an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, April 2006, ISSN 1552-5112

 

 

 

Virtual Blood, Real Media



Slawomir Magala



If genocide is the dream of modern powers, that is not because of the recent return of the ancient rights to kill; it is because power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race, and the large scale phenomena of population.

 

Michel Foucault

 

 

Against this artificial paradise of technicity and virtuality, against the attempt to build a world completely positive, rational, and true, we must save the traces of the illusory world’s definitive opacity and mystery.

 

Jean Baudrillard

 

 

Progressive mobilization of the image in modernity was accompanied by the progressive imprisonment of the viewer.

 

Lev Manovich

 

 

 

 

Open societies defended themselves successfully against the totalitarian states in the 20th century. The Italian fascists and German national socialists have been defeated, as well as the Russian communist and Japanese imperial autocracies. The dates of 1945 and 1989 – the capitulation of Nazi Germany and the breakdown of the Berlin Wall have been written large in history books of western democracies. They have won both the military victories (winning WWII after the initial coalition of Hitler and Stalin fell apart) and prolonged economic, social and political rivalry (winning the Cold War after the state socialist societies, including the Russian oriental despotism in its communist guise, collapsed). The European working class turned out to have been much better served by social democrats promising upward mobility within the system of middle-class institutions (private property, market economy, parliamentary democracy) than by communists promising to eliminate upper classes in order to make place for the lower ones and to introduce centrally planned economy supervised by a single-party dictatorship. Have open societies also won ideological contests, by demonstrating that shopping malls are preferable to gulags and parliaments to dictators? Have they also won the comparative analysis, in which the communists claimed that welfare of the western working class had been bought at the expense of the entire societies of the third world, while social democrats claimed that former third world societies can advance to the club of wealthier states by developing their singular road to capitalism and democracy, but preserving the basics of “openness”?. Has, in short, the “west”, won against communist “east” and is the southern “rest” convinced that this victory was justified and irreversible?

 

The answer is positive where ideological doctrines of Marxism-Leninism or Maoism or even Castroism are concerned. All three (and their multiple local or regional versions – e.g. North Korean, Albanian, Yugoslavian, Indonesian, Nicaraguan) are dead and their followers are unable to provide a launching pad for a critique of neo-liberal ideologies. Visions of “life after capitalism” and “participatory economics” are based on anti-globalist sentiments and on a belief that “capitalist globalization produces poverty, ill health, shortened life spans, reduced quality of life, and ecological collapse”.(Albert,2004,4). In short, alternative visions of social order are based on a critique of the present corporate and political elites and their disenfranchisement of the world’s masses. Their authors assume that it is a structural deficit of the present, ‘really existing’ market democracy, which is unable to overcome a reproduction of inequality and repression. Hence a search for an alternative, which will offer a way out of disenfranchisement and poverty of “the multitudes”. Empower and include – are the slogans of the new left ideologues. This is the way, in which a critique of the tuxedoed guests of Davos summits invented and announced by the jeans and T-shirts wearing participants of Porto Alegre counter-summits (World Social Forum) emerges in the media. This critique does not have a fixed political address among established political parties, although it is sometimes labeled as the social democratic or European alternative to the Washington Consensus (hence Brazilian president’s preference for the European Union as opposed to NAFTA as a model for regional integration). However, the victory of open, democratic, market-oriented societies does not herald the end of history. Fukuyama was wrong; real choices are still being made by real people belonging to real social classes and acting in order to achieve their purposes, defend their values, implement institutions constructed on the basis of their beliefs. Open societies did turn out to be more attractive to the world’s masses than totalitarian ones. However, open societies still have to face the unintended consequences of choices made by their leaders and their masses, including the consequences of victories over totalitarian alternatives to an “open society”. The most significant, salient and relevant unintended consequences of the survival and success of open societies when confronted and compared with their enemies include:

 

·             The replacement of the idea of a “Blitzkrieg” conducted by military forces with a concept of a hostile take-over and re-engineering of the entire environment of targeted populations and societies. There is no single battlefield - all resources and reserves can be targeted and large-scale manipulation of the very conditions of enemy lives implemented (this is the bio-power Foucault warned against). The environmental contamination with poisonous gas or newer weapons of mass destruction (as Sloterdijk has pointed out) knocks the entire population of targeted area out – and so does a middle-class-focused consumer-driven standardization of social environment;

 

and

 

·             The proliferation of multimedia systems of virtual realities, which imprison us in a “hegemonic fantasy of a global and perpetual communication” (Baudrillard, 2000, 69). The media became the message and ruled happily ever after. This is the transformation, many critics from Marshall McLuhan to Hal Foster, Yannis Gabriel, George Ritzer or Zygmunt Bauman had  been warning against by pointing out the role of the simulation and “the murder of the real” in contemporary culture of advanced consumer societies. Their members are knocked out due to their tacit consent to participate in engineered multimedia spectacle, in which they are both actors and viewers and their identities become more fluid and changeable(1);

 

Both the new concept of warfare as total environmental control and the advances in “global and perpetual communication” signal a return of the “games” (as in “panem et circenses” or “bread and games”, a slogan of the Roman plebeians demanding both from political elites in return for support) as means of control. Real blood spilled under watchful eyes of virtual media introduce human sacrifice into the political spectacle of the 21st century.

 

 

Decontamination of the media

 

With the introduction of the poisonous gas as a weapon against the French troops in 1915, a German Nobel prize winner, Fritz Haber, has changed the rules of the military game much more thoroughly than military pilots and submarine crews. Attacking the enemy with weapons of mass destruction does not only kill the combatants. Poisonous gases or nuclear weapons “re-design” the space, in which they had been used. They pollute and contaminate. They close off the entire area, in which the enemy had been assaulted, to human beings (at least for some time, for instance, until radiation levels fall down). In words of contemporary German philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk, they generate an “airquake” (“Luftbeben”), which terrorizes the enemy population, re-designs this population’s living space and contributes to the artificial, profound manipulation and re-modeling of the entire environment.  The air-, water- and earthquake also have cultural consequences – if entire material environments can be switched into uninhabitable areas, closed off for the enemy, then also entire cultural environments, habitats, subcultures can be subjected to the requirements of psychological warfare. They can be designed, coordinated and managed by state bureaucracies, operating from war propaganda offices or through embedded journalists. Nuclear explosion destroyed only two cities - Hiroshima and Nagasaki - at the end of WWII. Who has counted the cases of explosions of increased censorship and intensified propaganda, of hate campaigns, which turned entire cultures into inhospitable ground for some minorities, for some “imagined enemy”? In totalitarian societies, this is the case, all the time and even language becomes a newspeak (as we know from analyses of the language of the Third Reich and of Stalin’s Russia), but even democratic, open societies are not entirely immune from occasional, temporary and localized contamination. Moreover, systematic projects of increasing the control of the media have – perhaps – turned the media and populations, which consume their messages into a “polluted”, “contaminated” environment, in which a critical, free individual, a responsible citizen of an open society, can hardly breathe.

