Professors Jaap Kooijman and Thomas Poell
Classic Texts in Media TheoryOctober 2011
What is, in fact, 9/11? Event, brutal reality, ”the greatest aesthetic gesture of the twentieth century” (Fredric Jameson, 304)? When trying to achieve a holistic perspective of the historical, indeed awful event that took place on September 11th, 2011, one cannot but wonder about the true, political reasons behind the ”terrorist” gesture and its meaning on a global scale. It was not so much about an act of crime against humanity, but rather about the thin line between what really happened and what media, politics and history made out of it.
As opposed to the official discourse on “terrorism” and the “loss of innocence”, there are three approaches of 9/11 that I will take into account: defining the event through its symbolic meaning in a mediated reality (Baudrillard), the event as the culminating intrinsic fantasy of self-destruction in the Western culture (Zizek) and the historical frame of the event which is ignored by the media discourse of disaster (Jameson).
Firstly, when facing this event, it is the power of the symbolic - as defined by Baudrillard -, which is hidden by the official frame of references (victims versus terrorism). It is not about the real horror, but about the images of horror that become more important than reality itself, because that which is considered real is, in fact, another layer of the spectacle. As Baudrillard further points out in ”The Spirit of Terrorism”: “In this case, one thought (…) that there was a resurgence of the real – of the violence of the real – in a supposedly virtual universe. (…) If this seems to be the case, it is because reality absorbed the energy of fiction and became fiction” (140-141). 9/11 represents the climax of fiction-reality as media transformed it into a shocking spectacle that was transmitted in real time on a global scale.
Hollywood had transcended the big screen and a catastrophe “movie” was broadcasted on televisions across the world. It was as if reality was not real anymore.
In Zizek’s terms, it was a ”derealization” (65), as the illusion of the safe, reliable “Western sphere” shattered. Moreover, the impact was even stronger as the collective desires nurtured by the fantasy of disaster had become real. Thus Western civilization, or better said,
US civilization had to deal with the “impersonation” of its own self-destruction as a result of “the Evil” within. The hegemonic power dealt with its consequences.
In fact, considering 9/11 is not even a matter of
America versus Islam or capitalism against fundamentalist terrorism. It is a clash within a so-called world order that cannot sustain itself, for it has too many antagonisms that cannot be and shouldn’t be unified, especially not under a hegemonic power. It is an alarm signal raised against such tendencies although the “terrorist attack threat” sounds more concrete and allows governs to find a solution and “fight” against it. How can you fight against this Evil within? It is easier to give it a name, the name of the Other and to strike back. As Zizek states it “(…) we should gather the courage to endorse the Hegelian lesson: in this pure Outside, we should recognize the distilled version of our own essence” (65). As such, the Western’s hidden alter-ego surfaced the conscious image of the innocent.
Going even beyond this antagonistic discourse, what everyone seems to forget, even now, is that it was not a spontaneous act of terrorism, but a consequence of “global peace” as a utopian form of history that humanity cannot actually sustain. As the historical approach of Jameson unfolds: “One does not have to endorse Hegel’s infamous comment that wars are necessary for the spiritual health of societies, to see how the absence of generalized physical destruction creates a certain problem for capitalism (…).” (Fredric Jameson, 303) Capitalism and globalization are, indeed, their own enemy to a certain extent and they need, as cynical as it may sound, violent “valves” of depressurizing “unused inventories” (Fredric Jameson, 303) both at a material level, but at a political, ideological level as well. Jameson underlines this by arguing that after the eradication of the Leftist, the logic of antagonisms seemed futile, so another Other needed to arise, this time on the grounds of politics of religion (302). Baudrillard couldn’t have stated this paradox better: “If Islam dominated the world, terrorism would rise up against Islam, since it is the world which resists globalization” (136).
9/11 has, thus, become the first step into a mediated reality-fantasy as a pretext of retaliation on the symbolic “Other”. Although there is an unconscious need for destruction, it further nurtures the official discourse of “war on terrorism” in a constant struggle to justify the hegemonic strive of globalism as protector of “freedom” and “world peace”.
Baudrillard Jean, “The Spirit of Terrorism”, Telos, Fall 2001: 134-142.
Fredric Jameson, “The Dialectics of Disaster,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102: 2 (2002): 297-304.
Slavoj Žižek, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Reflections on WTC,” third version (October 2001), lacanian ink 16 (Spring 2000 [sic]): 64-81