Waiting for Television

godot tv

 [This essay previously appeared at Dissident Voice and Counterpunch]

 World War Three Is Slow to Leave the Green Room.

“Where’s the media,” she said.

“There’s no media in Iron City.”

“Then they went through all that for nothing?”

—from ‘White Noise’ by Don DeLillo

You’d think something as momentous as World War Three would snag some early coverage. They do it for the Olympics. So far, awareness of the war’s start has been an asynchronous affair. Most Americans remain oblivious. The same cannot be said for their Russian counterparts.

In June 2014, Putin adviser Sergei Glazyev got the jump on behalf of the Russian people (and for those who wished to listen in, thanks to youtube) by acknowledging the reality of a conflict that has every chance of going thermonuclear.

Last month, Glazyev reconfirmed. “[Russia is] the main victim of this war today, and there is no reason to believe that it will stop in the next few years.” Glazyev refers to the war against Russia as a here-and-now reality poised to go full-spectrum. As Glazyev sees it, once a nadir of destitution and despair is reached, the Ukrainian people will be introduced to a fresh nadir, becoming the human battering ram to be used by US/NATO in an assault against Russia itself. Sounds like we’re a ways off yet from Normandy. But we have an Aggression Pact in the form of House Resolution 162 (which passed 348-48 last week without debate). In the words of Ron Paul Institute’s Daniel McAdams:

“The US Congress is giving Kiev the green light to begin a war with Russia, with the implicit guarantee of US backing. This is moral hazard on steroids and could well spark World War III.”

When does Iron City USA get to tune in?

Recounting a September 2014 meeting with Pope Francis, Jewish leader Ronald S. Lauder said: “Francis told us privately that he believes we are in World War III, but unlike the first two world wars, instead of happening all at once, this war is coming in stages.” America public opinion is being groomed in stages too.

It’s funny how, when you threaten a nation, their reactive alarm gets characterized as ‘threatening’. The incremental fix is in, as a February 16, 2015 Gallup poll reports:

“Russia now edges out North Korea as the country Americans consider the United States’ greatest enemy. Two years ago, only 2% of Americans named Russia, but that increased to 9% in 2014 as tensions between Russia and the U.S. increased, and now sits at 18%.”

Do we belabor the need for a galvanizing event? The term has currency only because PNAC seemed so fond of it. Ominously, our overlords have moved beyond WMD pretexts where an incriminating paper trail never fails to undo the Noble Lie anyway. So why bother? They’ll just start the war, eliminate the need for galvanization. It’s a pity as Pearl Harbor was such a great movie. Hollywood must be livid.

For the moment, nothing can be gained by alerting the denizens of Iron City that a war is underway. Talk about a litmus test for a depleted and pro forma populace. Besides, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) does its best democracy-building overseas. The essential spirit of NED’s mission statement can be summed up thusly: When the time comes for a people’s referendum, we’ll let you know. For now, you can only get in the way of our democratic initiatives pursued in your name and under your flag.

One of the cognitive tricks of manufactured consent is that the factory, television, must produce the consensus before Americans know what they are to congeal around. Much like the unclaimed space between the light of the firework and its sound, this strange province is pledged to weird physics and unseen forces. Please mind the gaps.

At first blush, the Internet and alt-news outlets tantalize as possible ways out—until alternativeness is expropriated, becoming yet another energy sink. The conspiracy sites log each fresh assault on liberty, the truth and the surreptitious run-up to war with a threadbare intensity that falls despairingly short of needed action. Internet chairs across America—the eternally-seated cognoscenti—commiserate amongst themselves. Invariably the typing turns accusatory. Some Paul Revere from Pittston rises from his chair, or at least as far as his keyboard allows: “Enough’s enough. When are the American sheeple going to stream out into the streets?”

The uninitiated can be forgiven for reading the imminent threat of action into his words, like maybe he’s about to charge out into the thoroughfare and stop traffic. With a little more experience though, we learn to identify these diatribes as Internet ejaculations. One wonders, how does he feel in the aftermath? Expended? Better? Guilty?

Even scarier, by some cognitively induced mirage, does he think he’s actually done something? No one is ever struck by the irony. We are mimicking our overlords, shipping the heavy lifting of revolution to some distant, hungrier third-party. When will the first man charge?

Therein lies the fatal cul de sac. This revolution will be televised or else it will never happen. The final backstop is that, should an Occupy ensue such that mass-social energy poses a transformative threat, the cameras are certain to be turned elsewhere. You mean, they went through all that for nothing?