 

Ironic slogan – “nuke the whales” demonstrates self-reflexive and critical attitude of the left, a response of free citizens to an onslaught of animal protection rights propaganda. As long as such slogans are possible – and call attention to the responsibilities of the state, cultural environment has not become uninhabitable for free citizenry. This slogan is a case in point of a critique of mediated, virtual reason, which is badly needed (and has been postulated by the “situationists” and Debord in the late sixties and by Baudrillard in the seventies and eighties) Critique of the virtual reason – following critique of pure and instrumental, theoretical and pragmatic, religious and secularized, ideological and technocratic, iconic and linguistic reason – should help us “decontaminate” and reconstruct the cultural environment of a society. This is what the Serbian anti-Milosevic protestors invented in their peaceful mass demonstrations on the streets of Belgrade – they had symbolically “decontaminated” their language and symbols from poisonous manipulation by war propaganda issued and disseminated by the nationalists-controlled state television (seen from this point of view, the decision of the NATO military planners to bomb TV studio, appears less arbitrary than had been assumed). Decontamination makes it possible to detect and destroy deadly viruses of war propaganda and psychological manipulation. “Even Mona Lisa smiles differently after Duchamp had painted her a moustache”. (Sloterdijk, 2002, 109)

 

However, when designing a decontamination project for the media, we have to bear in mind that the mediascape offers both opportunities and threats for prospective de-contaminators;

 

·             Opportunities: contemporary interactive multimedia – especially the individualized and mobile devices (laptops, palmtops, mobile phones) increase the penetration of the consumer market (we can be reached by commercial advertising everywhere all the time) - but by the same token and at the same time also provide windows of opportunity for counter-penetration of the communication channels by interest groups, counter-mobilization within virtual space by alternative social movements and the construction of a political alternative (successful cases include the Zapatistas in Mexico, the protesters in Seattle and the “orange”  mobilization against electoral fraud in the Ukraine);

 

and

 

·             Threats: contemporary multimedia have incorporated critical reflection, incorporating and recycling it to increase the virtual and tacit consensus and defusing even the most extreme critique by feeding it back into the continuous spectacle of communicated consumption. Virtual but immediately and persuasively communicable “hyperreality” replaces the actual one. Daniel Cohn-Bendit participates in panel discussions on multicultural society, Regis Debray writes on mediascapes and advises presidents, and Abbie Hoffman was a business consultant helping corporations spot the emergent countercultures. Baudrillard speaks of ecstasy of the social (the masses appear more social than the social), ecstasy of information (simulation appears truer than true) and “ecstasy of violence; terror. More violent than violence…”(Baudrillard, 2000, 46) 

 

How is “decontamination” of mediated communications possible? How can we avoid, to paraphrase Baudrillard, losing our identification with historically formed communities in the void of information (with media offering us the illusion of instant communication and thus replacing “experienced” community with a virtual, mediated, easily consumable individually customized experience)?  How can decontamination help us preserve our ability to undertake meaningful, responsible action? Do we need a historical pull of bloody sacrifices and historical push of immediately communicated terror to decontaminate our cultural environments? To make them compatible with sustainable cybercommunities reinforcing the open society, from which they emerge? Most of the experts agree that:

 

For democracy to thrive, at least four prerequisites must be satisfied. Numerous studies have shown that the two key prerequisites, sharing information and voting, are quite feasible on the Internet. The third prerequisite, deliberation, has been much less often explored, but(…) it seems to pose no insurmountable difficulties, once Internet designers put their minds to fashioning of the software needed for deliberation in cyberspace. The same holds true for the fourth prerequisite, representation. (Etzioni, 2003, 93) 

At the same time, however, experts agree that the present developments in media, including the new, more interactive Internet, often replace citizen’s vote with consumer’s choice, which promises trouble in future (and more difficulties with decontamination campaigns). In commenting upon Ira Magaziner’s (president Clinton’s adviser on matters related to an electronic highway) vision of national policies, Benjamin Barber blamed difficulties with decontamination on the ideological substitution of citizen’s freedom to choose in matters pertaining to the entire community with consumer’s liberty to make a personal, private, individual choice, contaminating by dis-empowerment:   

 

Consumers make private choices about their private needs and wants. Citizens make choices about the public needs and the public goods of the nation.(…) You can’t turn over civic public choices to private consumers. That’s why we have public institutions. That’s why we have government; precisely to make the tough choices about and deal with the social consequences of private choices.(…) The liberty we have in private to make consumer choices is always choice without power. (Barber,2003, 130-131)  

 

Will the emotional appeal of real blood in virtual media and commercialized infotainment prevail over more rational, multiculturally balanced and inclusion-friendly forms of individualized mass communications fit for sustainable, democratic, open society? Does contemporary version of “bread and games” have to include human sacrifices?

 

 

Human sacrifices, media and terror

 

Ritual murders of rank and file, of famous politicians and media celebrities on the one hand and of innocent, random victims on the other, became a standard in contemporary societies of spectacle. Presidents (Kennedy, Reagan), Popes (John Paul II), pop singers (John Lennon) are targeted and sometimes killed. So are randomly selected individuals, whose death is designed by the terrorist to “send a message” to the other party and to public opinion at large. What “message” was the crashing of two passenger jets into the twin towers of World Trade Center in New York City designed to send to the US government, to segments of American society and to a world public opinion at large? If political targets of terrorists included the polarization of the US society “inside” and the weakening of the political resolve of “the west” on the “outside” – they failed. The US society did not become more accommodating for the Islamic communities. The US policies did not reduce the focus on predominantly Islamic Middle East.  Response of the European intellectuals, represented by Derrida and Habermas, has also been clear and unambiguous: according to Habermas, we should continue the unfinished project of social reconstruction started by the Enlightenment and encourage political re-engineering of an open society, in order to get out of the iron cage of religious fundamentalism. According to his French counterpart, Derrida:

 

