Tag: America

Why Americans Never Forget to Remember 9/11

As you know, the footage appeared live, as bodies began falling from the flaming and smoke-filled North Tower, as US Airlines Flight 175 was flown into the frame and South Tower at 0903, and as the South and North Towers collapsed at 0959 and 1028 respectively. You know this, because you were watching. You can remember it. Indeed, with Jean Baudrillard referring to ‘the unforgettable incandescence of the images,’ they would be forever burned into the retina of America’s public eye. However, as a visual spectacle consumed in common by the population of bodies comprising the American body politic, 9/11 was also extremely traumatising and it is due to this that 9/11’s memory is particularly vital.

To be traumatised is to be disrupted or damaged, and in disrupting  and damaging American bodies and things, 9/11 not only shocked markets and led to the declaration of a state of emergency, it turned 2,996 people into dust and profoundly affected those comprising the body politic (the American viewing public) who consumed the disturbing news, images, and footage together, in real time. As such, the common experience of trauma produced a ‘felt community’ and began working on 9/11, to move, stick, and bind the population of bodies comprising the American body politic together (hence Sara Ahmed’s comment that ‘the images are repeated, and the repetition seems binding’). However, the communal consumption of 9/11  was not limited to the day itself. Quite the opposite, the American consumption – of the traumatic footage of the flaming and smoking Towers, suicidal jumpers, and buildings’ collapse became habitual and ritual, as the footage and story were repeated again and again, and again. In this way, Americans were (re)traumatised every few minutes for the first few days, every few hours for months afterwards, then every six months and annually. 

Monday was 9/11’s 16th anniversary, meaning no-one under the age of 18 will really be able to remember their experience of the day itself. But they don’t have to. As I was flitting between tasks, by just being on Twitter I was reminded to re-view, re-count, re-read – re-member (the opposite of dis-member) – September 11th 2001, minute by minute. I was reminded by @Sept11Memorial to remember the moments Flight 11 struck the North Tower, Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville,  Flight 175 struck the South Tower, Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, the moment the South Tower fell, and then the moment the North Tower fell. In addition, @DHSGov (Homeland Security) reminded me to remember the first responders who perished in the Towers and, as the day drew to a close, @NYPDNews reminded me that silence was required for the remembrance of their fallen heroes, not to mention the civilian victims so highly valorized and commemorated throughout the day.

To return to the title of this post, Americans never forget to remember 9/11 because, in the declaration that ‘none of us will ever forget,’ President Bush not only willed Americans to perpetually ‘encircle the trauma’ but engendered a politics wherein  American being in itself became dependant upon remembering 9/11. The ones who will never forget 9/11 will be American and the ones who forget will not. Remembering or forgetting 9/11 therefore becomes not only a mechanism for setting bodies apart from and/or against one another but an ontological security issue for the American body politic to which the periodic (re)traumatisation of the parts comprising it is so vital.

Nativism FTW

I’m pretty sure I’m the only Duck to  (a) have lived at a state fair, (b) know the 4-H pledge by heart, and (c) have been quoted by the Watertown, S.D., newspaper on … well, on any subject, actually. And although I had the misfortune to be born in Washington, D.C., I quickly decamped for America’s Heartland, where I learned Real American Values, which include RC Cola, moon pies, and a fondness for country music not sung by the Dixie Chicks.

So I feel pretty good in asserting my credentials as a Native USAmerican in these parts, even if my current status as a Ph.D. student living in Barry Hussein Osama’s Unreal “America” makes me suspect anywhere outside of academia.

To build on R. Kelly’s post below about the non-American response to the foreign policy debate, I thought I’d pass along news that, in South Dakota, at least, earning a graduate degree from a non-American institution and accepting speaking engagements at United Nations-led conferences makes you unAmerican. The fact that the Democrat running for Congress in this video earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies only further proves that he’s probably some sort of gay Russian-trained Taliban superspy working for the Chinese.

House MD Epistemologist

Like many of my nerdy friends, I am eagerly awaiting the return of  the second half of this season’s “House MD.” But let’s be honest, the show basically substitutes a flow chart for a plot. No one with half a brain actually watches the show for the “medical mystery”; after all the show is premised on a suspension of disbelief. It’s entertaining and a guilty pleasure because of the wit and antics of the ever gruff Hugh Laurie.

