Friday, September 28, 2007

Moving On

I have relocated. You can now find me anywhere on the planet at Cheers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Box Cover - Very Exciting

Final box cover for Militainment, Inc. Not half bad. If you're interested in reading it, just click and it will get bigger. No, that's not me in front of the TV. I'm not sure who it is. By the way, the video page is also posted at the Media Education Foundation site, so if you would like to order an advanced copy for your institution, there it is.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Listening Post

I mentioned I did an interview for a segment on Al Jazeera English for a show called "The Listening Post." This segment looked at the relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon. You'll have to excuse my shaved head. It was a summertime experiment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Piercing the Eye

This fall I'm teaching a new class called 'Cultures of the Camera' which examines not the image but rather the 'gaze' and the act of looking. If you're interested, I've made the syllabus and all of our readings available in pdf online. We mainly look at two things. The first is what the eye symbolizes in the West - as well as what all of the prostheses of the eye have meant. Second, we look at how power has been reflected in various architectures of looking: reality TV, gender, exhibitionism, voyeurism, police power, sousveillance, war, Americas Most Wanted, Girls Gone Wild, etc. Should be interesting. I'm ending with an exploration of the mirror as symbol (i.e. looking at oneself). So if everything goes right, the entire universe ought to collapse into a singularity at the end, which is to my mind the ideal way to finish a course.

A bit of the class examines the implications of Bentham's panopticon prison, Foucault's elaboration of it as an architecture of power, and how this notion is threaded through camera cultures, the miniaturization of the camera, and other technological changes. A natural choice, I think.

Yesterday, I was re-reading the interview with Foucault from Power/Knowledge regarding the panopticon entitled "The Eye of Power." He has a real knack for taking such a mechanical subject and infusing it with energy. A passage stood out. In describing the shape of the structure, Foucault mentioned it had a central tower "pierced" with windows. I thought this was a curious metaphor. The image from La Chien Andalou was the first thing to cross my mind, especially considering the title of the interview and Foucault's links to surrealist thought. Bataille's Story of the Eye, too.

Foucault's piercing metaphor conjured a second association: the panopticon's tower is a stand-in for the phallus and the observed prison standing in for the vulva - a kind of sexual Rosetta Stone for power architectures. As I considered this, I was stunned it had never occurred to me in all these years. What stunned me more was that Foucault had never mentioned it or even implied these associations anywhere. Of course, Foucault is not one to subscribe to ideas of sexual essence or anything less than an absolutely fluid gender produced by power relations. Archetypes are just not his game.

In any case, in the tower-phallus coupling we have the missing link between the eye and the masculine archetype that polices the microphysics of power - observability, accountability, and perhaps, via some circuitous route, the word. Of course, this connection is obvious in the French as both savoir (knowledge) and pavoir (power or purview) both contain voir (a variant of "to see"). The archetype of power is to see and not be seen, as in the image of the police officer with mirrored sunglasses. This is true for the tower as well, which, according to Foucault, wears its own shades so that its true power of observation remains invisible. His point is that the existence of the tower is enough, regardless of whether or not anyone occupies the tower. The radiating lights that shroud the tower in the above picture signify this radiation of power. Like God, the visible invisibility of power is proof of its omnipresence. These are also the basics of war strategy, though Foucault's power is not about one force conquering another but rather about an architecture that conquers everyone.

We can also follow the faculty of sight along metaphysical lines too. Epistemological foundationalist thought (Platonic, Cartesian) elevates sight to the highest of the senses - making it synonymous with truth, a highly masculinist formulation. Anti-foundationalist thought, on the other hand, has been quite adamant in denouncing "the spectacle," in some Critical Theory quarters, and the fascism of observation, as in Foucault's maxim "visibility is a trap." Martin Jay has a wonderful book on this subject. Foucault's project thus can be seen as a kind of castration, a destruction of the eye-phallus power coupling - a "piercing" of the phallus, as it were. We're way over the destruction of the eye (just see any Mel Gibson film). If there is one thing that cannot be shown on television or in film, it is the the phallus, because turning the gaze back on the phallus represents the reversal and undoing of power: the penetration of the penetrator. At the extreme end, the ultimate underground image of that-which-cannot-be-seen is the the actual piercing of the phallus itself, an image that, kind reader, I will refrain from reproducing here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Al Jazeera English

I recently did an interview for Al Jazeera English regarding the relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon. It's showing on The Listening Post beginning Friday, August 3 and runs twice daily for a week. Here's a schedule. You can watch it online. They also post Listening Post clips on YouTube, so I will probably link that later.