What appears to me unacceptable in the “strategy” (in terms of weapons, practices, ideology, rhetoric, discourse and so on) of the “bin Laden effect” is not only the cruelty, the disregard for human life, the disrespect for law, for women, the use of what is worst in techno-capitalist modernity for the purposes of religious fanaticism. No, it is above all, the fact that such actions and such discourse open onto no future and, in my view, have no future. If we are to put faith in the perfectibility of public space and of the world juridico-political scene, of the “world” itself (…) I would take the side of the camp that, in principle, by right of law, leaves a perspective open to perfectibility in the name of the “political”, democracy, international law, international institutions, and so on. (Borradori, 2003)

 

However, terrorist attacks against US embassy in Kenya and US warship in the Middle East, against a discotheque in Bali frequented by Australian, US American and European tourists have also carried another message – they used contemporary media to have a free ride on broadcasting powers and to announce their willingness to revert to ritual human sacrifices in the service of a vigorously re-engineered subculture of politically re-invented and militarily implemented Islam. After broadcasting videotapes of hostage executions contemporary media found themselves in the role of ancient Indian pyramids in contemporary Mexico, serving as highly visible public altars, on which hearts of prisoners of war had been torn out of their chests under watchful eyes of captive mass audiences, or as arenas of ancient Rome, on which helpless Christians have been thrown to the hungry lions. Assessment of the effects of real blood in virtual world of mediated communications vary, but there appears to be a consensus that these human sacrifices failed to influence the combatants and did not significantly alter the views of a majority of members of western audiences. With the exception of the government of the Philippines during the second Iraq war, there was no significant reversal of political commitments in response to terrorist demands backed by real blood in media communications. A plausible explanation of this lack of potential effect of an ultimate form of a “reality show” (an execution of a hostage by a terrorist group belongs to the most extreme forms of “microstoria” designed to disturb the flow of mediated communications) is that it fails to lock onto – to use David Boje’s terminology – either a set of microstorias recognized as alternatives to the dominant macrostoria or to occupy a middle ground between a macrostoria of “the west” and the alternative microstorias of both the “west” and the “rest”. Boje claims reviewing the assumptions about a middle ground between micro and macrohistory, that;  “The microstorias of the local take place within the context of media-promoted grand narratives of political, economic and social change”(Boje,2002,46)

 

However, the terrorist microstorias, illustrated with the “punchlines” of hostage executions, fail to lock onto the media-promoted grand narratives of globalization and socio-economic and politico-ideological change. The attempt to lock onto the grand narrative of the clash of civilizations failed, since dates like 1453 (the fall of Christian Constantinopol to Muslim forces), 1683 (the defeat inflicted by the Polish king Jan III Sobieski upon Turks besieging Vienna) and 1798 (Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt) are not – pace Huntington – a frame of reference for a majority of either Christians or Muslims. No Christian community lays claims to the re-“christening” of Istanbul (the pope speaks of “ecumenization” not “conversion to Christianity”), Turkish Republic aspires to membership in the European Union, of which both Austria and Poland are members, and Egypt is an ally of the USA, playing a moderator role in negotiations between the representatives of the Palestinian Autonomy and the Israeli government. Moreover, religiously inspired pre-amble to the European constitution, which would explicitly state that Europeans are homogeneous from a religious point of view since they share Christian background and uphold Christian values, has been voted down in the European Parliament. The terrorist microstorias designed to reinforce the fundamentalist vision of the clash of civilizations fail to “lock onto” the audiences’ frames of reference and fail to create a social movement within the Islamic communities in western societies.

 

Interestingly enough, much smaller incidents within western societies, strongly embedded in local context and picked up by the media of open societies as problems without a preprogrammed solution, exerted a much stronger influence upon both virtual reality of media communications and real blood of actual political interactions and designs. The murder of a Dutch film director, Theo van Gogh and an accidental death of a petty Dutch criminal of Moroccan origin, Ali B. are cases in point. They also illustrate an interesting dynamic of real blood in virtual media; a possibility, already demonstrated in the times of a Benetton/Sears affair in the USA, to refuse a star status to either victims or perpetrators of violence reported in the media.

 

A.         

A case of de-“martyrdomization” of a terrorist microstoria. A 26 years old, Dutch-born, well integrated Mohamed B. of Moroccan origin underwent a religious conversion and started associating with radical Islamic preachers and illegal terrorist groups. Having decided that a short film “Submission” directed by a scandalizing Dutch film director, Theo van Gogh (and scripted by a Dutch member of parliament, a former Muslim, Ayan Hirsi Ali, originally of Somalia) offends religious feelings of all Muslims, he had pronounced his personal fatwah. On November 2, 2004, he approached Theo van Gogh, bicycling away from his house in Amsterdam, and shot him dead with a shotgun, then cut his throat with one knife and pinned a death verdict to his chest with another. The message explained that Theo van Gogh has been executed in punishment for offending Muslims and that Ayan Hirsi Ali will be the next target. The murderer was caught by the police in a shootout following his attempt to escape through the park. The prosecutor decided to subject him to a psychiatric investigation. Mohamed B. protested – I am not insane, I did it on purpose, I wanted to become an Islamic martyr. The prosecutor ordered examination in spite of the suspect’s protest. In the wake of this murder, police arrested most of the Islamic radicals including an almost entire group of the Hague, of which Mohamed B. was a member. Some of suspected religious extremists have been armed and planned terrorist actions. In the first week after the murder there were attempts at firebombing a few mosques and Islamic schools and of a few churches in retaliation, but very soon social peace has been restored (not without a very balanced coverage of the responses on the part of both elites and masses, both “white Christians” and “islamic Moroccans”). Muslims started bringing flowers to the spot, where the victim has been murdered, expressing their condemnation of this action on a par with non-Muslims. The film, “Submission”, while not shown in public television, is available on the Internet. It focuses on a cruel treatment of women in Islamic communities and illustrates it with a tattoo of Koranic verses on the entire naked body of a woman. Ayan Hirsi Ali resumed her duties in the parliament, be it under police protection. The murderer has been successfully marginalized and isolated, his in-group dismantled.

 

Ironically enough, it was Theo van Gogh, who had publicly defended fundamentalist imams, when the latter had compared homosexuals to dirty pigs in their sermons. Van Gogh had said that he did not agree with imams, that their view was offensive to him, but he valued freedom of expression much more highly than his freedom from being offended and therefore granted imams a right to pronounce publicly their views without prior censorship, which would have prevented them from offending him. Had his murderer, Mohamed B., acquired a martyr status, the open space of the public discussion would have been “contaminated” by an exceptional status offered to a single religion, namely Islam. It would then be “fencing” the public space in order to prevent “blasphemy” as offensive to members of their religious community. It would also legitimize privatization of violence – Mohamed B. did not wait until imams or ayatollahs pronounced an ideological condemnation of either a film or film’s authors. He “privatized” violence.

