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<nettime> Warporn warpunk! Autonomous videopoiesis in wartime
Matteo Pasquinelli on Wed, 27 Oct 2004 18:17:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Warporn warpunk! Autonomous videopoiesis in wartime

"Warpunk is a squadron of B52s throwing libidinal bombs and radical images 
into the heart of the Western imagery."

Full version edited by Arianna Bove and Erik Empson. Web, Pdf, italian and 
spanish translations here: www.rekombinant.org/article.php?sid=2364


Matteo Pasquinelli

Autonomous videopoiesis in wartime

Grinning monkeys

How do you think you can stop war without weapons? The anti-war public 
opinion that fills squares worldwide and the cosmetic democracy of 
International Courts stand powerless in front of the raging US military. 
Against the animal instincts of a superpower reason cannot prevail: a 
homicidal force can be arrested only by another, stronger force. Everyday 
we witness such a Darwinian show: history repeating itself through a cruel 
confrontation of forces, whilst what rests is freedom of speech exercised 
in drawing-rooms. Pacifists too are accomplices of instinctive forces, 
because animal aggressiveness is inside us all. How do we express that 
bestiality for which we condemn armies? Underneath the surface of the 
self-censorship belonging to the radical left (not only to the conformist 
majority), it should be admitted publicly that watching Abu Ghraib 
pictures of pornographic tortures does not scandalize us, on the contrary, 
it rather excites us, in exactly the same way as the obsessive voyeurism 
that draws us to videos of 9/11 videos. Through such images we feel the 
expression of repressed instincts, the pleasure rising again after 
narcotized by consumerism, technologies, goods and images. We show our 
teeth as monkeys do, when their aggressive grin looks dreadfully like the 
human smile. Contemporary thinkers like Baudrillard and Zizek acknowledge 
the dark side inside Western culture. If 9/11 has been a shock for Western 
consciousness, Baudrillard puts forward a more shocking thesis: we 
westerners were to desire 9/11, as the death drive of a superpower that 
having reached its natural limits, knows and desires nothing more than 
self-destruction and war. The indignation is hypocrisy; there is always an 
animal talking behind a video screen.

On the videowar battleground

Before pulling the monkey out of the TV set, we have to focus on the 
battleground on which the media match is played. The more reality is an 
augmentation of mass, personal, and networked devices, the more wars 
become media wars, even if they take place in a desert. The First Global 
War started by live-broadcasting the 9/11 air disaster and continued with 
video-guerrilla episodes: everyday from the Iraqi front we received videos 
shot by invaders, militiamen, and journalists. Every action in such a 
media war is designed beforehand to fit its spectacular consequences. 
Terrorists have learnt all the rules of spectacular conflict while 
imperial propaganda, much more expert, has no qualms about playing with 
fakes and hoaxes (for instance the dossiers on weapons of mass 
destruction). Bureaucratic propaganda wars are a thing of the past. New 
media has generated guerrilla combat, opening up a molecular front of 
bottom-up resistance. Video cameras among civilians, weblogs updated by 
independent journalists, smart-phones used by American soldiers in the Abu 
Ghraib prison: each represents an uncontrollable variable that can subvert 
the propaganda apparatus. Video imagery produced by television is now 
interlaced with the anarchic self-organized infrastructure of digital 
networked media that has become a formidable means of distribution 
(evidenced by the capillary diffusion of the video of the beheading of 
Nick Berg). Today's propaganda is used to manage a connective imagery 
rather than a collective spectacle, and the intelligence services set up 
simulacra of the truth based on networking technologies.

