Matteo Pasquinelli on Sat, 14 Aug 2004 05:43:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> WARPORN WARPUNK! Autonomous videopoiesis in wartime

[rough version, still to be edited. /m]

Autonomous videopoiesis in wartime

Grinning monkeys

How do you think to stop the war disarmed? No-war public opinion that
fills squares worldwide and cosmetic democracies behind International
Courts stand powerless in front of US military raging. Against the
instincts of a superpower there is nothing to do: a homicide force can
be arrested by another stronger force only. Everyday we witness such a
Darwinian show: history is repeating through a cruel confrontation of
forces, and what rests is freedom of speech exercised in drawing-rooms.
Pacifists as well are accomplice of instinctive forces, because animal
aggressiveness belongs to everybody. But, when and how do we express
that bestiality we condemn in the armies? Digging the coat of the
self-censorship belonging to the radical left (not only to the
conformist majority), we should admit publicly that watching Abu Ghraib
pictures of pornographic tortures doesn't scandalized us, on the
contrary, it excite us, exactly as the obsessive voyeurism of NY911
videos still excite us. Through such images we feel the expression of
repressed instincts, the pleasure rising again after narcotized by
consumerism, technologies, goods, images. We show our teeth as monkeys
do, when their aggressive grin looks dreadfully like the human smile.
Contemporary thinkers like Baudrillard and Zizek push forward the
acknowledgment of a dark side inside the western culture. If NY911 has
been a shock for the western awareness, Baudrillard puts forward a more
shocking thesis: we western people are to have desired NY911, as death
instinct of a superpower that reaches its biological limit and doesn't
want but its self-destruction and war. Indignation is always false,
there is always an animal talking behind a video screen.

On the videowar chessboard

Before pulling the monkey out of the TV set, we have to focus the
chessboard the media match is played on. The more reality is an
augmented reality of mass, personal, networked devices, the more wars
become media war, even if they take place in a desert. The First Global
War starts live–broadcasting NY911 air catastrophe and goes on with
video-guerrilla episodes: everyday from the Iraqi front we received
videos shot by invaders, militiamen, journalists. In such a media war
each action is designed before to fit its spectacular consequences.
Terrorists learnt all the rules of a spectacular conflict, while the
imperial propaganda, much more expert, has no problems to play with
fakes and hoaxes (see dossiers about weapons of mass destructions). It
is no more the burocratic propaganda war of the past. New media turned
traditional media war into a media guerrilla, opening a bottom-up
resistance front, a molecular front. Video cameras among civilians,
weblogs updated by independent journalists, smart-phones used by
American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison: each one represents an
uncontrollable variable that can subvert propaganda apparatus. Video
imagery produced by television is now interlaced with the anarchic
self-organized infrastructure of digital networked media, that become
dreadful distribution means (see the capillary spreading on the net of
the Nick Berg's beheading video). Today's propaganda is used to deal
with a connective imagery rather than a collective spectacle, and the
intelligence sets up simulacra of the truth based on networking

The videoclash of civilizations

Beside the techno-conflict between horizontal and vertical media, on the
international mediascape two secular cultures of image face each other.
United States embodies the last stage of videocracy, an oligarchic
technocracy based on hypertrophic advertising and infotainment and the
colonization of worldwide imagery through Hollywood and CNN. XIX
century's  ideologies, such as Nazism and Stalinism, were intimately
linked to the fetishism of the idea-image (and all the western thought
is heir of the Platonic idealism). Islamic culture on the contrary is
traditionally iconoclast: representing images of God and of the Prophet
is forbidden, and usually of any living creature as well. Allah only is
Al Mussawir, who gives rise to forms: imitating his gesture of creation
is a sin (even if this precept never appears in the Koran). Islam,
unlike Christianity, has no sacred iconographic center. In the mosques
the Kibla is an empty niche. Its power comes not from the refusal of the
image but from the refusal of its centralizing role, developing in this
way a material, anti-spectacular, horizontal cult. On Doomsday, painters
are meant to suffer more than other sinners. Even if westernization go
forward through television and cinema (paradoxically they didn't have
the same treatment of painting), iconoclastic ground keeps in stand-by
and breaks out against western symbols, as it happened with the World
Trade Center. To hit western idolatry, pseudo-Islamic terrorism becomes
videoclasm, prepares attacks designed for the live broadcasting and uses
satellite channels as a resonance mean of its propaganda. Al-Jazeera
broadcasts images of shot-dead Iraqi civilians, while western mass media
remove these bodies in favor of the military show. An asymmetrical
imagery is developing between East and West, and afterwards an
asymmetrical rage also, that will break out backlashes in the
generations to come. In such a clash between videocracy and videoclasm,
a third actor – that is the global movement – tries to open a breach and
develop  an autonomous videopoiesis. The making of an alternative
imagery is not based only on self-organizing independent media, but also
on winning back the dimension of the myth and of the body. Videopoiesis
should talk – at the same time – to the belly and to the brain of the

