9/11

Above: The attacks on the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, New York. Credit: Photographer unknown.

Saddam

Above: A US Army soldier watches as a statue of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein falls in central Baghdad's Firdos Square, 9 April 2003. Credit: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters.

News Broadcast

A principal feature of news television--24-hour news; cable news; Fox News, CNN, etc.--is the oppressive, repetitive short clip or "loop" of video material--always the most astonishing, striking, or heartbreaking captured moment from a newsworthy event often no more than a few seconds duration. For Virilio, the looped video-clip is a dangerous, and in fact horrifying, development in the history of audio-visual broadcasting: such excerpts tend to obliterate critical reflection. The effect of such clips on the viewer is two-fold: they are both stupefying and highly memorable. In this way, news-loops have the status of a "collective hallucination (CP: 86)." And in fact the looped news-clip has very similar characteristics to video clips known to have been used effectively in indoctrination; they are videos so searingly intense that they can effect "instantaneous mind-control (CP: 50)."

The transmission-broadcasting of such excerpts transcends merely informing-and-appraising an audience about events around the world. These image-scenes are rather a form of subliminal conditioning and psychological desensitization or actually dehumanization, "showing an execution once is one thing, it's information, but ... reproducing it [ad infinitum] is equivalent to auto-suggestion (VW: 46-47)." Through repeated viewings such loops become entrancing, hypnotic. This effect is intolerable, "[the] endlessly reproduced image is no longer a piece of information but a [hypnotic] suggestion, a subjugation of the viewer ... the drilling [into] the gaze by television (VW: 46-47)."

The news loop, insofar as it is appropriated by a hostile State or a terror force, is a primary weapon of Total War against a people--as per General Friedrich Ruge (1984-1985) Total War, "aims at destroying the honor, the identity, the very soul of the enemy (SP: 96)." Breaking-news broadcasts have become a basic space for military operations: on one side is the extremist-terrorist group waging a media-war with their terror attacks (e.g., suicide bombings) and outraging extremist actions (e.g., beheading of prisoners), while on the other side is the State responding with all manner of disinformation and propaganda. To some extent the screen replaces the geophysical military battlefield as the modern battle-site (VW: 28), the "war of images and sounds tends to supplement the war of projectiles of the military arsenal (DS: 88)." In this way, the breaking-news television broadcast emerges as a dematerialized front in a Total War affecting millions of civilians (LE: 21). Here, once more, is an exemplar of "the aesthetics of disappearance," in that a once defined geographical locale is replaced and superseded by the another which is dematerialized and virtual (VW: 22-23). The victorious belligerent in any such war will very likely be the one who is able to occupy the television screens with an "invincible armada of images (DS: 16)."

A specific example of such military-choreographed disinformation and PR-like activity which Virilio scrutinizes is the destruction of the statue of Saddam in Firdos Square in Bagdhad (9 April 2003), during the US-led invasion of Iraq. For Virilio, the toppling of the statue of Saddam was not an authentically spontaneous occurrence carried out by local people, but was rather, well-organized (by US forces), and likely pre-planned (CP: 88-89). All was arranged so that this highly symbolic event would tend to be perceived as an unplanned action by the ordinary people of Baghdad (and so enhancing the perception of the US-led invasion as the liberation of a people). And, of course, it is absolutely clear that the iconic symbolism was tailored for the news-channel video loop.

Harrowing breaking-news broadcasts feed an increasingly voyeuristic urge for images of carnage, destruction, human suffering, misfortune and misery. For Virilio, there is an inherent sadism-and-masochism in a mass audience continuously rewatching video loops of distressing events. Such loops, "endlessly show us the repetition ... of a terror we are utterly fascinated by (OA: 21)." This perverse fascination can be understood as symptomatic of a catastrophic reversal of the basic foundational ethos of Western civilization: namely critical discussion and rational argument. We have entered the epoch of the inversion of philosophy to "philofolie," a love-of-wisdom is getting replaced by a generalized love-of-lunacy, or even the love-of-insanity. English translator Chris Turner translates Virilio's term philofolie as philanoia (OA). The news-loop is the terminal unit-of-currency of the audio-visual.