The videoclash of civilizations

Alongside the techno-conflict between horizontal and vertical media, two 
secular cultures of image face each other on the international mediascape. 
The United States embodies the last stage of videocracy, an oligarchic 
technocracy based on hypertrophic advertising and infotainment, and the 
colonization of the worldwide imagery through Hollywood and CNN. 
Nineteenth century ideologies such as Nazism and Stalinism were intimately 
linked to the fetishism of the idea-image (as all of western thought is 
heir to Platonic idealism). Islamic culture on the contrary is 
traditionally iconoclast: it is forbidden to represent images of God and 
the Prophet, and usually of any living creature whatsoever. Only Allah is 
Al Mussawir, he who gives rise to forms: imitating his gesture of creation 
is a sin (even if such a precept never appears in the Koran). Islam, 
unlike Christianity, has no sacred iconographic centre. In mosques the 
Kiblah is an empty niche. Its power comes not from the refusal of the 
image but from the refusal of its centralizing role, developing in this 
way a material, anti-spectacular, and horizontal cult. Indeed, on 
Doomsday, painters are meant to suffer more than other sinners. Even if 
modernization proceeds through television and cinema (that paradoxically 
did not have the same treatment of painting), iconoclastic ground remains 
active and breaks out against western symbols, as happened in the case of 
the World Trade Centre. To strike at western idolatry, pseudo-Islamic 
terrorism becomes videoclasm, preparing attacks designed for live 
broadcasting and using satellite channels as a resonant means for its 
propaganda. Al-Jazeera broadcasts images of shot-dead Iraqi civilians, 
whilst western mass media removes these bodies in favour of the military 
show. An asymmetrical imagery is developing between East and West, and it 
will be followed by an asymmetrical rage, that will break out with 
backlashes for generations to come. In such a clash between videocracy and 
videoclasm, a third actor, the global movement, tries to open a breach and 
develop therein an autonomous videopoiesis. The making of an alternative 
imagery is not only based on self-organizing independent media, but also 
on winning back the dimension of myth and the body. Videopoiesis should 
speak - at the same time - to the belly and to the brain of the monkeys.

Global video-brain

Western media and awareness was woken up by the physical force of 
live-broadcasted images not by the news of tortures at the Abu Ghraib 
prison or of Nick Berg's beheading. Television is the medium that taught 
the masses a Pavlovian reaction to images. It is also the medium that 
produced the globalisation of the collective mind (something more complex 
than the idea of public opinion). The feelings of the masses have been 
always reptilian: what media proliferation established is a video mutation 
of feelings, a becoming-video of the collective brain and of collective 
narration. The global video-brain functions through images whereas our 
brains think out of images. This is not about crafting a theory, but 
recognising the natural extension of our faculties. Electronic and 
economic developments move at too high a speed for the collective mind to 
have time to communicate and elaborate messages in speech, there is only 
time for reacting to visual stimuli. A collective imagery arises when a 
media infrastructure casts and repeats the same images in a million 
copies, producing a common space; a consensual hallucination around the 
same object (that afterwards becomes word-mouth or the movie industry). In 
the case of the TV medium such a serial communication of a million images 
is much more lethal, because it is instantaneous. On the other hand, the 
networked imagery works in an interactive and non-instantaneous way, this 
is why we call it connective imagery. Imagery is a collective serial 
broadcasting of the same image across different media. According to 
Goebbels, it is a lie repeated a million times that becomes public 
discourse, part of everyday conversations, and then accepted truth. 
Collective imagery is the place where media and desire meet each other, 
where the same repeated image modifies millions of bodies simultaneously 
and inscribes pleasure, hope and fear. Communication and desire, 
mediasphere and psychosphere, are the two axis that describe the war to 
the global mass, the way in which the war reaches our bodies far from the 
real conflict and the way image inscribes itself into the flesh.

Animal narrations

Why does reality exist only when framed by a powerful TV network? Why is 
the course of events affected by the evening news? Collective imagery is 
not affected by the video evolution of mass technologies only, but also by 
the natural instincts of human kind. As a political animal (Aristotle), 
the human being is inclined to set up collective narratives, that 
represent the belonging instinct to its own kind. Let's call them animal 
narratives. For this reason television is a "natural" medium, because it 
responds to the need of creating one narrative for millions of people, a 
single animal narrative for entire nations, similarly to what other 
narrative genres, like the epic, the myth, the Bible and the Koran, did 
and still do. Television represents, above all else, the ancestral feeling 
to belong to one Kind, that is the meta-organism we all belong to. Each 
geopolitical area has its own video macro-attractor (CNN, BBC, etc.), 
which the rest of the media relate to. Beside the macro-attractors, there 
are meta-attractors, featuring the role of critical consciousness against 
them, a function often held by press and web media (the Guardian, for 
instance). Of course the model is much more complex: the list could 
continue and end with blogs, which we can define as group 
micro-attractors, the smallest in scale, but suffice it to say here that 
the audience and power of the main attractor are ensured by the natural 
animal instinct. This definition of mass media might seem strange, because 
they are no longer push media that communicate in unidirectional ways 
(one-to-many), but pull media that attract and group together, media in 
which we invest our desires (many-to-one). Paraphrasing Reich's remark on 
fascism, we can say that rather than the masses being brainwashed by the 
media establishment, the latter is sustained and desired by the perversion 
of the desire to belong.