Global video-brain

Not the news about tortures at the Abu Ghraib prison or about Nick
Berg's beheading woken up western media and awareness, but the physical
force of live-broadcasted images did. Television is the medium that
learnt the masses a Pavlov reaction to images. Television as well is the
medium that produced the globalization of the collective mind (something
more complex than the idea of public opinion). The feelings of the
masses have been always reptilian: what media proliferation established
is a video mutation of feelings, a becoming-video of the collective
brain and of the collective narration. The global video-brain works out
of images like our brain thinks out of images. Diving in the electronic
and economic acceleration, the collective mind has no time to
communicate and elaborate messages but reacts to visual stimuli only. A
collective imagery is rising when a media infrastructure casts and
repeats the same images in a million copies, producing a common space, a
consensual hallucination around the same object (that afterwards becomes
word-mouth or movie industry). In the case of the TV medium such a
serial communication of a million images is much more lethal, because
instantaneous. On the other hand, the networked imagery works in an
interactive way, the reason why we call it connective imagery. Imagery
is a collective serial broadcasting of the same image across different
media. Quoting Goebbels, it is a lie repeated a million times that
becomes public discourse, everyday conversations, and then truth.
Collective imagery is the place where media and desire meet each other,
where the same image repetition modifies millions of bodies, inscribes
leisure, hope, scare. Communication and desire, mediasphere and
psychosphere, are the two axis through which the war reaches our bodies
far from the real conflict, the way image inscribes itself into the

Animal narrations

Why does reality exist only when shot by a TV network? Collective
imagery is not made by the video evolution of mass technologies only,
but also by natural instincts of human kind. As a political animal, the
human being is inclined to set up collective narrations, that represent
the belonging instinct to its own kind. Let's call them animal
narrations. For this reason television is a "natural" medium, because it
reflects the need of an only narration for millions people, as once
other narrative genres did and still do, like the epic, the myth, the
Bible, the Koran. Television represents the ancestral feeling to belong
to one Kind, that is the meta-organism we all belong to. Each
geopolitical area has its own video macro-attractor (CNN, BBC), which
all the other media relate to. Beside macro-attractor, there are
meta-attractors, featuring the role of critical consciousness against
them, a function often held by press and web media (the Guardian, for
instance). Of course the model is much more complex: we can keep on till
blogs, that we can define micro-attractors, the smallest attractors in
scale. It is curious to describe mass media in such a way: they are no
more push media (one-to-many), but pull media (many-to-one), attracting
and aggregating media which we invest desire into. Quoting Reich's
remark on fascism, we can say that masses are not brainwashed by media,
but it's the perversion of herds to desire and support media

Digital anarchy vs. the Empire

Traditional media war meets the internet and the interconnected imagery
(among television, internet, mobile phones, digital camera) becomes the
new battle ground: personal media such as digital cameras let cruelty
appear directly in the dining room, as fast as an internet download and
out of any governmental control. Such a networked imagery can't be
stopped, as well as technology evolution can't be. Ubiquitous
transparency is a destiny no one can avoid. Video phones era is
compromising seriously privacy, but on the other hand any kind of
secrecy as well, state secrecy included. Rumsfeld's vent in front of US
Committee on Armed Services about Abu Ghraib scandal is something very
grotesque: "We're functioning... with peacetime constraints, with legal
requirements, in a wartime situation, in the Information Age, where
people are running around with digital cameras and taking these
unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to
the media, to our surprise, when they had - they had not even arrived in
the Pentagon". After few days Rumsfeld prevented American soldiers from
using any kind of video device. Rumsfeld himself was shot shacking hands
with Saddam Hussein on an official visit in 1983 and that video is today
well distributed on the net.  New media seem to found an unforeseeable
digital anarchy, where a video phone can combat the Empire. Abu Ghraib
tortures pictures are the intestine nemesis of the machine civilization,
running out of control of its demiurges. There is a machine nemesis but
also an image nemesis: the Spectacle Empire has been defeated by the
hypertrophy of the Spectacle itself, by an auto-erotic pornography, a
greed for images. Video phones has established a networked mega-camera,
a super-light panopticon, an horizontal Big Brother. In this net the
White House happened to be trapped. It is no more the weak thought of
postmodernism – the world as an illusion of simulacra. We live in an
interconnected universe where videopoiesis can link the farthest points
and breaks out fatal short circuits.

