Embedded deep within our mass culture is the desire to see itself destroyed. Mostly unacknowledged, it is the desire to destroy the monolithic, unipolar structure (which the social and political aspects of mass culture are manifestations) that is the slowly accumulating more power. In consolidating power down to a singularity, it has subsumed all forms of rebellion up to the ultimate rebellion: death. These conditions have created a monolithic culture that is essentially committing suicide in that the only viable avenue of rebellion is both symbolic and incomprehensible in terms of the non-marginalized discourse. It is symbolic in that the acts of rebellion are not in themselves merely acts of rebellion, but they are terrorist acts, acts that by virtue of the mass culture’s monopoly on the discourse of rebellion require Others (outsiders, those who have been marginalized [either in perception or in reality – are these separable?] and are excluded from any other form of acceptable discourse) to change the rules, change the nature of the discourse of rebellion. So far, this seems to be achieved by the embracing and utilizing of death and the embracing and controlling the image-event.
Because we are unable to accept death in any form, but specifically when young men and women are sent to die in foreign countries (this is, among many other things, part of the scarring done by the Sixties and Vietnam), we find incomprehensible when men or women (children even more so) choose to use their deaths as a weapon, to make their individual deaths symbolic. We want a clean war, a war where we die as little as possible, where we are absolved in the end (which is quite often accomplished by victory). Our ideal is a war of technocratic superiority where cities are destroyed and death rains down from above, where we commit as few people as possible to the traditional concept of war where combatants meet on a battlefield and engage each other to the death. So, as everyone who has engaged in warfare since time immemorial, we have sought to use modern technology to limit our losses in the field, but we still hold that the enemy must meet us on this field, where we might show up after the “theater” has been “softened” from afar. Our enemies have taken to integrating themselves into the communities that we ostensibly seek to liberate in the vain hope that it will provide some safeguard, that we will not destroy “civilians”. What they do not realize is that the civilians are also the Others and that we do not care about those who are killed purposefully or inadvertently, which I suspect is due to a latent suspicion on our part that they are all guilty anyway. (Intuitively, I would guess that this feeling arises both from cultural and geographic distance [they are guilty for not being born here, they are guilty because they dress, eat, walk, and sing differently] and because they are necessarily the Other [non-Christian, non-Capitalist, non-White].) Still, the images of their deaths are limited as well; we accept that other people are dying as long as it does not interrupt the image-events, as long as we do not have to see it and therefore have some degree of culpability. We have made this problem of culpability a non-starter by removing from mass culture the reality of death and replacing it with at best simulacra and at worst image-events that allow for easy abstraction, digestion, or indifference.
It seems that we look upon all broadcast events equanimously, for they are not real, but are instead images of spectacles, which incidentally have become the inter-subjective agreement of what is real. This deluge of image-events through mass culture is rendered less concrete by their transience; no sooner is one exhibited, then it is replaced by another. The image-events are all morally equal: whether it is the “fiction” of cinema or television or the “reality” of broadcast news and print media, they occupy the same moral space as long as we are removed far enough from the spectacle. A friend of mine was living in Brooklyn on 9/11. He awoke as the planes where crashing into the towers. He turned on his television only to realize that he could see the event (the second plane crashing into the tower) occur outside his window. I have to wonder which view felt more real to him: the event framed by the window (much in the same way the event was framed by the television) must have been surreal, incomprehensible, or the view on the television made intelligible and thereby real by the ticker tape and captions to carefully lead him through the event. The view from the window afforded him no such luxury. It must have been an odd feeling to have an experience where one could choose between an unintelligible live event and a quasi-intelligible image-event. Ultimately, I think that we would choose (not only in this circumstance, but in most) the image-event and the simulacrum over the first hand experience of the event. If this is the case, then whoever controls the image-events controls inter-subjective agreement, social discourse, and ultimately, our shared reality.