Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Article Reviews by Elina

Kamark B, 2003: Wars that Never Take Place: Non-events, 9/11 and Wars on Terrorism, Australian Humanities Review

In his article Wars that Never Take Place: Non-events, 9/11 and Wars on Terrorism (2003), Binoy Kamark talks about French social theorist Jean Baudrillard’s treatise of simulacra and simulation in light of the “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. He starts his account of Baudrillard’s theory by analysing what Baudrillard wrote about the first Gulf War, and continues to compare it to what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Kamark recounts Baudrillard’s descriptions of the first Gulf War as a non-event, a war that never happened. According to Baudrillard, the Cold War and the constant threat of a nuclear war had killed war in the traditional sense because “it would have resulted in nuclear destruction.” Baudrillard’s idea was that, because the superpowers of the Cold War had not been able to “fulfil their potential” in nuclear war, they now resorted to a “simulation” of total war by controlling images in media, thus “’deterring’ the historical event.” Baudrillard’s thesis claimed that the reality of the war had been replaced by images that invent or create their own reality – the “hyperreal”. (Kamark 2003) According to Kamark, Baudrillard’s Gulf War thesis applies to the war on Iraq, as well. Both parties (the Coalition and Iraq) utilised methods of simulation and deception, letting images create reality for the viewers.

The article is well thought out and well written, and it introduces the reader to Baudrillard’s thinking in an interesting way. However, I believe the article requires some background from the reader. I struggled with some key concepts because I was not that familiar with Baudrillard’s work. While it was a very interesting article, it did not discuss Baudrillard’s theses in the context of religion and media, which is the aim of this course. However, I do think the article is worth reading because it does raise some interesting questions about how media is used in international conflicts.

Left Behind – The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media, Media Matters for America, May 2007

The article Left Behind – The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media looks at various news media in the United States with a focus on religious coverage. It is a report of a quantitative analysis of the appearance of 20 religious leaders in news stories that were published after the 2004 presidential election. The researchers gathered data from major newspapers and major television stations, and listed the amount of times a certain religious leader was mentioned, quoted or interviewed. They categorised religious leaders roughly into ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ and compared which category gets more attention from the media. According to their findings, conservative leaders are mentioned, quoted and interviewed 2.7 – 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders, “despite the fact that most religious Americans are moderate or progressive”.

The article makes some valid points about “the skewed representation” of religious content in media, but there are a few points they did not address. To me it seems like the study has not been completed yet. The writer asks questions in the executive summary, but does not answer them in the article. Who is a religious leader? How do they define conservative or progressive? While statistical studies are interesting as such, I feel that Left Behind was a little bit too superficial. I would like to have seen the researchers dig deeper, and try to find answers to the questions these statistics raised. But even as such, the article brings up interesting things about the relationship between media and religion in the United States.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: The Consciousness Industry - On Literature, Politics and the Media.
New York: The Seabury Press, 1974, 3-15.

In The Consciousness Industry - On Literature, Politics and the Media, Hans Magnus Enzensberger talks about media as a “mind industry”. He takes Theodor Adorno’s ideas of a culture industry to the next level by painting a cynical picture of the world of media as some sort of a global brain washing machine that is being used by the power of the few to control the thoughts (and, indeed, the minds) of ordinary people.

According to Enzensberger, controlling the minds of people is the ultimate form of power. Because it can not prevent people from thinking for themselves, the mind industry seeks to strip us of any awareness of what the media is feeding us. Enzensberger argues that our submission to the mind industry is partly our own fault: we have not kept up with its pace of growth, and we have no umbrella theory for the different kinds of media industries, and thus it has slipped beyond our control. He also claims that, while no one can escape from the mind industry, it is possible to rise to the barricades to confront it by holding on to the awareness it tries to steal from us.

The article is quite fascinating, although the language Enzensberger uses is rather that of a sermon or a political speech than that of an academic critique of media. It would be interesting to find out what Enzensberger thinks of the mind industry in relation to Michel Foucault’s biopower discourse. We also have to bear in mind that Enzensberger wrote this nearly 35 years ago. Do his ideas still have meaning in the world of today’s media? What does all this have to do with religion? Could we argue that religion is using the media to control our minds?

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