Digital anarchy. A videophone vs. Empire

Traditional media war incorporates the internet and the networked imagery 
(with television, internet, mobile phones and digital cameras) turns into 
a battle ground: personal media such as digital cameras bring the cruelty 
of war directly into the living room, for the first time in history at the 
speed of an internet download and out of any governmental control. This 
networked imagery cannot be stopped, and neither can technological 
evolution. Absolute transparency is an inevitable fate for all of us. The 
video phone era seriously undermines privacy, as well as any kind of 
secrecy, state secrecy included. Rumsfeld's vented outrage in front of US 
Senate Committee on Armed Services about the scandal at Abu Ghraib is 
extremely grotesque: "We're functioning... with peacetime constraints, 
with legal requirements, in a wartime situation, in the Information Age, 
where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these 
unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to 
the media, to our surprise, when they had - they had not even arrived in 
the Pentagon". A few days later Rumsfeld prohibited the use of any kind of 
camera or videophone to the American soldiers in Iraq. Rumsfeld himself 
was the 'victim' of the internet broadcasting of a famous video that shows 
him politely shacking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983.  New digital 
media seem to have created an unpredictable digital anarchy, where a video 
phone can fight against Empire. The images of torture at Abu Ghraib are 
the internal nemesis of a civilization of machines that is running out of 
control of its creators and demiurges. There is a machine nemesis but also 
an image nemesis: as Baudrillard notes, the Empire of the Spectacle is now 
submitted to the hypertrophy of the Spectacle itself, to its own greed for 
images, to an auto-erotic pornography. The infinitely repeatable character 
of digital technology allowed for the demise of the copyright culture 
through P2P networks, but also for the proliferation of digital spam and 
the white noise of contents on the web. Video phones have created a 
networked mega-camera, a super-light panopticon, a horizontal Big Brother. 
The White House was trapped in this web. Digital repetition no longer 
delivers us to the game of mirrors of Postmodern weak thought - to the 
image as self-referential simulacrum - but rather to an interlinked 
universe where videopoiesis can connect the farthest points and cause 
fatal short circuits.

War porn

Indeed, what came to light with the Abu Ghraib media scandal was not a 
casual short-circuit, but the implosion into a deadly vortex of war, 
media, technology, body, desire. Philosophers, journalists and 
commentators from all sides rushed to deliver different perspectives for a 
new framework of analysis. The novelty of the images of Abu Ghraib and 
Nick Berg (whether fictional or not is not the point) consists in the fact 
that they forged a new narrative genre of collective imagery.  For the 
first time, a snuff movie was projected onto the screen of global imagery 
and internet subcultures, used to such images, suddenly came out of the 
closet: rotten.com finally reached the masses. Rather than making sense of 
a traumatic experience, newspapers and weblogs worldwide are engaged in 
drawing out the political, cultural, social and aesthetic repercussions of 
a new genre of image that forces us to upgrade our immunity system and 
communicative strategies. As Seymour Hersh noted, Rumsfeld provided the 
world with an good excuse to ignore the Geneva Convention from now on. But 
he lowered the level of tolerance of the visible as well, forcing us to 
accept cohabitation with the Horror. English-speaking journalism defines 
as war porn the popular tabloids and government talk-shows fascination 
with super-sized weapons and well-polished uniforms, hi-tech tanks and 
infrared-guided bombs, a panoplia of images that some define as the 
aseptic substitute of pornography proper. Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down 
is war hardcore, to name one.  The cover of Time, where the American 
soldier was chosen as Person of the Year, was defined pure war porn by 
Adbusters: "Three American Soldiers standing proudly, half-smiles playing 
on their faces, rifles cradled in their arms".  War porn is also a 
sub-genre of trash porn - still relatively unknown, coming from the dark 
side of the net. It simulates violent sex scenes between soldiers or the 
rape of civilians (pseudo-amateur movies usually shot in Eastern Europe 
and often passed as real). War porn is freed from its status of net 
subculture: its morbid interest and fetish for war imagery become 
political weapons, voyeurism and the nightmares of the masses. Is it a 
coincidence that war porn emerges from the Iraqi marshes right at this 

