The 2011 Looking Glass Awards

Anger Is an Energy

by Steven Aoun

5 January 2012


We All Carry the Virus

Instead of putting the song in quarantine, we somehow tried to inoculate ourselves by putting it on high rotation. It was our supposed resistance that helped turn “Friday” into a viral phenomenon. It didn’t seem to occur to millions of internet users that they were the carriers of this ‘virus’ and were choosing to expose each other to it. Like all virulent strains, the outrage that was “Friday” required a susceptible host and recipient in order for it to spread online.

Perhaps we should have really being hating on ourselves for allowing “Friday” to catch on and occupy our minds. As millions of people bemoaned the lack of character and originality (amongst other things) in pop music, they similarly followed the established trends of hopping onto hate bandwagons and/or cyber bullying in order to feel more in tune with one another. Our own movements invariably raises the question: why did we think it was so important to band together and call for a public beat down on a deluded young girl?

There But For the Grace of God (Go I) Award

The oceanic feeling is said to be the source of all religious belief. It’s the feeling of being connected to something deeper and limitless. To some extent, the story of Noah’s Arc plumbs the depths of the sensation of an indissoluble bond. The Judea- Christian tradition purportedly feels a connection to the ‘limitless’ through the wrath of God. The moral of the story itself isn’t too deep: while much of the Earth was supposedly swept away in a deluge, a select few were saved and gathered together to start the rinse cycle all over again.

The 2011 Tohoku tsunami therefore bore witness to a holier than thou attitude. Oceanic feelings also rose to the surface, and an earthquake off the coast of Japan was seen as a latter day moral cleansing. Seeking the high moral ground, many people uncharitably viewed the tragedy through the lens of self aggrandizing beliefs. The groundswell of bad feeling invariably revealed the fault-line in their own sensibilities. The 2011 tsunami was supposedly (say) karmic payback  for the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, or God’s way of punishing Japan for its contemporary whaling industry. The captain of Sea Shepherd even wrote a poem to commemorate the “fearful wrath” of a sea god: Neptune “angrily smote the deep seabed floor” with his spear and the “shore echoed mankind’s cry”. It wasn’t just individuals trolling the Net that shared these views – some prominent people gave expression to such deeply felt sentiments too. 

According to conservative radio host Glenn Beck, the tsunami was more than a random natural disaster. The Japanese tragedy was really a “message being sent” from an angry God to the rest of the world. Everyone should therefore stop “doing the things” that make God angry and “buckle up” for what’s going to be a “bumpy ride” for the rest of humanity. Tokyo’s Governor also saw the writing on the wall and insensitively observed “the Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami as means of washing away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment” and a wake up call to a grieving and shell shocked nation. Through the Looking Glass doesn’t mean to imply that sanctimony and fear mongering were the default responses – an outpouring of deeper emotions occurred as people around the world reached out to a country in dire straits.

There was one clear message being sent on that fateful day: modern technology is now able to render apocalyptic images in real time. We might not have been witnessing judgement day, but the live footage was a complete revelation. Anyone watching the events unfold was ideally left humbled and speechless. The immediacy of the footage itself speaks volumes, and manages to convey the scale of an escalating natural disaster. Humankind was reduced to a powerless spectator, and civilization revealed as the most fragile of artifices. There were at least two things to observe about the voluminous raw footage. It appears to be second nature for embattled humans to reach for readily available video devices as the world literally comes rushing towards them. Equally natural is humankind’s willingness to rush to shared footage as the world falls apart before their very eyes. People who found themselves in the middle of an unfolding disaster took it upon themselves to become amateur reporters, and piecemeal reports managed to capture a much bigger picture. 

Theatre of War Award

The indefeasible power of the ocean – in the symbolic form of Operation Neptune’s Spear – evoked other feelings in 2011. We are talking about, of course, the Navy Seal’s hunting down and killing of the notoriously elusive Osama Bin Laden. The ocean even staked a claim on his bullet ridden corpse:  the mass murderer was unceremoniously dumped into the sea to ensure that he would be sleeping with (and feeding) the fishes. Bin Laden’s summary execution proved to be a cleansing ritual that helped bring closure on the tenth anniversary of September 11. Fueled by an unrelenting outrage, his timely death managed to satisfy our own blood lust.

As the stage managed news of Bin Laden’s death confirmed, truth invariably becomes the first spoil of war. Indeed, the White House sought to justify the execution of Bin Laden by lending a visual power to its own storytelling. Following the administration’s lead, news outlets were similarly thinking about the raid from a “visual perspective” in order to show “how false his narrative has been over the years”.  Conventional narrative tropes — good versus evil, heroes and villains, happy endings, etc —  and poetic license were amongst the White House’s weapons of choice. The media’s eagerness to reproduce the official story confirms that there’s a thin line between news and entertainment. News outlets filtered the story through the lens of a Hollywood movie, ensuring that Bin Laden’s death could entertain people in the home theater.

We were originally led to believe that Bin Laden was captured and killed during a fierce firefight. A supposedly austere and fearless warrior was reported to be living in the lap of luxury and hiding behind women’s skirts when he was not masturbating to porn. Indeed, the Western media helped narrate a series of events that would bring audiences in the home theater to dramatic climax. The official story exhibited a classic three act structure and was characterized by exciting shifts in tone and location. News reports immediately established the main character (USA! USA!), genre (action-adventure) and complicating incident that would culminate in catharsis: bringing a fugitive to justice during a final showdown.

Competing media outlets understandably repeated the story verbatim — any attempt at independent verification would disrupt the breaking of news and give their competitors an unfair advantage. It’s certainly true that some outlets invariably cast doubt on the official narrative. The mass media, however, gave much less attention to the change in details: there were no comparable newsflashes when it became apparent that the Navy Seals met with next to no resistance and murdered a modest household of (mostly) defenseless men. Few wanted the truth to get in the way of a good story.

The ending to Bin Laden’s story reportedly brought into play two major themes — the moral fortitude of the West (an ability to endure adversity with persistence and courage) and the moral vindication of its war on terror (good triumphing over evil in a final showdown). The official story thereby highlighted the West’s supremacy on the world stage while throwing its avowed enemy into the dustbin of history. Indeed, America proved to be so high and mighty that it was even beneath them to participate in a show trial in an international court of law. The targeted demographic was also given a role to play on the world’s stage and became part of theater of war’s mis en scene. There remains a problem, however, when viewing justice in such dramatic terms – especially when many of us ended up publicly celebrating the murder of other people.

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