 

Privatization of violence failed to inspire followers (radical group had been arrested), free ride on media coverage failed to lock this private microstoria on to a grand narrative of Muslim communities in Western Europe (the government had introduced special courses for Muslim imams in the Netherlands), and real blood in virtual media failed to earn Mohamed B. a status of a martyr (his terror act had been disowned by representatives of Muslim communities and he has been classified as subnormally deviant by the authorities).

 

B.         

The acquisition of the status of a martyr has also been attempted in an unlikely case of a petty criminal from Amsterdam East, a ghetto of unemployed and undereducated Dutch Moroccans. The incident in question would normally be left out from most media coverage in the Netherlands, was it not for the fact that the local community response was very quick and public sensitivity to the Islamic minority had already been alerted by the Mohamed B. case discussed above. One of the unemployed young Dutch citizens of Moroccan origins, Ali B., had already been convicted for robberies, and in November he received a prison sentence for armed robbery of a furniture shop, with special cruelty towards the owner and a meager result (100,- $ in petty cash). Due to the procedural mistakes and slowness of administrative procedures, he had been allowed to remain free until the beginning of his imprisonment. In mid-January, he had asked an accomplice to help him rob a woman, who had been starting her car in a parking lot. The purse lay on the passenger seat, which promised an easy prey. The woman came from Suriname and did not appear capable of a decisive action. The escape was planned on a bike of his accomplice – quicker than a pedestrian and more agile than a car. However, the victim, who had been backing off from the parking spot when the incident occurred, decided to chase her property and the perpertrators. Instead of reporting to the police, she followed the bike, overtook it, and when trying to stop it, accidentally squashed Ali B. against a tree trunk, when both thieves were trying to break out. The accomplice escaped, woman reported to the police, and she had to face charges of involuntary manslaughter. The case acquired immediate media coverage, because the tension between lower classes of predominantly Moroccan inhabitants of Amsterdam East and the rest of Amsterdam’s citizens. The former had been outraged – the place, where Ali B. found his end, became a monument of candles ands flowers. Mourners assembled and assured the media reporters that a victim was innocent, “a good Muslim” and “one of us”. Moreover, they protested against publishing his criminal record, claiming that once someone dies, others should speak only well of him or keep silent. The latter had also been outraged – at the laxity of the police and the system of criminal justice which left Ali B. freed after a conviction for armed robbery, at the charges against his victim, and at the attempts to turn the petty criminal into a martyr for oppressed Muslim minority. Thus when the mayor of Amsterdam received a request for a permission to organize a silent march through the center of Amsterdam – he refused, allowing family and friends to march only from the place of the accident to the nearest mosque (two blocks away). The event attracted little attention of Amsterdam East and incident provoked no other actions. Media linked the microstoria of a petty thief from Moroccan minority to a grand narrative of a successful integration of Muslim immigrants in a Dutch society and no alternative interpretation had emerged from within the Moroccan community.

 

The media have focused on the necessity to prevent the emergence of the underclass of undereducated, underemployed young “allochtones” (the microstoria of Ali B. locks onto a grand narrative of integration as a difficult but attainable and manageable task, though the sentence in court case of the victim who incidentally killed her robber will probably be followed with certain interest by accomplices of the deceased).(2)  Had the participants in the mourning march been recognized by some of their neighbours as legitimate spokespersons for the lower classes stigmatized as racially, religiously and class-wise “different”, their successful media marketing of the incidental death might have contaminated the media and subsequent discourse about integration.     

 

 

Real media, virtual blood and participation in a political spectacle

 

Deficits of democracy are not as frequently reported in real media as violent clashes and bloodshed. Hidden injuries deficits of democracy inflict upon communities do not cost blood – until reflection and analysis makes it possible to see the linkl between the deficit of democracy and the bloody incident. Communication may be instant, virtual and universal, but decision to notice the link between deficit of democracy and violent death must be made in the minds of beholders, who and expressed in public. Mohamed B. drew real blood and Ali B. lost real blood, but the blood they spilled remains virtual as long as the real media prefer a dominant narrative about single deranged fanatics and petty criminals and about successful integration of a majority of minority members into open societies. This preference, if shared by citizens, involves a tacit rejection of an attempt to shape a new, alternative community with religious background and terrorist tactic. It also involves a tacit rejection of an alternative type of transnational citizenship, for instance a religiously or racially, or sexually defined one (of which both incidents might be manifestations).

 

Blood on a screen of TV sets becomes real blood only if individuals actually decide to organize and undertake action in order to respond to the blood’s reality. If a social movement succeeds in constructing a counter-narrative, an alternative ideology, and lock onto the real media – virtual blood becomes real human sacrifice, very much as blood of industrial workers killed in political demonstrations fortified their social movements, trade unions and political parties in late 19th and early 20th century. If almost all working class movements could be incorporated and integrated – so goes the reasoning of social and political scientists, of politicians and intellectuals of activists and media professionals – then the present lower class movements (even if they are burdened with additional, religious and racial differences) also have to be manageable. Hence the optimism of European intellectuals, who claim that we should work towards the establishment of:

 

…an open, nonexclusive framework that would nevertheless be sufficiently binding in geographical and historical (and therefore cultural) terms.(…) No preexisting community based on traditional membership and “roots” can play this historic role, but only a community of alliances that is instituted with a view towards favouring this kind of recognition. (Balibar, 2004,230)(3)

 

Needless to say, this is the definition of a citizenship in an open society, which opens up to a global civil society and thus recognizes bonds beyond the political institutions connected to nation-states. Both United States of America and the European Union are open societies and both are increasingly dealing with communities, which fail to overlap with political borders. Balibar’s European point of view (4) is echoed by the opinion expressed by the US political scientists, who that civic action in contemporary developed societies shift from “agencies of loyalty” (political parties, religious congregations or ethnic associations) to “agencies of choice”, which remain ad hoc and contextual and include;

 

…new social movements, internet activism and transnational policy networks. Conventional indicators may blind us to the fact that critical citizens may be becoming less loyalist and deferential in orientation towards mass-branch parties, which evolved in the 19th century with the spread of the mass franchise and European democracy, at the same time that they are becoming more actively engaged via alternative mechanisms of political expression. (Norris, 2002, 222)

 