One commenter on this blog wondered where he/she could find a more journalistic discussion of Hollywood's relationship with the Pentagon and/or the executive:
I just found this site and some of the info about your new movie. I remember noticing years ago that for some reason Hollywood began making military-friendly movies again. This was ramped up a good bit during the Clinton years. Your postings seem to be heavily academic. I would like to see something a bit more journalistic such as: who were the persons who drove the making of all the key military-friendly movies since, say, Tom Cruise's "Top Gun." Do these persons have any obvious, or less than obvious, connections to national right-wing and GOP political organizations, think tanks, etc.? My recollection is that the ball really got going in Hollywood after that flick.
I hope to address some of these questions in my upcoming book, and I do so to some extent in my film. There are a number of other resources out there, however. I would first suggest picking up David Robb's book, Operation Hollywood. Robb is a journalist, and this book is written for a general audience. To my knowledge, it is the only comprehensive treatment of its kind. Robb also did a short documentary by the same name for the BBC, which you can watch on google video. If you would like to sample the book, I make a reading available to my class online. You can download the 8MB pdf file if you like.

A number of producers and directors regularly step through Washington's revolving door. Jerry Bruckheimer is high on the list, as is Tony Scott. The commenter above is correct that Top Gun (1986) was a turning point in military-Hollywood cooperation. Both Bruckheimer and Scott were involved with it. The case of Lionel Chetwynd is interesting. I've excerpted a slice of my book below that traces his biography.

Indeed, the Pentagon and NBC collaborated immediately after the Persian Gulf War on a made-for-TV film called The Heroes of Desert Storm (1991). Disregarding reality altogether, the film intercut news footage with scripted material read by both professional actors and actual Gulf War veterans. The effect of the film is to annihilate the viewer’s capacity to distinguish between fact and fiction. Moreover, this appears to have been the intended consequence. A disclaimer notes up front that, in the interest of something called “realism,” “no distinction is made among these elements.” The decision to air a made-for-TV movie was a natural one given that the Gulf War had already aired in made-for-TV form.

The brain behind Heroes, writer Lionel Chetwynd, was perhaps one of the main authors of the support-the-troops fervor that eventually eclipsed public debate during the Persian Gulf War. Chetwynd penned the high profile film The Hanoi Hilton (1987), which helped burn the POW/MIA mythology permanently into the public memory as the prime motive of the American ravishing of Vietnam. Chetwynd also wrote and produced a television series for the A&E Network called To Heal a Nation, another Vietnam tale of the trials of U.S. soldiers, this time on the home front. These depictions of Vietnam dovetailed precisely with Reagan administration attempts to reverse the Vietnam Syndrome by appealing to the “cult of the soldier.” In fact, Chetwynd had served on Reagan’s campaign team in 1980. Naturally, he was the man best positioned to later direct a celebration of the Persian Gulf War in cooperation with the George H.W. Bush administration. The Heroes of Desert Storm even opens with a special address tailored for the movie from President Bush, who urges us to think not of the Generals who make history, but of the average soldiers who are the real heroes of Desert Storm. Some years later, after President George W. Bush appointed him to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Chetwynd went on to direct DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2003) for Showtime. This film focused on the heroism of President George W. Bush and his cabinet, what the Independent called “a piece of myth-making to put the propagandists of every tin-pot totalitarian regime to shame.” Following this film, Chetwynd wrote the straight-to-video Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at which the Brain … Begins to Die (2004), a rejoinder to Michael Moore’s 2003 theatrical release critical of the Bush administration, Fahrenheit 9/11. Chetwynd’s biography captures two distinct trajectories of the spectacular war: a collapse of screen power into military power and a post-ideological refocusing of public attention onto the war machine itself.

As far as think tanks, Karl Rove met with Hollywood brass immediately after 9/11 to discuss ways that the industry could assist with the "war on terror." Here's a snippet from the Washington Post, November 12, 2001. Jack Valenti, former president of the MPAA, has been a long-term supporter of neo-con politics.

HEADLINE: Hollywood's White House War Council;
A Bicoastal Meeting of Minds Is Bipartisan, Too

BYLINE: Rene Sanchez, Washington Post Staff Writer

Top executives from every major Hollywood studio and other titans in the entertainment industry emerged from a private discussion with senior White House adviser Karl Rove this afternoon vowing to play a broad, but still vague, role in the nation's fight against terrorism.

