Was 2009 really three years ago? Were we talking about Blackwater, torture, and the Reichian warrior-father back then? I suppose we were.
And about how tempo tasks are the ritual used to manifest the warrior-father. Reviewing then with Ann Kibbey, 2003:
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.
So this is what we mean by “tempo tasks.” Now to the corresponding subject for today: elections, and what we like to call “penile politics.” Both sides in this election are suggesting that failure to elect (Obama, Romney) will have catastrophic consequences. In terms of sheer stridency, the Republicans have won out by a length with the birther “controversy,” Obama’s alleged fealty to Islam, and the rest of the racially encoded (black muslims in your basement) appeals to white negrophobia. Atavism sells in the United States of America. But the Democrats have comported themselves as worthy opponents, with claims that democracy-as-our-way-of-life is in immanent danger from a Romney presidency. Romney would destroy the economy, lead us into World War III, sell us out to corporations (in these, I haven’t discerned the difference between the two candidates, actually). My facebook page was so cluttered with these dire warnings of Republican apocalypse that I suspended the account today. It is affecting my mental health, I think.
Has this just become a cultural default? Historian Brad Gregory writes:
The de facto guideline for the living of human life in the Western world today seems simply to be “whatever makes you happy” – “so long as you’re not hurting anyone else” – in which the criteria for happiness, too, are self-determined, self-reported, and therefore immune to critique, and in which the meaning of “hurting anyone else” is assumed to be self-evident, unproblematic, or both. Because there is no shared framework within which such disagreements might rationally be debated and perhaps overcome, and yet life goes on, moral disagreements are translated into political contestation within an emotivist culture – one that is closely related to if not largely identical with the individualistic “therapeutic culture”… Protests, the exertion of power, and manipulation, whether overt or disguised, displace rational discourse, as has become ever more apparent, for example, in American public life and the media in recent decades. Everything becomes “political” because once morality has been subjectivized no arguments can succeed, since there is no shared set of assumptions from which they can proceed. Hence the applicability of Foucauldian notions of power to analyses of contemporary Western society. (The Unintended Reformation, Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 182)
Within that sweeping description by Gregory, there seems to be a game dynamic. That game dynamic is strategic and zero-sum. Escalation of antagonism is built into the process, which comes to be a form of low-intensity war. The reasons for going to war are then subsumed into the tactical considerations. Opportunity overcomes principle. This tension where opportunity and principle come into conflict is exactly where the tempo task can be most effective in “overcoming” the contradiction with the rationalization that “we don’t have time for niceties.” This is a male trope, and one where men traditionally re-seize prerogatives from women and weaker men, valorizing contingent male power (and violence where necessary!) as redemption embodied in a warrior-father or his symbolic equivalent.
At a time when we ought to be questioning the assertions of so-called leaders and taking their every fallacy to task – no matter which side they are on – we find instead this frantic and increasingly dishonest sloganeering… for the greater good, of course.