But the show can be read as more than a series of implausible medical escapades; it is also a commentary on epistemology and society. Here is a quick round-up of what I have learned from House MD:

1. House is the most rational person in the world; House is a complete drug addict. These two statements are not a contradiction within the parameters of the show. House is a calculating, self-interested, rational utility maximizer par excellence. His utility is pleasure and his pleasure is avoiding pain… and of course getting more pleasure. He is Bentham’s man; he is John Stuart Mill’s homo-economicus; he is a neo-liberal fantasy in the flesh. House is not a complete human being by any stretch of the imagination and yet this is the human being idealized by rational choice theorists.

Thus, perhaps it should not surprise us that the show’s protagonist moves rather indifferently from the hospital to the prison and back to the hospital as if these were merely interchangeable backdrops from Foucault’s carceral archipelago. House cannot be reformed, resocialized, or rehabilitated by social institutions — he is hardwired, his preferences are (apparently) exogenous — governmentality does not apply to House. Notably, his incarceration makes little real impact on his personality or on his medical practice (and why should it?).

2. Everybody lies. Everyone, particularly every patient, on the show lies constantly — it’s the motto of the show. The interviewed subject (i.e. patient) can never be believed. The subject is a knowing subject who willfully deceives the (medical) examiner by telling him or her what they want or expect to hear. More importantly, the body contains the truth of the subject, but even the body deceives the examiner. Of course, the truth would not be worth much without being defined by these lies. The lies are what make the show interesting; the reasons for the lies are what are worth investigating. The lies uphold the social order and their unmasking reveals the inner workings of that society. Without understanding the reason for the lies, there is no way to solve the mystery.

3. Differential diagnosis: The show is premised on the notion that law like generalizations are irrelevant and probabalistic knowledge is potentially fatal. House is only concerned with finding solutions to the most unique of cases. After all, House’s patients are individuals; they are snowflakes. The accumulated knowledge of science is necessary but inadequate because of the specificity of his cases. These extreme outliers are not “black swans” however because their discovery does not have any impact on established theory or science. The outliers only help to confirm the belief that each individual is unique.

4. Power/knowledge: The production of knowledge is directly tied to power in the show. Wrong answers to House’s quiz questions are immediately punished with mockery and humiliation in the hierarchy of underlings. House’s own status and power are contingent on his unique ability to find the truth by the end of the show.

That Dr. House is also a raving sexist should not be surprising to any feminist theorist. Why House is not also consistently as racist and homophobic as he is sexist is a curious inconsistency or perhaps an indication of the normative (albeit relatively recent) “red lines” in the target viewing audience.

Knowledge is produced in a group setting a la Socrates. Despite House’s incredible intelligence he cannot arrive at the truth all by himself.  (Of course, some of his companions mainly provide him with social insights that he as a hedonist lacks and others provide social constraints upon/opportunities for House’s preferred unethical techniques of diagnosis.) House has encyclopedic knowledge and rational thinking, but what makes him the best diagnostician is that he understands people are seeking pleasure and avoiding pain just like himself. The dictum that guided Hobbes’ (auto-) dissection, also guides House: Nosce teipsum.

The show invariably requires the performance of a radical (and quite literally) critical test in part because House only deals with extreme anomalies and in part because he must eventually contend with increasing time pressures that will not allow for the continued reliance on conventional tests. Thus, the science of House is romantic or perhaps (more accurately) Puritan to the extent that his tests place the life of his patients at stake.

5. Biopolitics: The show is about the demonstration of power through the preservation of life from the clutches of death. The show is not about a flourishing of life, but about keeping people alive mainly to cheat death, i.e. to show the mastery of nature as an intellectual exercise. Oddly, however, House is never able to find redemption, his character must reset as irredeemable by the next episode.

So is it too obvious for me to suggest that House is both a satire and a study of us as Americans and the forms of knowledge that some wish corresponded to our society?

Taking it Personally

Earlier this year, all eyes were focused on Iceland in a very negative way for the second time in 18 months. First their banks collapsed in 2008 which caused many in Europe who had savings accounts there to take a rather substantial financial hit. For example, in the UK local councils were estimated to be at risk for up to £840 million in cash. And secondly, as is pretty well known, the Icelandic ash cloud basically paralysed Europe for the better part of April. (There’s the whole “whaling” thing too – but that’s relatively long-standing.)

The Icelanders, for their part, couldn’t do much. While their government may have been able to do something about the first problem, there wasn’t much they could do about the second: a fact not lost on the Eurovision this year. But still, people directed their anger at the island nation, who single-handedly destroyed weddings, reunions, holidays and possibly Swindon Council’s ability to pick up its recycling.

