion, of disorder enveloping us at great speed in mediated real-time. This spectacle not only transmits meanings between people, it shapes meaning and has a colonizing effect on the future, as it is of overriding influence on both culture and values. In my conception “hollowity” is the state of hollowness that develops as the spaces of globalism taper at the end, compressed by a kind of existential paucity wreaked by a complicit and seductive system of mediatization that fully strangulates reality. This condition enlarges viciously – mystified and purloined by publicity – but discloses very little. And it is inseparable from an existence that is increasingly fragmented, homogenized, and concentric.
2 – Jacques Derrida in Giovanna Borradori. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003:123.
4 – Philip Toynbee. Part of a Journey. London: Collins, 1981:230.
5 -Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. London: Verso, 2002:30.
6 – Jean Baudrillard. “This is the Fourth World War: Der Spiegel, Number 3, 2002.
7 – Here, I am more concerned with the audiovisual media – television, the Internet, and film.
8 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:92.
9 – Ibid.:51.
10 – Jean Baudrillard. “Terrorism: Our Society’s Judgment and Punishment”. Selected translation from Jean Baudrillard. “La Violence du Mondial” In Power Inferno. Paris: Editions Galilée, 2002:62-83. Forthcoming in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 3, Number 2 (July 2006). Translated by Laura Nyssola.
An English translation of the original chapter is available as “The Violence of the Global” at Ctheory.net (Translated by François Debrix).
A shorter translation is also available as: “The Despair of Having Everything” in Le Monde Diplomatique, November 2002. See: http://mondediplo.com/2202/11/12despair (Translated by Luke Sandford). (link no longer active 2019)
11 – For more on the exchange of power see Jean Baudrillard. For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. Translated with an Introduction by Charles Levin. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1981.
12 – Anthony Giddens. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, 1990.
13 – For another discussion of this point see: Mike Grimshaw. Religion, Terror and the End of the Postmodern: Rethinking the Responses. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006).
Mohammed Atta, who flew an aircraft into one of the World Trade Center towers, made his flight booking on the website of American Airlines. Some of the others made their bookings via Travelocity.com. See Vincent Mosco. “Capitalism’s Chernobyl? From Ground Zero to Cyberspace and Back Again.” In Toward a Political Economy of Culture: Capitalism and Communication in the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Andrew Calabrese and Colin Sparks. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004:211-227.
Editor’s Note: As Baudrillard points out:
…a new terrorism has come into being, a new form of action which plays the game, and lays hold of the rules of the game, solely with the aim of disrupting it.
… they have taken over all the weapons of the dominant power. Money and stock-market speculation, computer technology and aeronautics, spectacle and the media networks – they have similated everything of modernity and globalism, without changing their goal, which is to destroy that power. …Suicidal terrorism was a terrorism of the poor. This is a terrorism of the rich. This is what particularly frightens us: the fact that they have become rich (they have all the necessary resources) without ceasing to wish to destroy us (The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:19, 23).
14 – As Virilio has noted, reality has lost out to “virtuality” and “ubiquity”. Certainly, “reality in all its forms is being threatened now, more than ever. It is being eroded and it is washing away in the deforming storm of nonreality, which masquerades as reality and which will eventually replace it if we do not take appropriate steps” (C. Priest. eXistenZ. New York: HarperCollins, 1999:190).
15 – Paul Virilio. A Landscape of Events. Translated by Julie Rose. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000:92.
16 – Paul Virilio. Ground Zero. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 2002:25, 49, 31.
17 – Jean Baudrillard. “TV Fantasies”, Liberation, (June 3, 1996) In Screened Out. New York: Verso, 2002:190.
18 – Generally, the term “mediatization” refers to “the impact of the logic and form of any medium involved in the communication process” (David L. Altheide. “The Elusive Mass Media.” Politics, Culture, and Society. Volume 2, Number 3, Spring. 1989:416).
19 -“Postscriptomodernsity” is an assemblage of the fusing of postscript, modernity, and density. Postscriptomodernsity is characterized by the penury and melancholy of information and communication denseness and realized in an overbearingly pompous modern era marked by outwardly inchoate visions but positioned to constantly revise itself, to add new layers of meanings that are supra-textual but largely exclusionary in nature.
20 – Jean Baudrillard. The Ecstasy of Communication (c1987). Translated by Bernard and Caroline Schutze. Edited by Sylvere Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1988:22.
21 – James W. Carey. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Boston: Unwin and Hyman, 1989:18.
22 – Lars Qvortrup. The Hypercomplex Society. New York: Lang, 2003:155.
23 – Benjamin Barber. “Disneyfication that Impoverishes Us All.” The Independent, Week End Review, 29 August 1998:7.
