Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Newsweek: Thanks for Making Me Feel Okay About Killing

It took just days, but there's already a video game where you can destroy the tentacular federal agency attempting to destroy your life. And here's the great thing: just like in reality, there's no way to lose! Sure, here it's impossible not to strike the building. But in real life, surely even a failure to hit the target is a can't-miss opportunity to point up the illegitimacy of... I dunno... government. Or whatever.

Even at this point, no one is really sure why Joe Stack flew a plane into an IRS building and murdered a man in the process. But, irrespective of whatever answers about his life might be forthcoming, they're bound to offer far less entertainment than the reactions his actions have inspired. I realize by now this news is about a week old — which, given the subject, is perfectly fitting — but Newsweek magazine treated THA STACK ATTACK as occasion to share an open discussion amongst all staffers about what constitutes terrorism. The results ran the gamut from stupid and hilarious to stupid and loathsome.

If you don't read Newsweek — like 297 million other Americans who rightfully don't — you might not know what it is. It's a news magazine that breaks no news, instead giving a weekly summary of events with the illusion of depth and without the space necessary to achieve it. To make up for breaking no news, it tries to give you the "full picture" on events, which is usually laughably small, even when it doesn't involve reiterating talking-points and "he said"/"she said" quotes on both sides of an issue, which is its usual stock in trade. Newsweek is news for people who think Readers Digest Condensed Editions are literature. The only difference is that, because it has an editorial board and staff of writers with agendas when it comes to summarizing news, there's even more mediation between events and the readership than simply hacking down big text until it's small and simple enough for people to finish reading while shitting.

If you need a single snapshot of what Newsweek provides and the archetype who consumes it, picture an overweight man in a designer Hawaiian shirt cooking a two-pound porterhouse for himself over a flaming radial tire while reading an issue choked with articles and op-eds by Fareed Zakaria: the charming foreign fella who tells you that globalization is good "because globalization" without making you feel exploitive or guilty because there's a picture of his ethnic face next to the dog's breakfast neoconservative/third-way-Democrat/third-world-plunder drivel he's barfing out at a Karen Carpenterly prodigious and regular rate.

Now, Glenn Greenwald already thoroughly and satisfyingly attacked the monumental mindlessness of Newsweek's in-house discussion on terrorism. But it's still worth it to take a look at a few quotes:
Managing Editor(!) Kathy Jones:
Did the label terrorist ever successfully stick to McVeigh? Or the Unabomber? Or any of the IRS bombers in our violence list? Here is my handy guide:

Lone wolfish American attacker who sees gov't as threat to personal freedom: bomber, tax protester, survivalist, separatist

Group of Americans bombing/kidnapping to protest U.S. policies on war/poverty/personal freedom/ - radical left-wing movement, right-wing separatists

All foreign groups or foreign individuals bombing/shooting to protest American gov't: terrorists.

Reporter Dan Stone:
Yep, comes down to ID. This guy was a regular guy-next-door Joe Schmo. Terrorists have beards in live in caves. He was also an American, so targeting the IRS seems more a political statement -- albeit a crazy one -- whereas Abdulmutallab was an attack on our freedom. Kind of the idea that an American can talk smack about America, but when it comes from someone foreign, we rally together.
Greenwald especially focuses on the fact that all these people who essentially are the media keep defending their definitions of terrorism and the treatment of acts of terror as "something the media did," throwing up their arms in impotent frustration that they are somehow forced to accede to the flow and tone of a discussion that they themselves partly decide.

What's lost in this argument, and what I wish he'd brought up, is that these are people whose only job is to repeat, interpret and arrange words, yet they themselves seem totally unaware of their significance or even meaning. They not only evince no reasonable understanding of the definition of words that they use for their jobs, they also reinforce their mutual perversions of them. It's like reading a discussion amongst a bunch of structural engineers where they all agree that "cement" actually means "drywall," and then go about designing a high-rise apartment together.