Making the international personal ain’t exactly a new thing. I know many Americans who wanted to keep a low profile in Europe during the George W. Bush years lest they become the object of a drunken rage on Iraq. Similarly, Israelis, regardless of their political persuasion, get blamed for the policies of their government. Germans of my generation still face WWII jokes – particularly around World Cup time.

But the way the British media has been going on about the criticism of BP, you’d think that Obama had basically taken a giant dump on a portrait of Elizabeth II. The rhetoric, they suggest, is anti-British. Americans and Obama are personally blaming this green and pleasant land for causing the worst oil spill in history.

I’m kind of surprised that this is the case. While there is always much worry about British brands and how the UK is perceived in the world, no one in my mind has ever really gone out of its way to slap the Union Jack on BP (whose name is formally “BP” and no longer “British Petroleum”). Certainly the case isn’t helped that possibly the worst spokesperson in history speaks with a posh British accent – the same posh British accent that every politically correct villain has today in a Hollywood movie (well, maybe other than a Texas accent.)

But the Brits, stiff upper lips and all, are proving to be a sensitive lot. As if Obama could not get mad at a British person without the whole country taking it personally.

But there may be other motivations at stake. Pension funds (probably including mine) heavily invest in BP. Policies which force the country to dole out billions of dollars over the next decade or so could seriously going to hurt a lot of those with retirement plans…

But other than my pension contribution, this raises an interesting question – when is it right to play the international blame game? Does blaming a corporation automatically imply blaming its host country? Does the criticism of BP imply a latent American hostility to Britain? Or should the UK just make itself a pot of tea and calm down again?

After all, regardless of who is to blame, the Gulf is still a mess, BP is in it for billions and Hollywood’s inclination to cast individuals who can put on a good Oxbridge accent as villains, is seemingly well justified.

I’ve never met a man…

Today, I took the family to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. If you’ve never heard of Rogers, then you might want to learn. He was quite a man.

Rogers was an entertainer, a writer, a public speaker, amateur philosopher, etc. In 1931, he went on the radio with President Herbert Hoover to talk about the Depression. He seemed truly troubled by what was happening:

So here we are in a country with more wheat and more corn and more money in the bank, more cotton, more everything in the world—there’s not a product that you can name that we haven’t got more of it than any other country ever had on the face of the earth—and yet we’ve got people starving. We’ll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile. The potter’s fields are lined with granaries full of grain. Now if there ain’t something cockeyed in an arrangement like that then this microphone here in front of me is—well, it’s a cuspidor, that’s all.

Now I think that they’ll arrange it—I think some of our big men will perhaps get some way of fixing a different distribution of things. If they don’t they are certainly not big men and won’t be with us long, that’s one thing…

A bit later, Rogers asked Americans to help their fellow citizens:

These people that you’re asked to aid, why they’re not asking for charity, they are naturally asking for a job, but if you can’t give ‘em a job why the next best thing you can do is see that they have food and the necessities of life. You know, there’s not a one of us who has anything that these people that are without it now haven’t contributed to what we’ve got. I don’t suppose there’s the most unemployed or the hungriest man in America has contributed in one way to the wealth of every millionaire in America. It wasn’t the working class that brought this condition on at all. It was the big boys themselves who thought that this financial drunk we were going through was going to last forever. They over—merged and over—capitalized, and over—everything else. That’s the fix we’re in now.

Now I think that every town and every city will raise this money. In fact, they can’t afford not to. They’ve got the money because there’s as much money in the country as there ever was. Only fewer people have it, but it’s there. And I think the towns will all raise it because I’ve been on a good many charity affairs allover the country and I have yet to see a town or a city ever fail to raise the money when they knew the need was there, and they saw the necessity. Every one ‘em will come through.

Europe don’t like us and they think we’re arrogant, and bad manners, and have a million faults, but every one of ’em, well, they give us credit for being liberal.

Doggone it, people are liberal. Americans—I don’t know about America being fundamentally sound and all that after-dinner hooey, but I do know that America is fundamentally liberal.

Rogers was known for his witty remarks on a wide variety of political and economic topics.

Obviously, this extended radio address was a little more serious.

Unreal America

Perhaps the only response to reprehensible exclusivity, or to the appropriation of common rhetorical resources (‘America’) for purely partisan purposes, is satire:

Unreality Is Expanding.

The question is: is satire enough? One clearly can’t argue with “real America” language, so what can one do except satirize it?

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