Volume 2, Number 1
I do not praise murderous attacks – that would be idiotic. Terrorism is not a contemporary form of revolution against oppression and capitalism. No ideology, no struggle for an objective, not even Islamic fundamentalism, can explain it. ...I have glorified nothing, accused nobody, justified nothing. One should not confuse the messenger with his message. I have endeavored to analyze the process through which the unbounded expansion of globalization creates the conditions for its own destruction.7
Indeed, Baudrillard has also produced some provocative reflections on globalization. In “The Violence of the Global,” he distinguishes between the global and the universal, linking globalization with technology, the market, tourism, and information contrasted to identification of the universal with “human rights, liberty, culture, and democracy”.8 While “globalization appears to be irreversible…. universalization is likely to be on its way out.” Elsewhere, Baudrillard writes: “...the idea of freedom, a new and recent idea, is already fading from the minds and mores, and liberal globalization is coming about in precisely the opposite form – a police-state globalization, a total control, a terror based on “’law-and-order’ measures. Deregulation ends up in a maximum of constraints and restrictions, akin to those of a fundamentalist society”. 9
Most theorists, including myself, see globalization as a matrix of market economy, democracy, technology, migration and tourism, and the worldwide circulation of ideas and culture. Baudrillard, curiously, takes the position of those in the anti-globalization movement who condemn globalization as the opposite of democracy and human rights. For Baudrillard, globalization is fundamentally a process of homogenization and standardization that crushes “the singular” and heterogeneity. This position, however, fails to note the contradictions that globalization simultaneously produces homogenization and hybridization and difference, and that the anti-corporate globalization movement is fighting for social justice, democratization, and increased rights, factors that Baudrillard links with a dying universalization. In fact, the struggle for rights and justice is an important part of globalization and Baudrillard’s presenting of human rights, democratization, and justice as part of an obsolete universalization being erased by globalization is theoretically and politically problematical.10
Before 9/11, in Baudrillard's musings of the past two decades, the global postmodern condition has been one of absorbing otherness, of erasing difference, of assimilating and imploding all oppositional or negative forces into a viral positivity and virtuality. That is, Baudrillard saw globalization and technological development producing standardization and virtualization that was erasing individuality, social struggle, critique and reality itself as more and more people became absorbed in the hyper and virtual realities of media and cyberspace. In his view, the positive and the virtual radiate throughout every interstice of society and culture, irradiating into nullity any negativity, opposition, or difference. It is also an era in which reality itself has disappeared, constituting the "perfect crime" which is the subject of a book of that title (1996) and elaborated in The Vital Illusion (2000). Baudrillard presents himself here as a detective searching for the perpetrator of the "perfect crime," the murder of reality, "the most important event of modern history." His recurrent theme is the destruction and disappearance of the real in the realm of information and simulacra, and the subsequent reign of illusion and appearance. In a Nietzschean mode, he suggests that henceforth truth and reality are illusions, that illusions reign, and that therefore we should respect illusion and appearance and give up the illusory quest for truth and reality.
Yet in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent Terror War, difference and conflict have erupted upon the global stage and heterogeneous forces that global capitalism appears unable to absorb and assimilate have emerged and have produced what appears to be an era of intense conflict. Ideological apologists of globalization such as Thomas Friedman have been forced to acknowledge that globalization has its dark sides and produces conflict as well as networking, interrelations, and progress. It remains to be seen, of course, how the current Terror War and intensified global conflicts will be resolved.
As a parenthetical aside, I sometimes muse that the abhorrent terror acts by the bin Laden network and other Jihadists, and the violent military response to the terrorist acts by the Bush administration, may be an anomalous paroxysm whereby a highly regressive premodern Islamic fundamentalism has clashed with an old-fashioned patriarchal and unilateralist Wild West militarism. It could be that such forms of terrorism, imperialism, and state repression will be superseded by more rational forms of politics that criminalize and marginalize terrorism, and that do not sacrifice the benefits of the open society and economy in the name of security. Yet the events of September 11 may open a new era of Terror War that will lead to the kind of apocalyptic futurist world depicted by cyberpunk fiction.11 Time will tell.