Digital-body rejection

The metaphorical association of war with sex that underpins much 
Anglo-American journalism points to something deeper that was never before 
made so explicit: a libido that, alienated by wealth, awaits war to give 
free reign to its ancestral instincts. War is as old as the human species: 
natural aggressiveness is historically embodied in collective and 
institutional forms, but several layers of technology have separated 
today's war from its animal substratum. We needed Abu Ghraib pictures to 
bring to the surface the obscene background of animal energy that lied 
underneath a democratic make-up. Did this historic resurfacing of the 
repressed occur today simply because of the mass spreading of digital 
cameras and video phones? Or is there a deeper connection between the body 
and technology bound to prove to be deadly sooner or later? As the mass 
media are filled with tragic and morbid news, the framing of digital media 
seems to be missing something from its inception. This could be that 
passion of the real (Alain Badiou) which, exiled onto the screen, explodes 
out of control. New personal media are directly connected to the 
psychopathology of everyday living, we might say that they create a new 
format for it and a new genre of communication, but above all, they 
establish a relation with the body that television never had. War porn 
seems to signal the rejection of technology by subconscious forces that 
express themselves through the same medium that represses them: this 
rejection might point to the ongoing adaptation of the body to the 
digital. Proliferation of digital prosthesis is not as rational, aseptic 
and immaterial as it seems. Electronic media seemed to have introduced 
technological rationality and coolness into human relations, yet the 
shadows of the digital increasingly re-surface. There comes a point when 
technology physically unbridles its opposite. The internet is the best 
example: behind the surface of the immaterial and disembodied technology 
lies a traffic of porn content that takes up half of its daily band-width. 
At the same time, the Orwellian proliferation of video cameras, far from 
producing and Apollonian world of transparency, is ridden with violence, 
blood and sex. The next Endenmol Big Brother will resemble the movie 
Battle Royal, where Takeshi Kitano forces a class of students on an island 
and into a game of death where the winner is the last survivor. We have 
always considered the media as a prosthesis of human rationality, and 
technology as the new embodiment of the logos. But new media also embody 
the dark side of the Western world. In war porn we found this Siamese body 
made up of libido and media, desire and image. Two radical movements that 
are the same movement: war reinvests the alienated libido, personal media 
are filled by the desperate libido they alienated. The subconscious can 
not lie, the skeletons sooner or later start knocking on the closets door.

Imagery reset

War results from the inability to dream, after depleting all libidinal 
energy in an outflow of prosthesis, commodities, images. War violence 
forces us to believe again in images of everyday life, images of the body 
as well as images of advertising. War is an imagery reset. War brings the 
attention and excitement for advertising back to a zero degree, where 
advertising can start afresh. War saves advertising from the final 
annihilation of the orgasm, from the nirvana of consumption, the inflation 
and indifference of values. War brings the new economy back to the old 
economy, to traditional and consolidated commodities, it gets rid of 
immaterial commodities that risk dissolving the economy into a big 
potlatch and into the anti-economy of the gift that the internet 
represents. War has the "positive" effect of redelivering us to 'radical' 
thought, to the political responsibility of representation, against the 
interpretative flights of "weak thought", of semiotics and postmodernism 
(where postmodernism is the western image looking for an alibi to its own 
impotence). The pornographic images of war, as we said, are the reflux of 
the animal instinct that our economic and social structure has repressed. 
But rather than a psychoanalysis that reactively justifies new customs and 
fashions, we seek to carry out a 'physical' analysis of libidinal energy. 
In wartime we see images re-emerge with a new autonomous and autopoietic 
force. There are different kinds of image: war porn images are not 
representations, they speak directly to the body, they are a cruel, lucid 
and affirmative force, like Artaud's theatre, they are re-magnetised 
images that do not provoke incredulity, they are neural icons running on 
the spinal motorways, as Ballard would put it. Radical images redeliver 
the body to us, radical images are bodies, not simulacra. Their effect is 
first physical then cognitive. The movement-image and the flux-matter are 
rigorously one and the same thing (Deleuze). The damned tradition of the 
image is back, with the psychic and contagious power of Artaud's theatre, 
a machinic image that joins together the material and the immaterial, body 
and dream. Fiction is a branch of neurology (Ballard). In a libidinal 
explosion, war porn liberates the animal energies of Western society like 
a bomb. Such energies can be expressed through fascist reactions as well 
as liberating revolts. Radical images are images that are still capable of 
being political, in the strong sense of the word, and they can have an 
impact on the masses that is simultaneously political, aesthetic and 