Are contemporary media spectacles (“circenses” – i.e. “games”) conducive to the emergence of a new historical form of an open society capable of offering meaningful participation to individuals with many cultural backgrounds, transnational loyalties and shifting choices? What is the shape of the new democratic, open societies and do they need real blood in virtual media in order to develop new, transnational, international, multicultural, cosmopolitan “forms” (institutions, networks, organizations, platforms, ideologies)? Three developments appear to have exerted the most significant influence upon the shaping of the open societies in the early 21st century;

 

·             first, the increasing professionalization of the media specialists and intellectuals, as distinct profession specializing in communicative construction of social realities;

·             second, the emergence of political economy of “attention” and “cultural industries”, and the subsequent re-evaluation of “shock” and “blood links” as attractors of scarce attention in media suffused social reality;

·             third, the concomitant de-skilling with respect to traditional verbal skills and a parallel re-skilling in image processing and performative skills (both on the level of masses at large and on a level of professionalizing minorities: subversive artists, critical intellectuals and alternative social movements).

 

 

Professionalization of media and blood links in open societies

 

The shape of contemporary societies is being determined to a large extent by the professionalization of journalism and media intellectuals, who are relying heavily on the earlier historical examples of the development of the medical, legal, academic, political and consulting professions. Emergence of professions and their development has provided increasingly significant social and cultural (ideological) underpinning for the domination of middle classes in market democracies, at the expense of the extremes of the social hierarchy, whose extremist visions and mutually exclusive interests had thus been tempered into manageability within the political institutions. Professionalization turned out to be an important component of a successful attempt at legitimizing and neutralizing the inequalities of complex societies, including the class differences. The ideology of professional community:

 

…contained, therefore, elements of legitimation of class structure. (…) At the core of the professional project, we find the fusion of antithetical ideological structures and a potential for permanent tension between ‘civilizing function’ and market orientation, between the ‘protection of society’ and the securing of the market, between intrinsic and extrinsic values of work. The profession embodied both leveling and differentiating principles of social organization; while standardizing the ‘production of producers’ and the conditions of entry, on the one hand, professionals sought, on the other, to attain by these means legitimate but unequal status positions. (Larson, 1977,62-3)

 

Professionalization of the media specialists is no exception. Journalists and other media professionals have already been labeled as “the fourth power” – and added to the three powers distinguished by Montesquieu; the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The argument that media are replacing all three – conducting investigation instead of the police, interpreting laws as they see fit and leveling verdicts long before the courts had their say – are voiced often enough to raise concerns about legal and other regulations around the increasingly significant profession. Changes in degree, level and phase of professionalization coincide with transformations of the preconditions for democracy and “openness” of open societies. Max Weber was the first one to notice this phenomenon in his essays on politics and science as “professions” (as opposed to mere individual “jobs” or collectively sanctioned “vocations”). Rapid development of the academic profession in the 20th century contributed to further growth of the practice of “credentialism” in regulating job market and to the parallel development of two ideologies either legitimizing success or neutralizing failure to achieve higher status. Thus we are dealing with the ideologies of “meritocracy” on the one hand (elites and sub-elites of hierarchic bureaucracies legitimize themselves with merit rather than unfair class advantage) and with the ideologies of the reconciliation with the lower levels of a social ladder (“games”, which are provided to the masses in the form of the spectacle of consumption, in which they can selectively and - preferably passively - participate). Larson based her analyses predominantly on empirical studies of the medical profession, but she would have found similar developments within the academic profession, since both health care and education have become significant “industries”, with growing penetration of society, increasing numbers of large institutional bureaucracies and rapidly growing ranks of hierarchically organized but ideologically “equal” professionals.(5) Medical and academic professionals find themselves challenged by the newcomers to the professionalizing game – the media specialists, whose common label so far has been mostly the one of “journalism” (sometimes with adjectives – “investigative”, “new”, “embedded”, “multimedia”). The latter, however, face the same challenges that all other professionals in more mature professions also have to face – namely the increasing self-organization of non-professionals and spontaneous (though aided by quick development of new technologies) activities aimed at undermining the monopolies of competence, often expressed as distrust of experts. In Harald MacMillan’s famous words from the Strasbourg speech of August 16, 1950 - “we have not overthrown the divine right of kings to fall down to the divine right of experts”. 

 

The red line of social dynamics based on challenging the professional monopoly of competence and criticizing it as an uncertain privilege rather than indispensable protection of intrinsic qualities can be traced in European history to the successful challenge to the Catholic Church’s multinational bureaucracy. Church monopoly on disseminating, interpreting and implementing the Bible in social and political life has been broken by the twin forces of Reformation and the invention of a subversive technique of print. Printing press in hands of dissenting Protestants broke a monopoly of a single bureaucracy – the Catholic Church found it impossible to control cheaply produced and disseminated texts, and to prevent ideologies critical of its monopoly from gaining popularity and mobilizing political support. Both the Műnster principle of nation-states (“cuius regio, eius religio”) and the institutional separation of the church from the state as a result of the Enlightenment and the French revolution are successive phases of stabilizing the new balance of social forces ignited by the Reformation’s challenge to professional monopoly of competence. At the beginning of the 21st century, many public intellectuals express their hope in the new media – especially with respect to the new chances for interactive, collective mobilization. The emerging monopoly of the media professionals, far from being reinforced by rapid growth of multimedia penetrating all spaces of social communication is being challenged by newly empowered and professionalized individuals “from below” and by elites (commercial elites work through marketization and political elites tend to work through regulation) from “above”. The analogy, on which public intellectuals base their reasoning, puts an equation mark between the invention of print (and the challenge to church professionals) and the inventions of new communication technologies, especially of the Internet (and the challenge to journalists and other media professionals). What do media professionals, who have just started their struggle to enhance the status of a new profession, make of “cyberia” or cyberspace as a technological platform for political and social action?

