from Sex & War (and Ann Kibbey):
We see and hear selectively. There were two images that predominated on the airwaves on September 11, and only one of them was the perverse and hypnotic repetition of the aircraft crashing into the buildings and the billowing erasure of the Manhattan skyline (controlled, uniform, and repeated, just as McKenna described it). The other was the authoritative father.
He was everywhere, in every guise, not only embodied in George W. Bush, but in a plethora of newly anointed ‘terrorism experts,’ and in the suddenly ubiquitous dick-thing posturing by male politicians and reporters with variously processed hair. It was as if the whole nation was being converted into a male revenge-fantasy film, wherein a state of emergency obliges the women and children (including those men who are feminized and infantilized) to cringe into the background, while the martial Reichian warrior-father transcends conventions in order to unleash his pure supra-rational masculine energy on the evildoers. The nation became the family, and its preservation depended upon the restoration of absolute authority to the white father.
Like we were rebooted by the crashing buildings, then returned to some ideo-mystificatory default.
Ann Kibbey, in the February 2003 edition of Genders, writing about the Iraq War political climate in the U.S., pointed out how effectively the Bush handlers were already using the mythic American signifier of the Western film genre. I want to quote unusually extensively from that piece, because the connection between U.S. film culture, imperial masculinity, and war will come up again and again… and she describes this so well.
Both liberals and leftists in the U.S. have had difficulty in believing that a much-discredited American film genre, the Western, could suddenly be structuring and mandating U.S. political rhetoric… from Bush’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” Bin Laden poster, to Colin Powell’s insistence that “time is running out” as we cut to the chase, to the numerous U.S. television and print media that report daily on the “Showdown” or “Standoff” with Iraq. The evocation of the Western and all its prejudices now infuses U.S. culture and underwrites U.S. militarism. It seems that Bush, initially distinctive for his inarticulateness and stupidity, has succeeded in forcing (and enforcing) that same inarticulateness and stupidity on the U.S. public.
People were stunned when Bush patronizingly dismissed the massive anti-war demonstrations in his “Father Knows Best” speech on the following Monday, but that’s consistent with the gender ideology of the Western. As we ought to be aware, the ideology of gender and the ideology of genocidal violence are intertwined in the Western. The parallel action that typifies the conclusion of the Western (and other U.S. ‘action movies’) has generally been characterized only by its racist polarization of populations, which creates an artificial binary opposition that is resolved through the physical annihilation of one side by the other. But there is another dimension to it: The polarization of gender roles that is intertwined with it. What Americans seem slow to realize is the repugnant role in which they have now been cast, that of the female victim who must be rescued and saved by the male hero, a female victim whose role is to be helpless, mute, and passive, immobilized by fear as she awaits the outcome of the chase. Such rescues are in no way about social justice. They are artificial “tempo tasks” (Sergei Eisenstein’s wonderful phrase). The tempo task actively closes off ethical and political issues. That is its purpose. With the inception of the tempo task – “time is running out” –, morality is located in the sidelined female victim, whose role is not to act morally, but to merely personify and symbolize morality. She passively awaits the outcome of the genocidal violence whose purported aim is to rescue her. This is why we are now being told to hunker down in the cabin, wrap ourselves in plastic sheeting, put duct tape over our mouths, and await the outcome of the horrific violence that is being perpetrated ostensibly to ‘save us.’
No wonder, then, that Bush had no difficulty relegating the anti-war demonstrations to the role of moral symbolism, the cries of the helpless victim in need of rescue. He used it as yet another occasion to display his own ‘masculine heroism’ with which he intends to save us from danger, first from ‘evil’ Iraq, and then from ourselves through the pending Domestic Security Act. Many people also seem to think this upcoming war, repulsive though it is, will be short. After all, tempo tasks end the film and impose their version of order very quickly – it’s the last part of the movie. No plans for reconstruction? Hey, that’s not in the movie script.
A reflexive reliance on the genre conventions of the Western has not only led to silence. It has helped to obscure the reality that this war has already been going on for many years, that the bombing of Iraq was never stopped and has already intensified again, that genocide has already been perpetrated by economic sanctions, that the much-touted weapons of mass destruction are those of the U.S., whose depleted uranium weaponry has already mutilated or killed much of the population of southern Iraq.
The genre conventions of the Western have mandated a deafening and ignorant silence in the U.S. in the last year. An important dimension of this silence is the de facto moratorium on gender issues. Ideologies of gender become highly coercive when they are taken for granted, when debates about gender are suppressed as unimportant, when they are dismissively cast aside as irrelevant. To be silent now about gender is to take the bait, to perceive the current political and economic crisis through the lens of socially conservative gender roles.
* * *
In the book, I emphasized that September 11, 2001 had been transmuted into a national tempo task.
The current debate on torture is almost exclusively storied by torture apologists in the form of tempo-tasks, those kinds of emergency sceanarios wherein the premises are designed to foreclose any but a single violent conclusion. Tempo-task is not just a capitalist artifact; anti-capitalists are just as willing to rely on it to support violence. It is certainly, however, a male artifact, and one that’s been around for quite some time. Logical fallacies were useful long before (overwhlemingly male) philosophers identified and classified them.
The hidden premises, as Ann Kibbey explains so well, are the male roles that are smuggled into the premises by cultural conditioning. These roles are killer-roles, whether they are killing “pests,” “vermin,” or humans who are assigned that status… tainted, chaos-threatening, civilization-emperiling outsiders.
The tempo-task is also a debate gambit used to bulldoze moral convictions based on pacific principles. This is where tempo-task can be most problematic, because it is a highly effective gambit. Without an analysis of the tunnel-vision inhering in disembedding abstractions, the advocate for pacific principles is rendered helpless before a constructed “example” (the constructed scenario).
Remember how Michael Dukakis was presented with a kind of post-action tempo task (and a direct gender-assault) by asking if he would support the death penlaty for someone who had raped and killed his wife, Kitty? Of course, the tempo-task is generally constructed as a preventative to an imagined horror (the list of which can be virtually unlimited, ergo the continued efficacy of tempo-tasks), whereas in the case of Dukakis, the after-the-fact imagined scenario was more directly designed to emasulate the candidate; and that’s why it is relevant to this discussion. One mustn’t analyze the tempo-task talk (and you’ll hear this crap from Chief Executive Obama and DOS-boss Clinton) without seeking the gendered content of it… the kind of schoolyard masculinity-baiting that constitutes the cultural backdrop.
Al-Qaida is a marvelously perdurable pretext for tempo-task stories.
The most wicked aspect of this cultural convention, as it applies to the behavior of individuals, and inevitably then collectives, is that it is designed to crush any appeal to the virtue of patience (the lack of which is a source of personal struggle in my own spiritual growth… I am a man, after all).
The analysis may be complicated by the fact that stories, especially entertainment stories, are driven by action and emergency to heighten the psychic participation of an audience. This action ratchets up the tempo in order to enhance the sense of suspense… and as spectators, readers, et al, we enjoy suspense. We also enjoy a good debate, even if it’s not framed that way, with ethical dilemmas contained in the debate. The very popular tv series Law & Order serves this stuff up in spoon-sized chatter scenes that feed audiences (often intricate) plots at — forgive me — a breakneck tempo. (We ought to do a collective deconstruction of L&O someday, since it does have such a broad audience.)
The point stressed and discussed here is (1) how the TT is employed specifically to justify violence or suspension of “due process,” and (2) how the TT triggers cultural conventions related to masculinity-as-violence.