Filed under: Video Games | Tags: Afghanistan, George W. Bush, Grand Theft Auto, Imperialism, Iraq, Jean Baudrillard, Media, Misogyny, Murder, Robert Pickton, Rockstar Game, Sex Workers, Simulacra, Stephen Harper, The Gulf War, The Gulf War: Did it Really Take Place?, Violence, Virtuality
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto IV raked in more than $500 million its first week—and was linked to a real-life stabbing and mugging. The game is praised for its innovative, realistic and complex gameplay—and vilified for its simulated violence and misogyny. Make no mistake: the game is misogynist. Any attempt to excuse the game’s misogyny is revealing. There is something barbaric about the phrase “You don’t have to kill prostitutes to beat the game.”
But what makes me suspicious of such criticism is that video games seem to bear a disproportionate level of ire compared to the much more graphic violence depicted in television shows like CSI or torture-porn film like Saw or Hostel. In fact, much of the female objectification that occurs in the game is no different than what you’d see during a prime-time commercial break on NBC.
The difference, we claim, lies in the virtual participation such games enable. Simulation, the argument goes, is a small step away from reality. In fact, there is little evidence that first-person simulation offer any more of a connection with violence than watching film or television. So why does the virtual murder of a woman attract more media attention than a real one?
The war in Iraq, which has killed more people in real life than GTA4 will ever kill virtually, was a “clean war.” A war with precision weapons that, we were assured, didn’t kill anyone who didn’t deserve to die. Indeed, didn’t President Bush, five years ago almost to the day smiling in his jumpsuit in front of a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished,” assure us that the war is over? Jean Baudrillard, as he argued for the first Gulf War in The Gulf War: Did it Really Take Place?, would likely have said that it never really occurred in the first. “We are all hostages of media intoxication,” he writes, “induced to believe.” It occurs only in heavily mediated images on CNN with only cursory relevance to whatever is taking place on the ground.
Likewise Canada’s war in Afghanistan. Our government wages an imperialist act of aggression upon an unarmed nation for an act of terrorism that was neither directed at us, nor committed by those we attack; and we do it in the name of “defence.” Our military strategy, our Foreign Affairs Ministry informs us, is based on rhetoric, not substance. We are strengthening Canada’s role in the world by effecting American foreign policy. Our enemy is not an opposing army, but ethereal “insurgents.” And we are not allowed to see the bodies of our dead soldiers return home. There are no corpses, no weapons, no armies. “Just as wealth is no longer measured in the ostentation of wealth but by the secret circulation of speculative capital,” Baudrillard writes, “so war is not measured by being waged but by its speculative unfolding in an abstract electronic and informational space, the same space in which capital moves.”
The real violence our society inflicts has become simulated, and we combat this shift by criticizing virtuality as if it were real. Violence against sex workers is all but absent from the pages of our newspapers (unless it fits into our spectacular fantasies like the Pickton murders, effacing the individuals who lost their lives over a period of thirty years). Yet GTA4 comes out with attendant social outrage. It is as if the protests against the game are as simulated as the violence it represents: virtual protest for virtual violence while the real deal continues apace.
Games like GTA4 certainly provoke a visceral reaction, a watermark of the tragic misogynist violence that infects our society. But there is something altogether more tragic about a society that condemns sex-worker violence in a game yet does nothing about it in real life, for real sex workers and for real women. I suppose, when real violence becomes a simulation of itself, when the terror in which we are complicit is so overwhelming, so imposing, and so atrocious, what other recourse do we have? No wonder virtual games like GTA4 are so popular.
Filed under: Imperialism | Tags: China, Don Delillo, Imperialism, Media, Tibet, Uri Averney, White Noise
Uri Averney wrote an excellent article for Counterpunch.org that wonderfully articulates the difficulty I have with the global “Free Tibet!” campaign.
[W]hat is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this, the best of all possible worlds.
Tibet offers an attractive combination of exoticism, morality and the plucky status of an underdog sparkplug to the world media. It’s a narrative almost tailor-made for Western bourgeois liberalism: we convince ourselves that they want what we have, and it’s our moral obligation to help them achieve it. Free Tibet! Free World!
