Jean Baudrillard, power

War Porn

From Jean Baudrillard’s brief essay, “War Porn”:

World Trade Center: shock treatment of power, humiliation inflicted on power, but from outside. With the images of the Baghdad prisons, it is worse, it is the humiliation, symbolic and completely fatal, which the world power inflicts on itself – the Americans in this particular case – the shock treatment of shame and bad conscience. This is what binds together the two events. Before both a worldwide violent reaction: in the first case a feeling of wonder; in the second, a feeling of abjection.

For September 11th, the exhilarating images of a major event; in the other, the degrading images of something that is the opposite of an event, a non-event of an obscene banality, the degradation, atrocious but banal, not only of the victims, but of the amateur scriptwriters of this parody of violence. The worst is that it all becomes a parody of violence, a parody of the war itself, pornography becoming the ultimate form of the abjection of war which is unable to be simply war, to be simply about killing, and instead turns itself into a grotesque infantile reality-show, in a desperate simulacrum of power.

These scenes are the illustration of a power which, reaching its extreme point, no longer knows what to do with itself – a power henceforth without aim, without purpose, without a plausible enemy, and in total impunity. It is only capable of inflicting gratuitous humiliation and, as one knows, violence inflicted on others is after all only an expression of the violence inflicted on oneself. It only manages to humiliate itself, degrade itself and go back on its own word in a sort of unremitting perversity. The ignominy, the vileness is the ultimate symptom of a power that no longer knows what to do with itself.

This isn’t state power gone awry, this is the true end of self-serving power, the kind of power that has a violent logic at its core, a raison d’état. This simulacra of war is not so much a parody of a parody, but the blood thirst — or blood sport — of empire. If so, then the pornography of war has always been, it is just realized differently today. In fact, I think we could locate this war porn in iconography or as sacramental for a perverse civil religion.

I recommend you go and read the essay. Don’t worry, it is only three pages long.

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9 thoughts on “War Porn

  1. poserorprophet says:

    Good to see Baudrillard showing up here. I’ve often wondered why he doesn’t get more attention from theological voices who are interested in engaging cultural theorists and continental philosophers. Any thoughts on that?

    • I’m not so sure why. I can say for myself that Simulation and Simulacra doesn’t quite line up for me: iconography as simulation is a problem for Baudrillard, while simulacra can be a positive thing. I understand the reason why Baudrillard says it, but I think he gets theology wrong.

      I’m still digesting Baudrillard, so I could be wrong about him being opposite, but if I’m right, that could have a detrimental effect. Instead I use simulacra in a negative sense, as parody. Still, I think hes incredibly interesting and even if he is often opposite, I agree, hes worth engaging a great deal.

  2. poserorprophet says:

    Sure, I agree that many things that Baudrillard writes cannot be aligned with the Christian faith… but the same is true of those like Deleuze, Zizek, Foucault, and other who are getting a lot of attention.

    I’m currently reading Simulation and Simulacra but (thus far) I would say that I found Baudrillard’s System of Objects and The Consumer Society to be much more fascinating.

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