 

First, they make ample use of the ideological imagery of a brilliant inventor, who breaks through the established monopoly of the old guild-like profession and opens it up by politically successful employment of new, yet untested technologies. The modern rags-to-riches story of a lonely inventor in a small garage constructing an “Apple” computer from bits and pieces finds its newest version in the story of Matt Drudge, who triggered the Lewinsky media-quake:

 

At the time he created the Drudge report, Matt Drudge was a convenience-store clerk working out of his tiny Hollywood apartment. Drudge worked entirely outside of the expert paradigm of journalism. He bypassed the hierarchies of editor and publisher and ignored the internal journalistic laws of verifiable sources and standards of privacy. By challenging the expert rules that govern what is and is not news, Drudge was able to scoop the world on the White House sex scandal that became the Lewinsky affair. (Walsh, 2003, 368)

 

The conclusion drawn from a success of Drudge’s media guerilla links his breakthrough to the exposure of an institutional monopoly of journalist professionals on “manufacturing of the news”:

 

Drudge indirectly exposed journalism’s secret, internal methods to public scrutiny. Once the ‘news’, which journalism traditionally presents as the objective truth, was revealed to be a manufactured product – a product manufactured, moreover, by methods that seemed cynical and manipulative to many outsiders – the knowledge hegemony of journalism began to show cracks. (Walsh, 2003, 369)

 

Second, they point out – following Kuhn’s analysis of the “structure of scientific revolutions” – that shifts and dramatic changes in “expert paradigms”, or the internal rules governing the production of legitimate knowledge, do not follow any decipherable sequence, not can any universal logic of their change with time be deduced from the analysis of historical changes and paradigmatic revolutions. Social control and relative power, legitimized monopoly and sufficient social status matter more than universal ideal of abstract truth.  Challenges to this monopoly, often aided by technology, which is not immediately chained by powers that be (print, Internet) are thus questioned much more fiercely than the ideological questions of media “content”, which can always be framed and accommodated, contained and neutralized, no matter how rebellious they seem and sound:

 

The Web is like a new sense in some ways, but it must be added to the others – the others must not be subtracted from it, as in some horrible parody of the mystic trance. Without the Web, the full realization of the Temporary Autonomous Zone complex would be impossible. But the Web is not the end in itself. It’s a weapon.(…) Liberation is realized struggle – this is the essence of Nietzsche’s ‘self-overcoming’.(…) Let us study invisibility, webworking, psychic nomadism – and who knows what we might attain? (Bey, 2001, 433-434)

 

The above manifesto has been originally pasted on the website, but it had also been reprinted in a traditional printed medium – a scholarly publication by a prestigious university (with credentials issued by academic professionals) involved in an avant-garde research project on the new media and the emergent class of media professionals. The medium (traditional book) turns out, indeed, to have been the message. The message is – Internet is ripe for canonization. A new medium – Internet – becomes canonized by reflexive analysis and “endorsed” by serious analysts in printed book. Such references to traditional media are consciously “massaged” and managed by media professionals, who recognize their road to upward mobility and increasing status, power and influence in an open society. Napster has been recognized as a threat to a professional control – and it had been duly subdued. The story of Monica Lewinsky could not be stopped in time – so the media joined a lonely inventor, further massaging the message and allowing it to grow into an avalanche, a media-engineered reality with moral, political, social and international consequences. Ironic twist of fate caused hundreds of media professionals, who had already disembarked in Havana in order to cover Pope’s visit to Castro’s communist but also Catholic country, turn their attention away from Cuba to Washington, D.C. One of the senior US media professionals admitted that he knew his decision to return was intellectually and morally wrong and not in public interest – but at the same time he felt that he has to keep up with the uncontrollable “Lewinsky rush”, in order not to deprive his media company of their share of audiences’ attention. He started to massage the news with the White House affair as the top story, thus further reinforcing tendency towards infotainment and justifying accusations that media usurp judicial powers far ahead of the latter. The professionals, however, wanted to maintain the impression of collective integrity, and while conforming to the self-perpetuating media dynamics, tried to preserve some ethical alibi.

 

The ethical alibi building in above case originally assumed the form of a punitive action by a professional community against the innovators, like Matt Drudge. In his case it was the “Newsweek”’s reporter, Michael Isikoff, who performed this ritual function by accusing Drudge of breaking the professional ethics, the rules of journalist profession, by disseminating indiscriminately unverified reporting. Isikoff clearly defined Drudge as an “outsider” (opposed to the “insiders” or responsible and professionally embedded journalists), questioned the rules the outsider had followed, announced his ritual condemnation in major media (“The New York Times”, “The Washington Post”, “CNN”) and accused Drudge of ignoring the legitimate paradigm for assembling journalistic body of knowledge. The ideology of professionally manufactured news “fit to print” turned out to be vulnerable to guerilla attack from the point of view considering if news is “fit to Internet”. The attention-attracting value of this particular amateur news product and the effect it created, pointed out that the media have reached the level of social significance, which makes media professionals serious partners of political, economic and ideological professionals and valuable allies of communities in conflict with the others. Two types of influence merit special attention:

 

·           first, the attractively “open” nature of a message composed primarily of images (“every picture tells a story” – but media professionals have to facilitate the story’s reception) as opposed to a message composed primarily of words (and relatively, but only relatively more “closed”),

·           second, the shock value of human sacrifice (real blood) in political economy of attention (search for these bloody attractors of audiences’ attention forms the blood links of media professionals as representatives of the “fourth power”).

 

The first type of influence is linked to the density of images and their role in symbolic replacement or ideological abbreviation of verbal argumentation. This type of influence is exercised by the mass media, which increasingly suffused social life becoming “crucial fields for the definition of social meaning”(Gitlin, 2003, 292) and mixing with the cultural industries in order to sustain ideological hegemony of the elites by managing and containing cultural resistance “to tame it to use as commodity and to tame and isolate intractable movements and ideas”(ibid.). According to Yannis Gabriel, the increasingly image-focused media have de-skilled some traditional professionals, whose expertise relied on verbal fluency and hermeneutics of texts or on processing of the printed word, while at the same time the increased frequency and sophistication of image-focused media messages had actually “re-skilled” the masses in image-processing, enhancing the status of image-processing professionals, usually the media specialists (Gabriel, 2005). This re-skilling enhances both the power of branding and relevance of the logo (opening new sub-specializations among media professionals) and at the same time makes a more effective opposition (“no logo”, “buy nothing day”) and alternative community possible. Re-skilling through the media’s “school of seeing” opens the field of political and ideological chances for the critical, subversive, alternative social movements. The latter also tend to mobilize and organize around instantly communicable images (the logo of Polish “Solidarity”, or anti-globalists disguised as Ninja turtles in Seattle are cases in point). Some attempts to explain theoretically re-skilling processes have been made by academic professionals dealing with visual arts, who understood that school of seeing to which all members of contemporary societies are continuously exposed, determine what we “suspend” from our perception, on what we “focus” and, generally speaking, how contemporary individuals: “define and shape themselves in terms of a capacity for paying attention, that is for a disengagement from a broader field of attraction, whether visual or auditory, for the sake of isolating or focusing on a reduced number of stimuli”. (Crary,2001,1)