But Rove did come with a seven-point agenda of broad themes for Hollywood to ponder, suggesting that the industry find creative ways to urge Americans to support the war with volunteerism, to raise the morale of U.S. troops, and to illustrate that "this is a war against terrorism, not Islam."

Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of Paramount Pictures, called the meeting "the beginning of the beginning" and said industry executives would meet again soon to work on specific plans. She and other executives said they stressed to Rove that they were not interested in producing propaganda, but wanted to help.

Participants in today's meeting, which ended slightly earlier than had been planned, also said that at no point were any political deals suggested for enlisting the help of Hollywood, which has been under fire in Congress for the violent content it produces in films and television and fears new regulation.

"Nothing was discussed that in any way touched a nerve," said Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co.'s president.

But today's gathering, which Rove initiated, drew more than 20 Hollywood heavyweights -- top power brokers in film and television as well as the leaders of the industry's creative unions. Afterward, they stood side by side and said they were determined, for once, to work together to help the country during wartime.

Valenti, for one, expressed interest in developing movies or public-service announcements to be shown here and overseas that emphasize that the war on terrorism is not an attack on Muslims as well as films that have themes about "how America has been the most generous country in the world."
If we want to look at where the rubber really meets the road, in my opinion, we have to look at what kinds of stories are being told. From there we can work backward through the political economy of the story production. While it's interesting to search out individuals, cabals, and think tanks, I think it's more productive to look at organizations and how they benefit from certain depictions. Clearly, there is a symbiotic benefit between Pentagon PR and Hollywood's need for authentic props in war films. But these public relations pairings stretch far beyond Hollywood into a number of entertainment venues and the news. War can be an extremely profitable venture for those who would spend taxpayer money for, say, securing the corporate rights to fossil fuel supplies. The entertainment industries have increasingly become handmaidens for getting the taxpayer (and the taxpayer's conscience) to go along with these ventures. The trick for military PR is releasing the right kinds of stories - those that will both deliver the entertaining war and "stay on message." Someone like Walt Disney's Bob Iger is ultimately looking out for his company and the interests of shareholders. Disney's access to the Pentagon public relations machine, unless publicly denounced, is more likely than not going to be a profitable one. It makes business sense to keep these channels open. And of course the Pentagon is more than happy to oblige.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Militainment Exposure

Since I've been in exile from this blog machine, there have been some interesting developments. The Media Education Foundation is working hard on getting the film printed. Above is the proposed box cover. Snazzy. For now, you can still watch a low quality version of the unmastered film here (it's about 245 MB). The film has its own website now and has "left the nest." Please see: Here's the trailer:

The book, tentatively titled Militainment, Inc., is also on the way. I'm getting it out to publishers as I write.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pole Position with People

This is a really outstanding idea. Meditative, almost.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


This is a picture of Etienne Jules Marey's 1882 invention, the chronophotographic gun, perhaps the first moving picture camera. With it Marey made a series of flipbooks and other live motion shots. This camera was inspired by the machine gun. I have been doing a bit of research and thinking regarding the politics of seeing and the pivotal place of the camera lately.

The camera and the gun have had quite an intimate history together. Taken together, they are both instruments of the eye. They are both governed by the metaphor of "shooting." They both express relations of power - the one who gets to point, shoot, track, gaze, and capture. We can even correlate this interchangeability with the displacement of the mighty hunter (the decline in so-called "blood sports") by the increased prestige of the camera as masculine prosthesis par excellence. The camera is the postmodern gun, in other words. The powerful class brandishes its power by "seeing the world" and its trophies are the reels of exotic images. And this is why "see the world" functioned for so long as a military recruiting slogan. We can also see this dynamic in the ease by which the "war correspondent," - that most prestigious journalist - melds into the figure of the soldier and vice versa. As Foucault remarked, the true center of military power is not in guns but rather in technologies of the spirit.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Having now spent an entire day at the Denver International airport, I have had enough time to consider the ways in which the airport is the new metaphor for 21st-century American life.

1. The airport is a placeless space without history, depth, or context.

2. The airport is a faceless space. Anonymity incommunicado.

3. The airport is a voyeuristic space alight with the hum of averted glances and "people watching."

4. The airport is a timeless time. The main sport in the airport is "killing time" while the jet lag resolves and the time zones collide into one another.