Videopoiesis: the body-image

How can we make an intelligent use of television? The first intelligent 
reaction is to switch it off. Activists collective such as Adbusters.org 
(Canada) and Esterni.org (Italy) organize yearly TV strikes, promoting a 
day or a week's abstinence from television. Can Western society think 
without television? It cannot. Even if we were to stop watching TV because 
of a worldwide black-out or a nuclear war, our imagery, hopes and fears 
would carry on thinking within a televised brainframe. This is not about 
addiction, the video is simply our primary collective language: once upon 
a time there were religion, mythology, epic and literature. We can repress 
the ritual (watching TV) but we cannot repress the myth. We can switch 
television off, but not our imagery. For this reason the idea of an 
autonomous videopoiesis is not about practicing of alternative information 
but about new mythical devices for the collective imagery. In its search 
for the Perfect Image - that is the image that is capable of stopping the 
War, subverting Empire and starting the Revolution - the global movement 
has theorised and practiced video activism (from Indymedia to street TVs) 
and mythopoiesis (from Luther Blissett to San Precario). However, it never 
tried to merge those strategies into a videopoiesis capable of challenging 
Bin Laden, Bush, Hollywood and the CNN at the level of myth, a 
videopoiesis for new icons and formats, like for instance the video 
sequences of William Gibson's Patter recognition distributed on the net. 
Videopoiesis does not mean the proliferation of cameras in the hands of 
activists, but the creation of video narratives, a new design of genres 
and formats rather than alternative information. The challenge lies in the 
body-image. Through videopoiesis we have to welcome the repressed desires 
of the global movement and open the question of the body, buried under a 
para-catholic and third-worldist rhetoric. While Western imagery is being 
filled with the dismembered bodies of heroes, the global movement is still 
uneasy about its desires. War porn is a challenge for the movement not to 
equal the horror but to produce images that awaken and target the sleepy 
body. Throughout its history, television has always produced macro-bodies, 
mythical giant bodies magnified by media power, bodies as cumbersome as 
Ancient Gods. The television regime creates monsters, hypertrophic bodies 
such as the image of the President of Unites States, the Al-Qaeda brand 
and movie stars, while the net and personal media try to dismember them 
and produce new bodies out of their carcasses. Videopoiesis must eliminate 
the unconscious self-censorship that we find in the most liberal and 
radical sections of society, the self-censorship that, behind a 
crypto-catholic imagery, hides the grin of the monkey. Once 
crypto-religious self-censorship is eliminated, videopoiesis can begin its 
creative reassembly of dismembered bodies.

Warpunk. I like to watch!

Watching cruel images is good for you. What the Western world needs is to 
stare at its own shadows. In Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition war news 
and violent scenes improve adults' sexual activity and the condition of 
psychotic children. War lords are filling the collective imagery with 
brute force. Why leave them to do it in peace? If in the real world we are 
always victims of the blackmail of non-violence, in the realm of imagery 
and imagination we can feed our wet dreams at last. If American imagery is 
allowing a drift towards Nazism and is offering an apology and 
justification for any kind of violence, our response can only be an 
apology of resistance and action, that is warpunk.  Warpunk is not a 
delirious subculture that embraces weapons in an aesthetic gesture. On the 
contrary it uses radical images as weapons of legitimate defense. To 
paraphrase a Japanese saying, warpunk steals from war and empire the art 
of embellishing death. Warpunk uses warporn in a tragic way, to overcome 
Western culture and the self-censorship of its counter-culture. Above all 
we are afraid of the hubris of the American war lords, of the way they 
face any obstacle stepping over all written and unwritten rules. What is 
the point of confronting this threat with the imagery of the victim, that 
holds up to the sky hands painted in white? Victimhood is a bad adviser: 
it is the definitive validation of Nazism, the sheep's baa that makes the 
wolf even more indifferent. The global movement is quite a good example of 
"weak thought" and reactive culture. Perhaps this is because, unlike war 
lords and terrorists, it never developed a way of thinking about the 
tragic, war, violence and death. A tragic thought is the gaze that can 
dance on any image of the abyss. In Chris Korda's I like to watch video 
(download available on www.churchofeuthanasia.org) porn scenes of oral sex 
and masturbation are mixed with those of football and baseball matches and 
with well-known NY911 images. The phallic imagery reaches the climax: the 
Pentagon is hit by an ejaculation, multiple erections are turned into the 
NY911 skyline, the Twin Towers themselves become the object of an 
architectural fellatio. This video is the projection of the lowest 
instincts of American society, of the common ground that bind spectacle, 
war, pornography and sport. It is an orgy of images that shows to the West 
its real background. Warpunk is a squadron of B52s throwing libidinal 
bombs and radical images into the heart of the Western imagery.

Matteo Pasquinelli    (matATrekombinant.org)
Bologna, May 2004

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