Electricity has made angels of us all… Unlike print, TV doesn’t transport bits of classified information. Instead it transports the viewer. It takes his spirit on a trip, an instant trip. On live shows, it takes his spirit to real events in progress.
But here a contradiction occurs: though TV may make the viewer’s spirit an actual witness to the spectacle of life, he cannot live with this. If he sees a criminal making ready to murder a sleeping woman & can’t interfere, can’t warn her, he suffers & is afflicted because his being is phantasmal.
So he participates solely as a dreamer, in no way responsible for events that occur.
The photojournalist/ advocate James Foley was brutally executed in a scene grizzlier than anything on Game of Thrones. Just as in the television series, people were both enthralled and appalled by the scene. And as in the television series, the viewers were unable to do anything, as they were present only as disembodied angels.
Are we all helpless in the face of Islamist brutality? Is there anyone who can do something to stop these beasts? The United States revealed that it had launched a rescue mission this summer, but the kidnap victims weren’t at the anticipated location. President Obama denounced Foley’s executioners, saying “they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.”
Then the President returned to the golf course.
On network TV, everything gets equalized. News, drama, comedy are all subject to commercial breaks. The viewer is immersed in emotional turmoil, and then told how to improve his golf swing. Sometimes there’s more drama in the ads, especially when they’re fundraising for abused pets, sick or hungry children. If they’re too disturbing, we don’t even have to get up to express our apathy by changing the channel.
Golf and Beheading
Specialty TV programming is more relentless. There are no commercial breaks, no escapes in Game of Thrones. You don’t witness a beheading, and then return to golf. It’s literary quality drama in a fantasy setting.
It’s much better entertainment then the Palestinian-Israel conflict. While the former stage cheap melodrama, Israel pushes reality and facts. A missile strike in Gaza is a theatrical production, with “corpses” wiggling under sheets. Bloody photos from Syria or even Israel are captioned as Palestinian victims under fire. Israel doesn’t engage in theatrics, and so when rockets land they aren’t worthy of the news. For a generation that doesn’t relate images and programs back to the real world, the melodrama carries the day.
Was James Foley’s execution something to be taken seriously? Was Daniel Pearl’s beheading twelve years earlier a turning point? How concerned was the President, if it didn’t interfere with his golf schedule?
Angels of Apathy
Unlike their parents, the young are less anxious to validate images by reference back to observable reality. That need arose largely from conditions unique to literacy, and literacy exercises little control in their lives. Today’s images are self-sufficient.
Carpenter published his observations in nineteen seventy-two. The “young” he describes are now old, or at least seriously middle-aged. It’s a series of generations that doesn’t have to relate the images, the programs, even the news back to observable reality. Since the sounds and images are from a phantasmal world, it’s easy to be apathetic.
Game of Thrones, James Foley, ISIS, the massacres of the Yazidis (replicating some of the scenes from the novel Quantum Cannibals), Breaking Bad… which are more capable of holding our attention? Dr. Jay Corwin, commenting on Foley’s beheading, states that “People with no common sense at all think it’s just a video game.” Will James Foley or Daniel Pearl reboot, and start again?
Video Game Jihad
Perhaps the video game metaphor is appropriate for the Jihadis coming from western countries, such as Great Britain
and Canada; they get to play for real. You can’t smell the blood of your victims on X-Box. Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, Medal of Honor may be greater inspirations for Muslim youth than the Koran. And if they die in the course of the game, they reboot to paradise with seventy two virgins- houris, a specialized form of angels.
Carpenter’s “young” must learn to relate the images confronting them back to observable reality. They must learn that the threats to their civilization, to their lives are more than angels, phantasms. If the people of the west treat the images confronting them as a dream on a TV channel, or abandoned for a game of golf, they will be responsible for the nightmare that descends upon them.