5. The airport is a big box in the "ex-urbs." Airports grow on grassy steppes, on perfectly groomed, windswept land, moonscapes.

6. The airport is a continual state of emergency, a police state, a terror alert orange. The airport is where the word "homeland" is uttered most frequently. At the airport, everyone is a suspect subject to intimate search and x-ray.

7. The airport is the maturation of the mall - an enclosed pleasure prison where material needs are met with a continual circulation of disposable goods, consumption, escalators, and big brands.

8. The airport is an institutionalized caste system of front and rear, high and low. The most trivial and ephemeral item can be turned into an object of class distinction.

9. The airport is an Internetted rhizome of terminals and links.

10. The airport is the proving ground for the cybernetic organism, gilded with silicon from head to toe and blinking with lines of flight.

11. The airport is the contest between the machines of material commuting and the machines of immaterial communication.

12. The airport aesthetic is comfortable, spare, designed not for immediate appreciation or joy, but rather to keep traffic moving.

13. The airport features a clear division between the managerial/creative class and the service class, which is marked most clearly by race. This division is represented by the paradox of the itinerant citizen and the stationary immigrant, who converse across countertops like two answering machines addressing one another.

14. There is no dirt in the airport.

15. The airport is the most extreme contrast between absolute boredom and banality and the absolute exhilaration of flight. The seen-it-all-from-an-airplane-window attitude compounds the boredom. This is what it is like to be a god among ant-men.

16. The airport is proof that kids can turn anywhere into a playground.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Militainment, Inc." Wildfire

If you want a quick and easy way to watch "Militainment, Inc.," a number of folks have posted the video online.

The YouTube competitor VeOh has got the whole 2hr thing up, and you can watch it straight through. This is the newest version, which was put up six days ago. It has gotten about a thousand hits a day since then, and it was listed among their top ten most popular downloads for the week.

It's on YouTube in 10 minute segments.

If you're into BitTorrent, you can download the film from Chomsky Torrents.

Or from PirateBay Torrents.

And you can download a higher quality copy directly from my school server.

I'm kind of overwhelmed by the spread of this film and the amount of activity. My web server downloads the film about 100 times a day. I just discovered the VeOh thing.

The Media Education Foundation will be distributing this video soon. If you want to inquire about when this will be or reserve a copy, I would suggest that you contact them. The video will be offered at an institutional price - probably in the range of $100-150.

I'm also planning a showing at the University of Georgia's Tate Center theater soon as well as the Athens Anarchist Collective. I'll be doing a showing at Lewis and Clarke College in Portland, OR on Tuesday, Feb. 27. And in around March 12, I'll be showing the film at the University of Delaware. So I'm pleased with the response. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dainty Shapes / Hairy Apes

Last night I was invited to a dress rehearsal in town of a play that opened tonight in Athens: "Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes: Or the Green Pill." My dear Kate Morrissey plays a young temptress. If you have a brain, I urge you to see this play. Very clever and unendingly hilarious. I was tickled up and down.

If you like dada-ist philosophical jousts between pure Platonic men and lusty Dionysian women, this one is for you. Plus you get to wear an animal hat and play an instrument in lieu of applause. The audience a good chunk of the show - as evident in the opening scene where two characters sit high above the stage on lifeguard chairs, scanning the wiley audience with binoculars - while we stare at Miss Kate displayed much closer to the earth in a dazzling red sequined dress. Cal Clements, the director, is a genius with this kind of stuff, and the play is a trip.

Playing all February, every Saturday at 8:30. See the article in the Red and Black.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jokey Smurf is a Terrorist

I remember getting gas in West Virginia, and on the pump of all places was a sticker featuring a picture of Jokey Smurf and the words, "Jokey Smurf is a Terrorist." This got me thinking about humor and affective energy. The Jokester is also the Trickster is also the Abbie Hoffman dissident, and you can see where I'm going with this. Sudden outbursts of affect are becoming, it seems, more politically significant. Take Howard Dean and his "unpresidential" hooting. Not acceptable in a time of terror.

Well, now we have another icon for the age. An alien, a middle finger, and an ad prank. Looks like a bomb. Implicates itself into the signs of terrorism, however accidentally. Winds up a public relations circus. This is the place where performance art and guerilla advertising meet. This is also the place where advertising and terrorism meet (if terrorism wasn't already a form of advertising and vice versa). And certainly, if we are to believe in the recent buzz about the death of advertising and the rise of public relations, then we have our man. And however much contempt I have for advertising's nothing-sacred approach these days, I have to say that this press conference was freaking hilarious. Give us a circus, we'll give you a circus. Everyone has fun. A big obscene orgy of public relations, tabloid journalism, and the politics of fear. Feedback loops collapsing into black holes of infinite density.