25 – Jean Baudrillard. Illusion of the End (c1992). Translated by Chris Turner. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994:27.
26 – See: Jean Baudrillard. In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities …Or, The End of the Social And Other Essays. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983:19-30.
27 – Jean Baudrillard. In the Shadows of the Silent Majorities. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983:96-100.
28 – Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. London: Verso, 1996.
29 – Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation (c1981). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
30 – Jean Baudrillard. The Consumer Society (c1970). Translated by Chris Turner. New York: Verso, 1998:96.
31 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:27.
32 – Ibid.:29.
33 – Paul Virilio. Ground Zero. New York, Verso, 2002:67.
34 – Jean Baudrillard. “The Violence of the Image”. (n.d.) http://www.egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard/baudrillard-the-violence-of-the-image.html (link no longer active 2019)
35 – Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbour: University of Michigan, 1994:80. See also Victoria Grace. “Baudrillard and the Meaning of Meaning.” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 1, Number 1, January 2004.
36 – Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:44.
37 – Slavoj Zizek. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso, 2002..
38 – Jacques Derrida in Giovanna Borradori. Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003:98-9.
39 – Manuel Castells. The Power of Identity. Second Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004:140.
40 – Douglas Kellner. Media Spectacle. New York: Routledge, 2003:53.
41 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:59.
42 – Ibid.:8.
43 – Ibid.
44 – Ibid.:9.
45 – Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
46 – Stuart Hall. “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity”, in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. Edited by A. McClintock, A. Mufti, and E. Shohat. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997:174.
47 – Webopolis is the synthetic but no less charming cornucopia energized by the ImMEDIAte Spectacle, though not in the sense of a cause-and-effect. It binds together people of diverse origins in a powerful and passionate form of complexity, uniting them through the highly evolved and sensuous language of technology.
49 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:91. For more along the line of destruction of old forms by technological progress, see F.R. Leavis and Denys Thompson. Culture and Environment: The Training of Critical Awareness (c1932). London: Chatto and Windus, 1942:3).
50 – Jean Baudrillard. Seduction. Montreal : New World Perspectives Press, 1990:41.
51 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:6-7. Much more can be said of Baudrillard’s concept of seduction and these processes but it is better left as the subject of another paper.
52 – Jean Baudrillard. Seduction Montreal: New World Perspectives Press, 1990:63.
53 – Citizens of Webopolis.
54 – Douglas Kellner. “Baudrillard, Globalization and Terrorism: Some Comments on Recent Adventures of the Image and Spectacle on the Occasion of Baudrillard’s 75th Birthday.” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 2, Number 1, January 2005.
56 – Guy Debord. Society of the Spectacle (c1967). Detroit: Black & Red, 1983. Paragraph 18.
57 – Lars Qvortrup. The Hypercomplex Society.
58 – Magicalism is a highly ocular-centric phenomenon that takes up specialized space in the terrain of the mind. And it can be explained by referring the reader to the idea of magic: in this case, a conditioned act characterized by spectacular occurrences that cannot be easily grappled by the non-specialist but whose effect is nonetheless captivating, seductive, even intimidating. In The Spirit of Terrorism, Baudrillard also recognizes the revelatory and amplificatory power of the magical: he contrasts, for instance, the “white” magic of the cinematic with the “black” one of the terroristic (Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:29-30).
59 – Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1994:154.
60 – McKenzie Wark. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004. As Baudrillard has also noted: “As in the film 2001, we are journeying into space, with the computer monitoring us”. (“The Anorexic Ruins” in Dietmar Kamper and Christoph Wulf (Editors). Looking Back on the End of the World. New York: Semiotext(e), 1989:39.
61 – Jean Baudrillard. Fatal Strategies. Translated by Philip Beitchman and W.G.J. Niesluchowski. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990:162..
62 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:10.
63 – Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena (c1990). Translated by James Benedict. New York: Verso, 1993:174.
64 – Jean Baudrillard. “Plastic Surgery for the Other.” Ctheory.net.
65 – Jean Baudrillard. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. New York: Verso, 1993:174.
66 – Susan Sontag. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003.
67 – Ibid.
68 – A reinvention of the title of Guy Debord’s magnanimous text Society of the Spectacle.
69 – “Hyper-egoism” is a term used by Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist in Netocracy: The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism. London: Reuters, 2002:107.
70 – Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation (c1981). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994:84.
71 – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? London: Verso, 1994:96.
72 – Paul Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer. Crepuscular Dawn. Translated by Mike Taormina. New York: Semiotext(e), 2002:75.
73 – Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:9.
74 – Ibid.:104.