Reality Terrorvision hits its target
Read spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
After Beslan, why would any terrorist with a brain cell bother trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction? Our reactions to the terrorist home movies of children held hostage should teach them that they can scare us to death with little more than a video camera. Welcome to the age of Reality Terrorvision.
The terrorists stand accused of senseless violence. But the chilling images from inside the Russian school suggested to me that they have an astute sense of how to use violence to the greatest effect today. Those pictures touched raw nerves far beyond Russia’s borders, by exploiting two weak spots of modern societies. They showed adults terrorising children, the focus of so many of our fears. And they advertised their willingness to break the taboo on child killing via another morbid symptom of our culture – the voyeuristic obsession with reality TV.
We in the West have done far more than the Russians to publicise the fact that our children embody all of our exaggerated fears today. We worry loudly about letting them walk to school, go on a school trip, or even talk to strangers. Our permanent state of panic about child protection is an open invitation to any nutter with a grudge and access to school gates to prey on our paranoia, from Beslan to Dunblane.
And the quickest route into our nightmares is through our all-pervasive media. When it often seems as if something has not happened unless it has been shown on television, I suppose it was inevitable that we should end up with made-for-TV terrorism. The Chechen terrorists weren’t just filming their siege, they staged it for the cameras. See how they posed and strutted among the terrified hostages, playing the part of big, scary villains. The gunman shown pointing to the bomb trigger under his boot, while a woman and two children cowered at his feet, reminded me of those pictures of the American Private Lynndie England, proudly pointing at Iraqis being abused in Abu Ghraib jail. Both were publicly parading the violence and degradation for voyeuristic eyes, like some sadistic bastard offspring of Big Brother.
Long ago when I was a student, and gunmen were more interested in shooting soldiers than schoolchildren, I discovered Daniel Boorstin’s seminal book The Image, in which he defined the meaning of modern celebrity (being famous for being famous) and the ‘pseudo-event’ – something that is staged solely for the purposes of being reported. Boorstin had in mind the rise of such relatively harmless pseudo-events as press conferences and public opinion polls in American politics. But the horror movie from Beslan confirmed for me that we now have ‘pseudo’-atrocities, staged in order to be seen, where blood is spilt for PR purposes by wannabe celebrity suicide terrorists, ambitious to shock and awe a mass audience.
The worldwide response to Beslan is hardly likely to discourage others from taking up where those Chechen cameramen/gunmen left off. Much of the Western media broadcast the images from the school and the funerals in a style guaranteed to maximise the impact, as if it was snuff porn designed to horrify and titillate simultaneously.
Let’s get real about reality terrorvision. Terrible though these events and images are, how could they paralyse a state of 150 million Russians by killing 350?
Or traumatise a nation of 300 million Americans by killing 3,000? Because we invite them to, by advertising our vulnerabilities. Terrorism used to be defined as the use of violence for political ends. For this new breed of post-political nihilists, however, the terror is an end in itself. We are constantly warned that they might acquire deadly new weapons. But their most powerful weapon is always our own fear. We are forever told that they could strike at strategic targets. But Beslan confirms that the one thing they are determined to strike is terror into our hearts. That is why the softer the target, the better it suits their purpose.
We are also often told that it is important to reveal everything and always to remember. But I think sometimes forgetting is important too, and it is better to draw the shroud over the bodies than to film over the mourners’ shoulders. I don’t support censorship; but let us recognise that there is something sordid and degrading about the appetite for reality terrorvision. And that if we allow the terrorists to turn themselves into Big Brother contestants with bombs, there is only going to be one winner.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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