Gulf War II: The New ‘Real’
--by Michael Rectenwald
In his book Simulations (1983), Jean Baudrillard introduced the notion of a new social order based on simulacra without originals. Malls, neighborhoods, amusement parks, even the political left and right—simulations of originals that no longer exist, imitations without real models. Baudrillard engaged academics and enraged Marxists and other social realists, when he later announced, with seeming blitheness, that the first Gulf War ‘wasn’t real.’ ‘Tell that to the estimated 15,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the war, or the estimated 100,000 dying in its aftermath, or the Gulf War veterans, suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.’
But despite the critics of postmodernism’s dissolution of the ‘real’, there is something to what Baudrillard claimed: the first victim of the video war, the simulation, the reportage censored by Israel, was the notion of ‘reality.’ ‘The real’ suffered a mortal blow. The video representation of the Gulf War became the war itself, supplanting any kernel of reality with simulation. So that film could finally announce: “Welcome to the desert of the real!”—deserted because no one sees it, the desert of the real because for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.
It appears from the previews we are receiving regarding the media coverage of Gulf War II, that the real, now dead, is to be declared alive-and-well, dressed up, camouflaged, and paraded around by the Pentagon itself: a remediation of the real. The media becomes the proxy purveyor of newsreels—the new real being supplied by the Pentagon. Reporters are to be fully approved instruments of the war machine itself, like additional scopes fastened to the instruments of death, pointing only at acceptable targets, with a simulated vision not unlike the video version of the jet fighters and scopic filters of the combatants (on one side).
The notion of ‘bias’ is decimated in the very act of killing—in media res—military perspectivalism serves as a placebo. Any remaining memory of “real” differing perspectives is thereby satisfied, if not obliterated in advance; perspectivalism becomes a multiplication of staged effects. Like cable television with its endless splintering of sameness into a reputed ‘variety’, the multiple ‘perspectives’ of gunmen will supplant all other standpoints. Independent reporters, the Pentagon now reputedly warns, will be fired upon. “Death to Realism!” was the perhaps more apropos cry in that other, more ironic cyber film, eXistenZ.
Thus, it appears that Baudrillard was only partly right. The real is indeed under fire, but like the repressed in Freud’s version of the psyche, it threatens to return. Likewise, measures must be taken against it. The Pentagon promises to take such measures.
Slavoj Zizek suggested that 9-11 threatened to shatter “the borderline which today separates the digitized First World from the Third World ‘desert of the Real,’” yielding, with its crashing of the simulation, an “awareness that we live in an insulated artificial universe which generates the notion that some ominous agent is threatening us all the time with total destruction.” This awareness may be too painful for the denizens of the Matrix. Gulf War II (whose ‘moralistic/poetic’ name is still being debated by the Pentagon) is an attempt to reconstruct that Matrix, to re-inscribe the borderline, to reclaim the real and reissue it as military rations. The real is parceled out.
The media asks us incredulously: “Do you think that the Pentagon (or Powell, or Bush, or Rumsfeld) would actually lie to the American people?” We cannot answer, simply, “yes.” Not only are they lying, they are actually producing the new real.
Founder and Chair
for Legitimate Government
Citizens for Legitimate Government
March 11, 2003