Our lassitude exceeds mere garden variety inertia and apathy. Somewhere between the Tavistock Institute and The Manchurian Candidate (another great movie) they have accomplished a mesmeric coup. (Typing this is my doctor’s excuse for not streaming out into the street. Screened-in protest is an energy sink. We are all convicted by television and its follow-on screens. I stand—well, sit—convicted.)

Nothing happens anymore until it is released. The television is an a priori gatekeeper clearly qualifying as a form of tape-delayed mind control. Our outrage is pinned to a sofa pending the other guy’s outrage spilling over. Passivity always seeks a center of gravity somewhere other than where it is, perhaps the house next door. Quite ingeniously, this daisy chain of personal abdication ensures that no one ever breaks the seal leading beyond Internet invective.

Adorno and Marcuse shared a sinking feeling near the end. This implacable phalanx, modern media, had overrun the ramparts of the mind. Television is the guard. The rec room is the gulag. Barbed wire is the buggy whip of the 21st century. Huxley trumped Orwell. Consent is an unassailable overlord. Compared to consensual self-incarceration, NSA surveillance is a paper tiger. False consciousness is the ultimate Panopticon.

Americans often bemoan the demise of local media and the surfeit of Gaza Strip coverage. This is no accident. We are being groomed for international fodder-dom. If they can darken our real world at home, we will rise faster to their real and present dangers over there, over anywhere. Point us to the artificial light. While we’re away the neighbor can feed the cat.

Making matters worse, down-home life offers abysmal economies of scale. The beat reporter didn’t make the last budget cut, leaving us to pay solitary witness to our weather, our gridlock and our vanishing jobs. For that, no $10 million anchorman need apply. Did you ever hear Brian Williams boast about the time he sat in the front row of a school referendum?

By neat bifurcation, television apportions itself all the glory, excitement and, well, real-life action. No wonder our neighborhoods are run own. They’re being run down by television. Today’s Main Street has all the vibrancy of a Potemkin village. Lacking a center stage, the city center wilts. In a strange way, TV’s inattention sucks all the life out of it. Please disregard our first-person miseries. They hardly rise to the level of keen reportage. All that remains—and it’s a lot—we cede to television. DeLillo again: “For most people, there are only two places in the world.  Where they live and their TV set.”

Please say we’re not going through life for nothing. It wasn’t always this way. Iron City used to have a dance hall. They’re repealing where we live and replacing it with televised global affairs. Nihilism drafts us into existence. Killing strangers for vague purposes is when life really begins.

War is the occasion DeLillo’s two places concede the other’s existence. The rendezvous is combustible and often fatal: Shock and Awe followed by denouement, PTSD and, if one’s lucky, a return trip back to that yellowed placard called home.

In James Dickey’s 1995 poem ‘The Coming of Television News and The National Guard’, a nondescript kid finds himself deputized from an “undistributed resource” into meaningful existence. One minute he’s debating which sneakers to buy. The next he’s performing for the helicopter gods. Did he win the lottery? Nah, he joined the military:

They all wanted him now, the helicopter gods,
the strange race of people from the inside, the
anchorpeople,
They had never known, in their hollow glass
microreceptors,
that they needed him to lubricate their sandpaper
coupling.

Dickey’s lubricative language sort of underlines the obvious: this kid is getting screwed.

Last week, chief CNN propeller head Wolf Blitzer, doing his best Pearl Harbor imitation, began catching TV up with WW3. Suddenly the war was beginning to feel like television. At last we could settle into our chairs with renewed conviction.

Iron City is a decrepit warehouse that barely gets a vote anymore. We are its forlorn tubes of toothpaste—a nation of standing reserve awaiting mobilization. Our meaning now derives from squeezing bones and blood out for their cameras. Baudrillard meet DeLillo meet Dickey. Nothing real is happening except the sickest thing. We stare down television only when we turn our backs to the screen. But even beyond that, it has the power to conscript us into its world, collapsing DeLillo’s demarcation.

Moloch and his minions derive pleasure from our distress, strange and bereft creatures that they are. However, they run a simulacrum only. We are the energy source. Somewhere there’s an empowerment strategy, an evasion, which we’ve yet to discover and employ.

How do we wield ourselves—foreclose ourselves—en masse, starving the helicopter gods of the fuel that holds them aloft?

The morning after they had left him with all of their
trade goods.
He watched on the clear little screen of a Sony
Watchman
how they had become clean and remote again, all
talking about him, how flushed their experience of him
was.
—from ‘The Coming of Television News and The National Guard’ by James Dickey

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Waiting for Television

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