In any case, Baudrillard has continued to engage the events of contemporary history and to chart the vicissitudes of present-day culture, society, and politics. In an article in Liberation “Pornographie de la Guerre,”12 Baudrillard compared the global circulation and impact of the images of 9/11 with the quasi-pornographic images of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse in Iraq by US troops. While 9/11, for Baudrillard, constituted an “electric shock to power” exerted from the outside, the Baghdad prison images reflected a “humiliation inflicted on power” and the shock of shame and bad conscience imposed by itself upon its imperial power. In both cases, there was a violent global reaction of the whole world exhibiting, “in the first case, a sentiment of prodigiousness,” and in the second “a sentiment of abjection.”
While September 11 was a major global event, Baudrillard claimed that the Iraqi prison abuse images constituted in themselves a non-event, of an “obscene banality, the atrocious but banal degradation, not merely of the victims but of the amateur stage-managers of this pornographic parody of violence.” The Abu Ghraib images were for Baudrillard a parody of violence and the Iraq war itself in which the “reality show” of the “the liberation of Iraq” became an “Ubesque and infantile” farcical spectacle of the impotency of American power
After justly chastising the American troops who created this obscene and pornographic spectacle of amateur photography, he adds that the rest of the Western world is complicit with this dehumanizing abuse and parody: “The bad conscience of the entire West crystallizes in these images. The whole West is contained in the burst of the sadistic laughter of the American soldiers, as it is behind the construction of the Israeli wall”.13
Previously, Baudrillard had claimed in “The spirit of terrorism” that much of the world was complicit with the event of 9/11 in dreaming that the superpower be put in its place and that urban and technological hypermodernity be punished for its arrogant colonization of everyday life, a fantasy regularly acted out in disaster films. The colonizing West was also complicit in the Iraqi prisoner abuse and torture scandal for only a deeply racist mentality could imagine and engage in such actions that put on display an unmastered racist brutality in the image of the now notorious woman MP Lyndee England posed with a leash around a naked Iraqi prisoner as if he was a dog, or US soldiers perversely constructing stacks of naked Iraqi bodies into sexually humiliating positions as if they were a horde of animals. The image of Lyndee England pointing to an Iraqi male prisoner masturbating with one thumb up and another pointing to the Iraqi’s genitals, accompanied by a grotesque leer, again points to the pornographic and racist nature of the prisoner abuse, as well as, in Baudrillard’s view, “the pornographic face of war itself.” In another shocking image, a hooded Iraqi prisoner standing atop a box has his arms stretched out and wires attached to his fingers connected to electrical lines. The hood evokes the Ku Klux Klan and their notorious lynching, while the pose of the Iraqi with his arms spread out evokes Christ on the cross, and the monstrous and grotesque figure as a whole reminds art-sensitive viewers of Goya’s sketches of the horrors of war. For Baudrillard, the parody of electrocution represents “that America has electrocuted itself”.14
These pictures also elicit, as Baudrillard suggests, a brutal colonial mentality. The Washington Post noted that the cache of more than 1000 digital pictures that they had received revealed that the young American troops took pictures of camels, exotic vistas of Iraq, and scenes of ordinary people, as well as the copious prisoner abuse and disgusting prison pictures. Many of the quasi-pornographic images released of the Iraqi male prisoners depicted a femininization of them, naked or in women’s undergarments, and passively humiliated and emasculated. There is, of course, a long Western colonial tradition of taking exotic pictures of faraway places and feminizing and sexualizing exotic cultures, just as there is a tradition of documenting bloody atrocity scenes in wartime. In a digital age, these genres and impulses merged together, producing a panorama of horror that may end military careers and deflate American imperial ambitions in the Middle East for a generation.