 

However, what attracted attention of broader public and drew more media to the Seattle or Genoa clashes between emerging anti-globalist movement and supranational organizations governing global processes (e.g. WTO) was live reporting from police charges, during which real blood was shed, and protesters had been arrested, beaten up, wounded or even killed.  The shock value of human sacrifice, both as a result of a natural disaster (tsunami wave in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesian on second Christmas day in 2004), an accident (princess Diana’s death in a Paris tunnel) and as a result of a human activity (terrorist explosion of bombs in commuter trains in Madrid, police killing protesting students at the Kent university campus in the USA or on Mexico City’s Mayan Square) far surpasses the values of other attractors compared in the political economy of attention required by mass media dispensing information, communicating news and entertaining (6) – for instance the status of a celebrity. Perhaps this high value of real blood in virtual media, the ability of real individual lives being lost to attract attention and to organize our perception around themselves, is the consequence of assumed irreversibility and empirical verifiability, of witnessing a point of no return (death) of individual human beings not as an element of a manipulated narrative (as in a horror or in a thriller, in which we assume that actors playing dead bodies will get up and return to their work after camera shuts off). In case of hostage execution by the terrorists we do indeed acquire empirical confirmation of veracity – since bodies and heads of their victims are usually discarded after the event, to be found and to confirm authenticity of the videotaped executions. Is virtually mediated but presumably real blood the ultimate attractor to multimedia “games” offered to citizens, consumers and netizens alike? Does the shock of witnessing actual death of a human individual provide for a temporary “unification” of our disunited, cracked, disjointed personalities and roles in a single, morally and aesthetically moved individual human beings? Or is it perhaps the tacitly supplied frame of ritualistic reference, a “frame” for ritualistic measurement of the accuracy of virtual image of reality communicated by the media?

 

 

Instead of a conclusion: blood and rituals

 

“Blood links” - persistent presence of violence and physical destruction of human life in virtual media – can thus have two sources. The first is psychological and rests firmly in the eye and heart of the beholder, who experiences human sacrifice as a cathartic shock, which enables him or her to glimpse his or her entire personality momentarily and briefly “united” in a single reaction of moral and aesthetic outrage. The second is sociological and explains the persistence of publicly displayed human sacrifices in mass-media linked “global village” as ritual theatres of ceremony, power, authority, order and violence. As anthropologists remind us, ritual worlds are the ones in which you cannot separate ‘real’ power and domination from its ‘symbolic’ expression and ritual enactment: “The British, in the early 19th century, endeavored to stamp out the practice of human sacrifice among kings and chiefs in the Kondo Hills – they did it in part by punitive expedition and a public display of the bodies. Claims to power can very commonly be recast into claims to the ultimate right to control life and death.”(James, 2005, 275-276)(7)

 

The answer to the question about persistence of blood links in digitally recorded, satellite-linked and globally accessible individualized mass communications should thus refer to both psychological attractiveness (disparate selves and roles – unite!) and sociological uses and functions (collective ritual, confirming and legitimizing power relations or announcing  challenge to them). Which of the two is more important? Both appear indispensable for understanding why an individual does not ignore ritual violence including human sacrifice and why society at large establishes large scale institutional networks to secure permanent communication flows. Our choice depends on the focus of our inquiry, but preferably both aspects should be accounted for. An interesting possibility of linking the two can be found in studies of religious rituals, whose authors distinguish two “modes” of religiosity, namely the doctrinal and the imagistic one (cf. Whitehouse,2000). A conceptual dichotomy, which has been developed in order to study two different modes of religiosity, might possibly be applied to analyze a transition from a print-related to a digital multimedia related “mode of ritual sociability”. Intellectual persuasion and verbalized doctrine would gradually drift away from “print”-centered sacred books (Bibles, Constitutions), as transition towards multimedia progresses, giving increasingly way to emotional and sensual stimulation (total immersion in virtual reality, the medium is the message) and iconic imagery (every picture tells a story, actions speak louder than words). Since the “performance frequency” (cf.  McCauley, Lawson, 2002,105) dramatically increased with global media broadcasting non-stop all the time in all places – and since “cognitive processing” (by members of the “captive” audiences) and “styles of codification” (by media professionals) also shift, it is quite plausible that the re-emergence of human sacrifices after a period of attempted “taming” of the media with bureaucratically imposed “codes” and socially acceptable censorship signals a new way of managing “emotional and sensory stimulation” of individualized mass audiences with virtual multimedia.(8) Analogy between the conceptual framework developed by cognitive scientists to study religious rituals and conceptual frameworks needed to understand contemporary media hinges, interestingly enough, on demands on individual memory (less memory had been needed to participate in written communications than in oral ones, and less in Internet links than in epistolary contacts) or, as we would rephrase it, on manageability of cultural competence necessary to participate meaningfully in social and political rituals: “Whitehouse argues (Whitehouse, 1992, 789) that ‘messages are cultivated, structured and transmitted by two contrasting techniques… these techniques constitute particular adaptations to differences in frequency of reproduction and hence in demands made on memory’.”(McCauley, Lawson, 2002, 106)

 

Perhaps, then, the re-emergence of human sacrifices in new, electronically mediated public broadcasts (hostage executions by terrorist groups, corpses of war victims shown by independent war reporting), and its parallel “cosmetic” removal from mainstream reports about violent warfare (bowdlerization of embedded war journalism and censorship of disaster reporting) signals emergence of new – mass media mediated - rituals of power, empowerment and power struggle. Perhaps blood links of the new media – through a cognitive shock - open a new platform for a contest of legitimization of political and ideological violence, create the space for alternatives to the seamless web of commercial and political rituals of domination.