War porn

Indeed, what happened on the media surface with the Abu Ghraib scandal
is not a casual event, but it is the implosion into a vortex of war,
media, technology, body, desire. Philosophers, journalists and DIY
opinion leaders crowded to frame the new nodal point from different
perspectives. What is novelty  about? Abu Ghraib pictures and Nick
Berg's video (fiction or not doesn't matter) forged a new narrative
genre for the collective imagery.  For the first time they projected a
snuff movie on the screen of the global imagery and liberate internet
subcultures used to feed on that kind of images: reaches the
masses. What is going on worldwide media is not the elaboration of a
shock, but of the political, cultural, social, aesthetic consequences of
a new genre of Image that forces us to upgrade our immunising system. As
Seymour Hersh noted, Rumsfeld give the world a good alibi to ignore the
Geneva Convention from now on. But he lowed the tolerance bar of visible
as well, forcing us to live together with the Horror. English-speaking
journalism calls war porn popular tabloids and talk-shows fetishism for
super-sized weapons and well-polished uniforms, hi-tech tanks and
infrared-controlled bombs. War hardcore is a film such as Ridley Scott’s
Black Hawk Down. Adbusters called it pure war porn, when Time chose the
American Soldiers as Person of the Year and put on the cover "three
American Soldiers standing proudly, hald-smiles playing on their faces,
rifles cradled in their arms".  War porn is also a trash sub-genre -
from the dark side of the net - that reproduces sex between soldiers or
civilians rape (fake movies in uniforms shot usually in east Europe).
War porn is liberated as a net subculture and its morbid interest in war
imagery is turned into political weapons, voyeurism and mass nightmare.
Is it casual that war porn blows up right now from the Iraqi marsh?

Digital-body rejection

The matching of war and sex in the American journalism is a sign of
something deeper never expressed, of an libido alienated from affluence
that can break out its ancestral instincts into the war only. War is as
old as the human kind: natural aggressiveness embodies into collective
and institutional forms, but today's war has been separated by several
layers of technology from its animal substratum. We needed Abu Ghraib
pictures to dig up the obscene ground of animal energy hidden behind the
democratic make-up. Do repressed desires reappear by chance today only
thanks to the mass spreading of digital devices or is there a fatal
linkage between body and technology that breaks out sooner or later?
 From the beginning digital media seem to be orphan of something – they
exiled the passion of the real (Alain Badiou) onto their screen, but
they did temporary. New personal media are connected with everyday life
psychopathology – they have a relation with the body that television had
not. War porn seems to be the rejection of technology by unconscious
forces that express themselves through the same medium repressing them.
Proliferation of digital prosthesis is not so rational, aseptic,
immaterial as it appears. If it seemed that electronic media had
introduced a technological rationality and a coolness into human
relations, indeed the shadows of the digital re-emerge. At some degree
technology expresses its opposite. The internet is the best example: the
immaterial technology of the net hides behind its surface a traffic of
porn content that is worth half its daily band-width. At the same time
Orwellian proliferation of video cameras does not produce a sparkling
imagery but violence, blood, sex. We considered technology as a
prosthesis of human reason, as a new incarnation of the logos,  indeed
new media bring also with them the dark side of western world. In the
war porn we found such a Siamese body composed by libido and media. Two
radical movements that are the same movement: war expresses the
repressed libido, media  are filled by the libido they alienated.
Unconscious can not lie.

Imagery reset

War is the inability to dream, after depleting all the libidinal energy
in a outflow of prosthesis, goods, images. War violence force us back to
believe again the images of everyday life, as well as the images of
advertising. War is an imagery reset. War bring the attention excitement
for advertising to a zero degree, where advertising can start again
from. War saves advertising from its final orgasm. War has the
"positive" effect to bring us back to a radical thought, to a political
responsibility of representation, after the interpretative flights of
"weak thought" and postmodernism. In wartime we see images re-emerge
with a new autonomous and autopoietic force. There are different kinds
of image: war porn images are not representations, they speak directly
to the body, they are a cruel, lucid, affirmative force like Artaud's
theater. Radical images bring us back the body, radical images are
bodies not simulacra. Their effect is first physical then cognitive.
Fiction is a branch of neurology (Ballard). War porn liberates western
society animal energies as a libidinal bomb. Such energies can starts
fascist reactions as well as liberating revolts. Radical images are
images still able to be political, in the strong sense of the word.