To be sure, the pornographic overtones and participation by men and women along with the gloating and smirking faces of the US prison guards made the particular Abu Ghraib prison images especially toxic and explosive. Yet any number of other images of dead Iraqi civilians, US bombing errors, brutal treatment by the US forces of Iraqis, and the like could be easily documented and distributed through the world media. Part of the shock and distress of the images in the US resulted from the sanitized view of the Iraq intervention in the US corporate media.15 Wars are often defined in the public mind by negative images of atrocity, such as the naked young girl fleeing in Vietnam, with her body scarred by napalm, or the image of a young US soldier lighting a peasant hut on fire with his cigarette lighter. Iraq, too, may be remembered by horrific images, in this case taken by the US troops themselves.
1 This paper was delivered at Baudrillard and the Arts: A Tribute to His 75th Birthday. A conference marking Baudrillard’s 75th birthday at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, in July 2004. I am grateful to participants for stimulating discussion that helped with revision. For my own views on the topics discussed in this paper, see Douglas Kellner, From September 11 to Terror War: The Dangers of the Bush Legacy (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003); Media Spectacle (London and New York: Routledge, 2003); and “Preemptive Strikes and the War on Iraq: A Critique of Bush Administration Unilateralism and Militarism,” forthcoming in New Political Science and online at http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/kellner.html.
2 See Jean Baudrillard. Simulations, New York: Semiotext(e), 1997:134ff.
3 Published November 2, 2001. See also Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers. New York: Verso, 2002.
4 Verso has published a second edition of this text which includes Baudrillard’s “Violence of the Global” and “Hypotheses on Terrorism”. New York: Verso, 2003. See also endnote 8.
5 Initially, Bush spoke of a “war against terrorism” and then began expanding the concept to a “war on terror,” an obviously infinite project with no conceivable end or terminus.
6 Jean Baudrillard, cited in Mark Goldblatt, “French Toast: America Wanted September 11” National Review Online, December 3, 2001:8 http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-goldblatt121301.shtml. Goldblatt reproduces the anti-French discourse of the right that was prevalent at the time
7 Jean Baudrillard. “This is the Fourth World War,” an interview with Der Speigel, 2002; see the translation at International Journal of Baudrillard Studies Volume 1, Number 1: http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/spiegel.htm.
9 Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism. New York: Verso, 2002:32.
10 In other words, I see democratization, rights, and justice as part of a highly contradictory and contested globalization. See Douglas Kellner, “Theorizing Globalization,” Sociological Theory, Volume 20, Number 3, November 2002: 285-305.
11 Douglas Kellner. 9/11 and Terror War: The Dangers of the Bush Legacy. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
12 May 19, 2004. Translated into English in International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (On The Internet) Volume 2, Number 1, January 2005. See endnote 13.
13 Jean Baudrillard. War Porn. Translated by Paul Taylor. International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. Volume 2, Number 1, January 2005. http://www.ubishops.ca/baudrillardstudies/vol2_1/taylor.htm
15 Parenthetically, I might note that it has been largely Arab media who have focused upon the unsavory aspects of the US Iraq invasion and occupation, showing many bloody images of Iraqi civilian victims of US military action and unflattering images of US military forces and politicians. With the Pandora’s Box of Iraqi Evils now opened, with the global media’s tendency toward pack journalism and the feeding frenzy of the moment, and with genuine fear and concerns about the direction of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion and occupation among broad segments of the public, there are certain to be many, many more disturbing images of the growing global media spectacle of US misadventures in Iraq and outrage concerning the entire failed enterprise.
16 Douglas Kellner. Media Spectacle. New York: Routledge, 2003.
17 Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Translated by J. Cummings (1947). NewYork: Herder and Herder, 1972
19 As I conclude these reflections in July 2004, reports are surfacing that over one hundred Iraqi children are being held in prisons, including Abu Ghraib, and that there are videotapes of US troops sexually abusing and torturing children that may soon be released and that journalist Seymour Hersh will continue to document the atrocities. See William Pitt, “Torturing Children,” Truthout (http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/072004A.shtml), also available at www.smirkingchimp.com/print.php?sid=17066
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2005)