 

This might explain, in part, the return of the interest in Carl Schmitt’s theory of political institutions and rituals, linking them to the bureaucratic traditions of the Catholic Church on the one hand and to the clear distinctions and “fault lines” between “included” friends versus “excluded” foes. It might also explain the search for an alternative to a “globalization from top down” by inventing new institutions and new rituals. As Balibar states it conceptualizing the new political form exemplified by the European Union: “Clearly, the idea of a “Euro-Mediterranean ensemble (or alliance) expresses the exactly opposite axiom; it does not say that there are no ‘fault lines’, no vested hostilities around them, but it does say that political institutions (the ‘polity’ and the ‘civility’) precisely arise when hostility becomes a focal point for the elaboration of common interests and historic compromises.”(Balibar, 2004, 231)

 

It might also explain the return of the dream of restoring unity to an individual self atomized, split and isolated in virtual cage of multimedia with their continuous communications flow. Dictatorship of the despotic eye, criticized on the example of television infotainment by Neil Postman (cf. Postman, 1986), immobilizing our bodies in front of TV sets and entrancing our minds by locking our eyes can be countered and media used to break out of Plato’s cave, not to chain us even more compellingly than before:

 

The images of television are not mere spectacles. They are spoken images, oracular insights, emotional visions. (…) Television might be the means by which the poet is restored to the polis. Such a restoration would bring in its wake a re-membrance of the body’s participation in vision, a re-minder which would restore a sense of limits to a vision, which , detached from a body, developed a singular, fixed devotion to the infinite, pursued in a linear, active, willful fashion. (Romanyshyn, 1993, 358-359)(9) 

 

Future projects of social change in an open society and of reducing democratic deficit thus require both the awareness of the necessity to construct new rituals and institutions and the ability to develop more participative, interactive, “friendly” multimedia. Will the shock of human sacrifices in contemporary media increase controls exercised by markets and states or will it prompt facilitating broader access to participative media by communities, NGOs and “quangos”?

 

        

an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 3, April 2006, ISSN 1552-5112

   

Notes

 

(1)      Hal Foster noted that “cynical reason” enables contemporary populations subjected to the media spectacle to both enjoy the recognition of real conflicts and remain passive (“relinquish agency”) – “as if agency were a small price to pay for the shield that cynicism might provide, for the immunity that ambivalence might secure”. He quotes the spectacles of Clarence Thomas hearings, the Rodney King case and the O.J. Simpson trial, which “involved extreme violations and difficult contradictions of difference – racial, sexual and social. As such, they were events of deep divisions, but they were also events around which impossible identifications became possible”. (Foster, 1996,223) His solution – expressed in a book devoted to the artistic avant-garde at the end of the 20th century – was to evoke the concept of a critical distance, a relevant perspective and to rephrase a question of Nietzsche from “The Genealogy of Morals” – “whether criticism can ever be free of distinctions on the noble side and resentments on the base side” (ibid.,225)

(2)      The only dissenting voice in media coverage came from a German Islamic scholar of Syrian origin, Bassam Tibi, who had been lecturing in the Netherlands in mid-January 2005, when the incident happened. Bassam Tibi, who had studied under Habermas and lectured in Göttingen, Harvard and St.Gallen, claims that the Dutch government is much too soft and cautious with the Muslim communities. The point he makes is that claiming that the European culture is the “leading culture” with a dominant position offers a much better chance for implementing an “europeization” of Islamic communities in Europe than offering the latter a chance to try “islamization” of European social forms and cultural norms (the famous French case of Islamic head covering being declared illegal in public buildings is a case in his point).

(3)      Balibar clearly realizes that the reinvention of transnational citizenship, comparable with the EU-membership, would echo the political invention of the nation-state, which at the time of its emergence formed “a non-existing solution for the problems of religious, feudal and regional conflicts, but at a different scale and following procedures, which are now obsolete”(Balibar,2004,230-231)

(4)      Balibar does not stand alone. He quotes Umberto Eco, who formulated the idea that the only genuine idiom of Europe is the practice of translation and the role of a critical intellectual is that of an intermediary, an interpreter, a translator. Keane expresses a similar intuition, when he proposes The Law of Unending Controversy as the cornerstone of a global civil society, in which communities of believers and non-believers are: “left with no other intellectual and political option – if we want to avoid social entropy and political violence – but to seek ways of maximizing the freedom and equality and mutual respect of non-believers and believers alike.(…) Civil societies institute a learning process that by definition cannot come to an end; a process of recognizing that it is possible to lead lives very different than our own, and that coming to understand that accepting or compromising with others whom we know little about, or do not understand, or for whom we have little or no sympathy, is the mark of civility.”(Keane, 2003,195, 198)

(5)      “In our society, the reality of class and exploitation is deflected and concealed by the contradictions of a self that is shaped by class; ideology, indeed transforms structure into personality” – writes Larson commenting upon monopolies of competence and bourgeois ideology – “The hierarchy of competence is presented and lived, from early childhood on, as coincident with moral hierarchy of intelligence, effort, dignity and freedom. (…) Ideology makers men and women put the burden of their ‘failures’ on themselves first, it holds in front of them the possibility of purely personal and individual solution, and thus prevents them from even conceiving that there may be collective and cooperative ways of challenging the very structure of social inequality”.(Larson,1977,241)

(6)      Franck points our attention to the increasing role of reputation at the expense of money in professionalized society. “Reputation is more important than money. Reputation is the consolidated income of collectively attracted attention”.(Franck, 1998, 38) and remarks that scarcity of attention and difficulties in accumulating it far outdistance the scarcity of money and difficulties in accumulating it. Power supposedly pales next to fame, wealth next to celebrity.

(7)      James quotes a study by Felix Padel devoted to the Orissa region: cf. Padel,1995

(8)      It is not only the question of violence and human death depicted by the media. It is also a question of the media gradually broadening the range of their uncensored activities and breaking the codes imposed by social, political and religious bodies – as is for instance the case with the systematic legalization of pornography, which is still clearly labeled and handled in a way, which makes it possible for adults to prevent children from exposure, but regularly offered as part and parcel of cable or hotel services. In a sense, pornography in multimedia is also linked to a human sacrifice –offering a ritual of sexual intercourse performed by selected individuals in public. This steady progress of pornography on its way to be recognized as legitimate genre of cultural production (French novels, Austrian and British drama, cosmopolitan performances - in the wake of the US film industry) is also partly linked to a more general transition: “with the growing influence of television in the last half of the 20th century, popular culture, including journalism, becomes a form of spectacle, in which aestheticized images replace narrative as the dominant form of communication” (Compton, 2004, 4)

(9)      The case of Benetton’s advertising campaign with Oliviero Toscani’s photographs of death row inmates in the USA and the subsequent protests inside the Sears chain stores (where Benetton’s boutiques opened) offers an interesting example of a significant and successful social mobilization organized by families of the victims of photographed convicts and a showcase of misunderstanding of blood links The message of the protesters’ action, which found social support and forced Sears to close Benetton’s boutiques down, was that blood of their family members was shed by convicts’ illegitimate violence, while Toscani’s photographs questioned legitimacy of death sentence to be executed in state prisons and were thus offensive by downplaying significance of victims blood and upgrading significance of criminals’ sacrifice on the altar of justice.   

 

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