Saturday, July 23, 2011

Narratives of Terror

Shortly after the brutal Gabrielle Giffords shooting earlier this year, the name Jarod Loughner was injected into the American consciousness. Listening to the devastation that he caused, one couldn't help but grimly do what we do when we need answers to things: Google Search. 

The news media studiously instructed that the footage would be disturbing, and it was more than that. All of them are eerie, but America: Your Last Memory in a Terrorist Country, terrified me when I first tried to watch it. With its Death Metal soundtrack ("let the bodies hit the floor" is the refrain), it featured a desert scene with a single American flag posted on a dirt mound, scrapping the ground. A figure appears in a black cloak and a happy face mask.  Happy face mask has only one arm ("his right one!", the on-screen comment prompts). While the music rages, Happy face mask lifts the flag and lights it on fire (patriots burn flags to preserve their honor, fyi). Then he creeps off like a creep.

I felt like I was in that scene from The Ring when that creepo girl crawls out of the TV. I stopped the Loughner video because I thought happy face mask might crawl out of my laptop if I let it run to the end. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, this message directly from a killer was a surreal experience (if we're even allowed to use that word anymore) and a natural extension of our conversation to the digital world. Jarod Loughner probably knew for some time that his name would be searched for. (Afterall, that's what it means to be truly famous; people have to search for you.) He knew that they would search for him and he wanted them to see something special. Not some dumb skateboarding videos. Not some girlfights. Not some stupid mass transit rider beating on some other stupid mass transit rider. No, his videos would explain to people why he was doing what he was doing. Not only would he take lives, but as a child of our culture he knew the most important thing to control was the narrative of his actions. 

It turned out that this became kind of a moot point afterwards. Most of the videos were just rambling PowerPoints about world conspiracies, bad grammar, and the like. He seems to be wanting to say something about the power structures that lay under the ones we see. He wants to uncover the conspiracy that deceives 85% of us. Now, I believe the world is run on conspiracies, but the narrative Loughner kicked just didn't make much sense. There were snippets of truth tied together with a lot of nonsense. That's one of the real shames. He didn't even make sense. All that suffering he caused, that suffering he carries, all because of a war raging in his own head.

So what do we learn from it? If you thought the Giffords massacre would deliver the public support for stricter gun laws, you're crazy. With a Negro as president, we all just feel a little safer if the White man gets to keep his guns. Americans like being able to kill, and they don't need anybody to tell them different.

And as far as people taking the shooting as a message to tamp down the political rhetoric, have you seen "Give Us Your Cash, B****"? If you haven't, you really need to take a look to get an update on what the worst racist and sexist thing you've seen in a while. This is some cutting edge racism and sexism. It's educational. Sadly, the song and video look like they really were directed by an employee of Black Entertainment Television.

But maybe this doesn't have to be a meaningless event. Maybe we could actually learn something real about a danger we face. We are entering the age of narrative reassignment. Now, before someone does something horrendous, their first concern will be how to frame their own story. We've been constantly told that we have to "sell ourselves as a brand" and this is no different. Before they do what they do, killers will actually set the table for the crimes they are going to commit.

You know Facebook had to get their credit.
This came to mind recently because of the coordinated bombing and shooting that took place in Oslo yesterday. Apparently someone detonated an explosive and then later opened fire at a kids camp, leaving an estimated 80 92 dead in his wake. The suspect in the crime, Anders Behring Beivik, who looks like he stepped from the pages of of Norwegian Vogue, has a twitter account with only one post. What does it say? "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests." There has also been mention of "disturbing" right-wing internet postings from Beivik. Don't expect to see less of this kind of thing. Whoever conducted the 9/11 operation inspired a generation of murderous auteurs who want to control their own narratives. 

And to be honest, it's not the Loughners and the Beiviks that we really need to be worried about. They commit their crimes and become footnotes. The real controllers of narratives are the Murdochs and the Liebermans and the Bushes and the Bin Ladens and the...wait for it...Obamas. These are the men who sow narratives before they do their killing. 

9/11. The Taliban. Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Landen. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Saddam Hussein. That pretty much summarizes the last ten years of fear. It would almost be funny if not for the thousands of lives lost and the trillions of dollars wasted (stolen). Although the way Loughner and Beiviks managed to coordinate their online presences with their crimes may be disturbing, it pales in comparison to the horrors that await if we don't stop consuming these narratives that explain away murder and exploitation.

Oh, by the way, how's that Libyan petroleum extraction project going? 

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