A terrorist, by definition, is someone who uses violence and intimidation to advance a political goal. Acts of terrorism are ones of violence and intimidation designed to advance a political goal. Terrorism is color-blind, religion-blind and gender-blind. Yet if you look at the Newsweek discussion, their conception of terrorism is totally nationalized and religious; only it's clear that America, Israel, Christianity and Judaism do not fall under the rubric of terroristic nations or religions.

Participants in the discussion do their best at surrounding their decisions with wheedlingly and nail-pickingly oblique language before arriving at the things they obviously want to say, but it's unmistakeable that their judgments come down to three things:
1. Terrorists aren't Americans.
2. They're muslim.
3. They're definitely not white.
The only trouble for a reasonable person is wondering whether or not to call this out on the basis of its obvious racism, jingoism and anti-Islamism or to point out that all three terms were amply violated by the American-funded Irish Catholic IRA, which Newsweek covered, for about thirty fucking years.

It's at this point such a tortured, overused and ill-employed sophomoric metaphor that one hesitates to use it, but one should dismiss this entire episode in Newsweek's intellectually dim history as Newspeak. Because that's basically what it is: the complexity and purpose of language destroyed, in an open forum, by the people who employ it, so they can selectively demonize one group and exculpate another, despite the fact that the two groups engage in the same acts.

Just look at the event that sparked the discussion to see the fundamental absurdity of even asking about it. A man flew a plane into a building. Yes, the generative aspects of his rage or desire for vengeance could have been anything, but his outlet took a specific form. It was to fly a plane into a fucking building because he hated what it represented. Isn't this the universally acknowledged definition of a terror attack for anyone who remembers the last ten years in this country? Even conceding the absurd and assuming that he killed exactly the man he intended to kill by knowing that that man would be in that part of that building at that time, the collateral effect of his attack is unmistakable — to point out the evil of the IRS by attacking a symbol of the IRS. Violent action against an objectionable symbol to create a symbolic political statement is baseline definitive fucking terrorism.

Yet Newsweek would have you believe the act bespeaks a different motivation and belongs in a different class of words they didn't even come up with, like "Separatist" or "Survivalist" or "Bomber." (Surely no one who is a separatist who uses bombs could be a terrorist.) They put the onus squarely on someone else: the media.

Poor Newsweek — which in every instance in which it influences public policy or debate would not hesitate to mention doing so — must now sit far away from the hugger-mugger of writing about what happens and even further away from doing so in such a fashion that they comment on it. Their comments all come from asking themselves questions now, from bewilderment, from trying to find their way out of the wilderness of having a major national weekly publication. Their editorial page lies dormant, ineffectual. Their choice of articles?—stolen, by a vicious runaway band of other national journalists operating on schedules that involve just one or two days instead of seven. What is left for Newsweek now?

Certainly not words. Admittedly, apart from a few photographs and comics, all they have to offer are words. All their jobs are, are words. But words are not theirs anymore. Somebody else ran off with them, leaving these poor Newsweaklings to use them in meaningless ways totally divorced from their definitions. Newsweek has no other options now but to employ writers-turned-victims, forced to use a cannibalized and bastardized dictionary to promote a vision of political violence that says:
Murderous Protest = Whites, Complex Motivations, Questionable, Knowable,
Terrorism = Muslims, Ragheads, (Sand)N****rs, Foreigners, Ineffable, Evil.
Which is a fucking blast for me (no pun intended). I keep playing that game I mentioned up top, and I can't stop annihilating my enemies in the government. Hahahaha stupid gummymint! Seriously, though, it's so easy, and it's awesome. I was starting to feel bad about what I was doing, but now that I know I'm merely a video-game freedom fighter or separatist or "tax protester," I think we ought to rename this game. Its current title is pretty anemic. Off the top of my head, I've got these:
White Flight Simulator
Where There's a McVill There's a McVeigh
I DC8 the IRS
Fed Up, Fed Down
Airport 1488
Boeing, Boeing, Gone!
I feel more awesome and vindicated already. If I ever see Fareed in public, I'm just going to start slapping him in the face until he puts up his hands in protest to allow me to go in for the high-five. I won't actually be a thug beating a person I think is a tremendous idiot. I'll just be an enthusiastic well-wisher.

It's cool. I'm totally white, and he's not.