Watch this.

"Militainment , Inc." Final Cut

I've finished a final version of Militainment, Inc.! In fact, I premiered the whole darned 2hr thing to an attentive and enthusiastic crowd last night at Steve and Noah's monthly salon here in Athens. There are still some things to tweak (like the intro), but the thing is ready for pressing.

You can download the video in one piece and in compressed format here. Please distribute freely. Use in your classrooms. It's 550MB or so and in Divx form, so if you don't have it already, you'll need the Xvid plugin, which you can download here. Run it, and it will load easily and automatically into Windows Media Player. The video is also in circulation as a BitTorrent file. You can get the torrent at

Friday, January 05, 2007

Morning Star

I noticed today that my old William Blake anthology naturally falls open to this poem:

To the Accuser Who is the God of this World

Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
And dost not know the Garment from the Man
Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
Nor can'st thou ever change Kate into Nan.

Tho' thou art Worship'd by the Names Divine
Of Jesus & Jehovah, thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline,
the lost Traveller's Dream under the Hill.


That's a fine one, indeed. Hilarious and touching, even.


I have been watching the film Blood Diamond make the rounds by way of all the cautionary segments on daytime talk shows. Because I have taught speech courses for a while, I have heard no end of persuasive speeches on conflict diamonds and that magic-bullet solution, the Kimberley process. Truly, the action on the part of the UN and both Presidents Clinton and Bush is all commendable. Diamonds were unquestionably funding civil wars in Sierra Leone and Angola for a while - and probably will continue to fund other conflicts. This is a tragedy and I wish it would stop. I wish all funding of conflicts would stop.

That said, does all the pop focus on "blood diamonds" strike anyone else as a little perverse? I'm trying to unravel the public fascination with this issue. I know that half of it is a story of moral outrage in the tradition of Kathee Lee Gifford apologizing about sweat shop labor conditions. Now the scene is more like Phyllis Diller apologizing for a double-amputee African child. The sheer juxtaposition is undeniable - old/young, white/black, rich/poor - and that highest symbol of timelessness standing outside the world of utility, the diamond, pitched against the vision of someone digging with bare hands at gunpoint. The diamond, which is no more than a thought, a sign, refracting blood, the ultimate sign of signlessness. It's compelling - and not because there is some war going on in Africa. Since when have Americans cared about that before the movie came out ten years later? This is different; the movie is out now.

On the surface, this is a moral tale. But I think the shadow of this collective gush of concern is highly racialized. It is a story of superiority, after all. The axis stretches between the rulers and the ruled on this global scale, between blacks who slave, suffer, and die so that whites can satisfy even their most trifling caprices. The cultural phenomenon of "blood diamonds" is also a story about Darkest Africa and the primeval chaos that has so occupied the Western mind since Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad. In this instance, the blacks, who are not above carving up children, must be disciplined. Here the "white man's burden" has been lifted to the featherweight Kimberley process. While the motif of "blood diamonds" goes around the talk show circuit, I can't help but think that this is at least as much about people feeling their white privilege as feeling compassion.

The fact is that diamonds squander enormous amounts of human energy. That's what makes them valuable as a sign. (The vast majority of the diamond trade goes into producing signs and nothing more.) The entire sign system of the diamond is predicated on the differential between misery and privilege. I can't see how the "blood diamond" story will do anything but reinforce the symbolic value of the diamond. The Kimberley process, indeed the film Blood Diamond (whatever activist pose it might strike), is practically an advertisement for the diamond trade. As an unnamed woman at an aquaintence's wedding told me recently while waving her enormous diamond ring in my face: "I don't care how many African children died for this. I wanted it!" Her defense was entirely voluntary and unprovoked in any way. That's just the point. The more African children die, the more she wants it. She will even go out of her way to bring the subject up. Quite adamant, she was.*

1.utterly unyielding in attitude or opinion in spite of all appeals, urgings, etc.
2.too hard to cut, break, or pierce.
3.any impenetrably or unyieldingly hard substance.
4.a legendary stone of impenetrable hardness, formerly sometimes identified with the diamond.

From Greek daman: to tame, conquer