Videopoiesis. The body-image

How can we use television in an intelligent way? The first intelligent
reaction is to switch it off. Activists collective such as
(Canada) and (Italy) organize every year a TV strike, a day
or a week without watching television. Can western society think without
television? It can't. Even if we stop watching TV because of a worldwide
black-out or a nuclear war, imagery, hopes and fears keep on thinking
within a television brainframe. It is not addiction, video is simply our
main collective language: once upon a time it was religion, mythology,
epic and literature. We can repress the rite but not the myth. We can
switch television off, but not imagery. For this reason an autonomous
videopoiesis is not a practice about alternative information but about
new mythical devices for the collective imagery. Looking for the perfect
image, that is the image able to stop the War, subvert the Empire and
start the Revolution, the global movement has been dealing with video
activism (from Indymedia to street TVs) and mythopoiesis (from Luther
Blissett to San Precario), but it never tried to merge those strategies
into a videopoiesis able to challenge Bin Laden, Bush, Hollywood and CNN
on the mythical level of mediascape: a videopoiesis for new myths,
icons, formats, like for instance the video sequences spreading across
the net in William Gibson's Patter recognition. Videopoiesis means not a
proliferation of cameras in the hands of activists, but a creation of
video narrations, a new design of genres and formats rather than an
alternative information. The challenge is the body-image. Within the
videopoiesis we have to welcome the repressed desires of the global
movement, buried under a pseudo-catholic third-world rhetoric. While
western imagery has been filling up with the dismembered bodies of
heroes, the global movement is still uneasy with its desires. War porn
challenges the movement not to equal the horror but to produce images
awaking and targeting the body. Television historically had always
produced macro-bodies, mythical bodies magnified from media power,
cumbersome bodies like gods in ancient times. Television regime makes
monsters, hypertrophic bodies such as the image of the President of
Unites States, Al-Qaeda brand or movie stars, while the net and personal
media try to dismember them and to produce new ones assembling their
rests. Videopoiesis is to eliminate unconscious self-censorship that we
found also in the most liberal and radical parts of the society. Once
such a crypto-religious self-censorship have been eliminated,
videopoiesis can begin its cut-up with dismembered bodies.

Warpunk. I like to watch!

Watching cruel images is healthy. What western world need is gazing at
its own shadows. In Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition war news and
violence scenes improve adults sexual activity and psychotic kids
condition. War lords are occupying collective imagery brute force. Why
let them do peacefully? If in the real world we are always victim of the
blackmail of non-violence, in the realm of imagery and imagination we
can finally feed up our wet dreams. If American imagery is allowing a
Nazi drift, justifying any kind of violence, the answer can be but an
apology of resistance and action, that is warpunk.  Warpunk is not a
deviant subculture dealing with weapons as an aesthetical gesture. On
the contrary it uses radical images as weapons of legitimate defense.
Warpunk uses warporn in a tragic way, overcoming western culture and
counter-culture self-censorship. Above all we are afraid of the hubris
of American war lords, of the way they face any obstacle trampling
written and unwritten rules. How can you stop such a threat opposing a
victim imagery, holding up white-painted hands or organising Abu
Ghraib-like piles in any demonstration? Victimism is a bad adviser, is
the definitive validation of Nazism, is the sheep baa making the wolf
more and more indifferent. The global movement is quite a good example
of "weak thought" and reactive culture. Perhaps because it has never
developed a thought about tragic, a thought about war, violence and
death, on the contrary of what war lords and terrorists did. A tragic
thought is the gaze able to dance on any image of the abyss. In the I
like to watch video by Chris Korda (download available on porn scenes of oral sex and masturbation are
mixed with football and baseball matches and with well-known NY911
images. The phallic imagery is brought to the climax: the Pentagon is
hit by an ejaculation, multiple erections are turned into the NY911
skyline, the Twin Towers themselves become the object of an
architectural fellatio. Such a video is the projection of the lowest
instincts of the American society, of the common ground that bind
spectacle, war, pornography, sport. It's an orgy of images that shows
the real western background. Warpunk is a squadron of B52s throwing
libidinal bombs and radical images into the earth of western world

Matteo Pasquinelli

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