Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A story of words - 4

It is as if, as in The Emperor's New Clothes, the boy has cried, "The emperor is completely naked" and everyone hears him but no one cares.

The parade marches on, an increasingly contrived and ruinous spectacle that no one, not even its leaders, truly believes in.

What, then, are we as writers, as speakers, as humans, to do?

Shall we stop writing?


But let us not labor under any illusions.

The truth has been exposed again and again, but to what effect?

What have forty years of correct analysis of the environmental and political state of the world brought us?

The reason that the entire staff of Counterpunch, The Nation, and Truthout is not in a concentration camp is that it is not necessary.

Words themselves have been robbed of their power.

Thoreau said, "It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear."

Who hears now but the already-converted?

A picture is worth a thousand words - perhaps the image can rescue us from the crisis of language.

Unfortunately, it cannot.

The same air of unreality has come to infect the realm of images as has debilitated the power of words.

In an age of virtual reality, immersive video games, on-line interactive worlds like Second Life, computer 3D animation, and routine graphic depictions of violence on screen, images of real atrocities are losing their power to shock.

For the viewer, there is little observable difference between images of real violence and its on-screen simulation - both are just a set of pixels and neither impacts the viewer's off-screen reality in any tangible way.

It's all happening in TV-land.

Perhaps this explains the absence of any national sense of shame or soul-searching in the wake of Abu Ghraib.

For many, it was just another bunch of images, just as 600,000 Iraqis dead is another string of digits.

Like words, images have become divorced from the objects they are supposed to represent, until the very word "image" itself has taken on connotations of inauthenticity: a corporate image, a politician's image.

In a world of lies and images, nothing is real.

Immersed in such a world, is the political apathy of the American public so difficult to understand?

The danger when we operate wholly in a world of representations and images is that we begin to mistake that world for reality, and to believe that by manipulating symbols we can automatically change the reality they represent.

We lose touch with the reality behind the symbols.

Grisly death becomes collateral damage.

Torture becomes enhanced interrogation.

A bill to gut pollution controls becomes the Clear Skies Act.

Defeat in Iraq becomes victory.

War becomes peace.

Hate becomes love.

Slavery becomes freedom.

The Orwellian ambition to render language incapable of even expressing the concept "freedom" has nearly been fulfilled.

Not by eliminating the word, but by converting it into a mere image, an empty shell, a brand.

How can the voices of protest be effective when everyone discounts all speech as image, spin, and hype?

Whatever you say, it is in the end just words.

Take heart: the evisceration of the language that makes our tyranny impregnable also ensures its eventual demise.

The words, numbers, and images over which it exercises complete control are less and less congruent to reality.

Such is the folly of the infamous "Brand America" campaign, designed to burnish America's "image" abroad.

The image has become more important than the reality.

Bombs blow up innocent civilians to send a "message" to the "terrorists."

No matter that this message exists only in the fantasies of our leaders.

They are, like those they rule, immersed in an increasingly impotent world of symbol and cannot understand why the world does not conform to their manipulation of its representation, the pieces on their global chessboard


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