Forget the fact that there are threatened peoples in our own country that want what we have. Hell, they’d settle for clean water. As Canadians, our first duty should be to ensure that we do not oppress people at home or abroad. Any pretension otherwise is moral blindness. As progressives and anti-imperialists, we should question any attempt to render China’s sin bigger than our own. Or, failing that, why the mote of Tibet is bigger than the beam of East Congo or Chechnya.
With that in mind, it seems to me that what’s really going on here is not that Tibet wants what we have, but that they have what we wish we had. Or rather, the Tibetan myth Western media has constructed—one based on peace, non-violence, abstinence and asceticism—purchases our largesse. As long as Tibet eschews consumerism and consumption, our destructive lifestyle can proceed apace. The irony is of course, that as we “free” such ethical impossibilities from themselves as reward for affirming our pretense, we threaten to eradicate the myths on which we rely. It’s a dilemma Jack Gladney discovered almost a quarter century ago:
“You don’t believe in heaven? A nun?”
“If you don’t, why should I?”
“If you did, maybe I would.”
“If I did, you would not have to.”
“All the old muddles and quirks,” I said. “Faith, religion, life everlasting. The great old human gullibilities. Are you saying you don’t take them seriously? Your dedication is a pretense?”
“Our pretense is a dedication. Someone must appear to believe. Our lives are no less serious than if we professed real faith, real belief. As belief shrinks from the world, people find it necessary than ever that someone believe. Wild-eyed men in caves. Nuns in black. Monks who do not speak. We are left to believe. Fools, children. Those who have abandoned belief must still believe in us. They are sure that they are right not to believe bu they know belief must not fade completely. Hell is when no one believes. There must always be believers. Fools, idiots, those who hear voices, those who speak in tongues. We are your lunatics. We surrender our lives to make your nonbelief possible. You are sure that you are right but you don’t want everyone to think as you do. There is no truth without fools. We are your fools, your madwomen, rising at dawn to pray, lighting candles, asking statues for good health, long life.”
“You’ve had long life. Maybe it works.”
She rattled out a laugh, showing teeth so old they were nearly transparent.
“Soon no more. You will lose your believers.”
—Don Delillo, White Noise (1985)
h/t to unionist at babble
Filed under: Media Bias | Tags: Cindy Crawford, Fashion, George Clooney, Gisele Bündchen, LeBron James, Media, Racism, Richard Gere, Stereotyping, Vogue Magazine
LeBron James, who is often pipped as the best-dressed man in the NBA, recently became only the third man to grace the cover of Vogue Magazine. What’s more, James is the first African-American man to ever feature on the most-prized spot in fashion. The image is certainly forceful: the powerful, 6’8″ James with the graceful Gisele Bündchen hanging off his arm. But magazine analyst Samir Husni is quoted by the Associated Press saying that the image “screams King Kong…[the cover] brings those stereotypes to the front, black man wanting white woman.”
Such statements will doubtless attract criticisms of oversensitivity, even of actively searching out racism in an otherwise innocuous work. But, when juxtaposed with the other two men who were lucky enough to find their way on to Vogue, Richard Gere and George Clooney, the choice of dress, colour scheme and pose remains significantly different. In fact, Clooney, in the June 2000 issue, also poses with Bündchen in a very different arrangement. Where is his animalistic energy? Richard Gere, with his then-girlfriend-cum-supermodel Cindy Crawford on the November 1992 cover, expresses a refined, vulnerable air. The three covers maintain the same red lettering, the same pairing with the world’s most powerful model (let the irony of that one slip by for now, please). So why, we are compelled to ask, did Vogue opt to put the sartorially slick James in a tanktop and shorts, mid-scream?
Of course, it is difficult to rebuke a magazine built on tapping into cultural codes and assumptions and reproducing them on a quarterly basis. A casual glance through their cover archives is enough to recognize every cultural stereotype around: the pale waif, the sultry minx, the savage amazon, etc. So what’s the story here?
Cover images from fashionologie.com