[Reader-list] slow news is no news

::aizura:: aizura at onlinecide.org
Thu Oct 11 17:35:33 IST 2001

Reflections on the bombings in Afghanistan from Australia
Aizura Hankin

Tuesday, October 09, 2001

"Slow news is no news."‹an anonymous journalist, quoted by Paul Virilio

So the bombings have begun.

Actually, I¹m over 24 hours behind with that statement, but we¹ll address
that later. As someone on the reader list commented, everyone knew they were
coming. It was only a matter of when and how. But there¹s a moment of
surprise you experience, I think, when the long-expected and long-dreaded
finally takes place. A moment of shock. And maybe that¹s why I¹ve been
unable to sleep properly for two nights, have been waking at strange hours
with sudden, unaccountable migraines, obsessing about the least-important

I haven¹t been keeping track of the war this time. When I say Œthis time¹,
in one sense I mean the last time this happened was the Gulf War. At
sixteen, I had far more time to watch the media event unfold, although I
probably made far less sense of it than now during what CNN is calling
ŒAmerica¹s New War¹. (Sorry, no, today it¹s called ŒAmerica Strikes Back¹.
Why bother to make Star Wars comparisons when they can do it themselves?)

But there¹s another sense in which I mean Œthis time¹, which is of course
9/11 itself.

What really bugs me, or makes me extra-sad and extra-depressed, is that
no-one on the street really seems to care. It¹s not terrifying or
earth-shaking in the way that the WTC crash itself was. Of course there are
a variety of different power-effects going on to produce that‹especially in
Australia where the rhetoric of ŒWe are also Americans¹ seems to have been
swallowed almost unconsciously by the public at large.

My housemates and I watched the World Trade Centre collapse live, one of the
few activities we¹d done together as a household in months. We spent days
analysing, talking, watching television. And yet when I got home last night
only one of them was awake, watching Star Trek. When I said, ŒSo, they¹ve
started bombing,¹ expecting a shared indignant exchange, he merely grunted.
As if the event¹s inevitability rendered it insignificant.

I was asked to write an essay on Œcraft¹ in media activist practice
recently. I didn¹t end up writing the article, but thinking about how
difficult it is to craft media in a considered fashion opened up a whole
range of ideas about the distinctions between 'fast' and 'slow' media. I¹ve
also been reading The Information Bomb by Paul Virilio, probably the
best-known writer on the topic of speed.

When I try connecting up the various strands of this sprawling idea-web, I
get this: that mass public emotional response to a media event is almost
entirely produced by shock and through the speed of its distribution. The
WTC was shocking because it happened in America, but it was doubly shocking
(and worthy of public discourse) because of the speed of its development as
a media-event and the obvious realtime dispersal of images which almost
everyone saw. That image of the plane crashing into the tower is exactly
like the Zapruder film, except that everyone watched it live. The bombing of
Afghanistan, on the other hand, has been Œabout to happen¹ for so long, in
media nanoseconds, that it has effectively already happened‹and this war, we
know, will be happening for quite some time. It¹s Œslow news¹: maybe not to
the corporate media itself, busily constructing the narratives of attack and
retreat, but definitely to people on the ground.

Worse, I suspect that the geographical and cultural distance of
ŒAfghanistan¹ dulls people to the bombs detonating there. Even here in Oz,
where Afghanistan is much closer to us than New York, so embedded in the
corporate spectacular imagination.

What do we do, then, in these dark and crazy times? What do I do? I am
helped a little by the understanding that what I respond to is a media
event. I have a choice of watching/listening/reading made available by the
enormous (hope-giving) mobilisation of independent and alternative
commentary on the WTC attacks, which are transforming into commentary about
events in Afghanistan and the media¹s treatment of war.

And even if I can¹t watch them, I can still think about the people on the
ground. Who are as innocent, if anyone can be said to be innocent, as the
civilians killed in New York a month ago.

'Maybe I'm not the robot, and everyone else is.'
‹Doom Patrol (Grant Morrison)

The Secret History of Rosa Deluxembourg:

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