Some of the Brussels terror images are fake. But then what does authenticity matter when it comes to snuff? Because make no mistake that what these images are.
|Fake Images of Brussels Bombing|
Wait A Minute, That’s Not Brussels!
It transpires that some of the images broadcast after the Brussels bombings were fake. One particular video, posted on Youtube, appears to show CCTV footage of blurred figures fleeing Zaventem airport. What they actually show is a flipped and relabelled image of blurred figures fleeing a terror attack on Domodedovo airport, in Russia, in 2004! Other images from terror attacks in Minsk were also used. This is something that has been going on for a while apparently. Images shared after the Paris attacks were originally footage of the Charlie Hebdo killings. Vids of Eagles of Death Metal playing at Bataclan on the night of the bombings were actually from a Dublin gig and so on.
Faking the news is as old as the news, but the rise of social media has dramatically increased the possibility that the imagery that accompanies our journalism is fraudulent. First, because people will publish anything to increase their clicks, shares and so on. A click or like is the crack cocaine of online addiction, proof that you count, that the world listens to you, that you are included in the endless conversation. Second, because now there is now such an abundance of footage around, shot by amateurs mostly, that it makes it all the more difficult to determine authenticity.
This is particularly grave as these days the news is pretty much the image. In the past a false image would only support the facts of the article, give it a boost. Now the ‘article’ is often just a caption for the image, a tweeticle call it, meaning you can create a whole story out of just one good clip. It’s an extremely efficient mode of communication, but if the clip ain’t no good, then the whole story is worthless, or so you would think.
You’re Gonna Have to Face it You’re Addicted to Snuff
So the clips are fake, does it actually matter? Having recently blogged in response to the images from Brussels I revisited them armed with the possibility that some or even all of them were not what they purported to be. I found that it didn’t make any difference really. The effect of the images is pretty universal. One airport looks like another, one wounded victim is as tragic as another, and in any case none of those images represented something new or unique to me or to any of you.
Since the rise of handheld devices and social media we have all flung open the casements on our consciousness to a steady stream of snuff and these latest images were just a continuation of that mounting contamination. And yes, I do regard this imagery as snuff because authentic images of violence and death are nothing other than that. So what if those terrified forms are Russian and not Belgian? They are still suffering, terrorism is still the scourge of our age, we should still bomb the shit out of ISIS. The facts may differ, but the truth of the image, its shared purpose, remains stable, I discovered.
Still, the question over authenticity does give one pause for thought and in that hiatus, that hesitation of consideration that social media buttonism normally militates against, I asked myself, why do we even look at such material? I realised it is because we are now fascinated by, addicted to, our regular hit of snuff. Snuff has become as much a part of our social existence in the past decade as funny kittens and emojis; indeed we seem to have the same evanescent emotional response to each.
If we are outraged by images of bleeding corpses that indignation lasts about as long as the giggle we have over a child scooting around the kitchen on its potty. We like it, we share it, its affect dissipates soon after. A few days pass, we feel restless. What, of significance, have we shared of late? Then, thankfully, something else appalling goes down and we can get incandescent again at terrorism and feel the power of that hatred add a strata of depth to our commute or that tedious mid-morning health and safety training session.
The journalists who have reported the fake imagery naturally take the part of the erosion of authenticity as an attack on the reputation of the fourth estate. But sadly, as ever, the mainstream media entirely miss the point of social media in a hopeless attempt to retain some relevancy for themselves, a foothold of safety in an avalanche of the erosion of its relevancy. Truth is, questions of authenticity no longer pertain to the world of snuff.
In fact, one of the defining features of the genre is the viewer’s titillation bred of their inability to differentiate real from fake; titillation of uncertainty coupled with a profoundly credulous response to any presentation of the pornography of real violence. Part of us wants every snuff image to be fake, let’s call that the decent part. Just as part of us wills that every fake image be real, call that the honest part. Put the two parts together and you find that the whole creature doesn’t much care either way, as long as they get their emotional jollies.
Of course debates over image authenticity go way back to Baudrillard’s famous essay of 1981 on the simulacrum, and his infamous statement later that the Gulf War Did Not Take Place. The French philosopher’s highly moralistic point was that the new media meant we had lost sight entirely of the authentic to the degree that we were no longer in touch with the real. In many ways this was a prophetic response to new technology, but looking back now it seems a tad myopic. What in actual fact has materialised is not a question over the authenticity of the image itself, but the authenticity of our response.
Baudrillard could not have predicted that we would live as we do now, surrounded by unquestionably authentic, powerfully violent, imagery on an almost daily basis. From the ISIS decapitations, through the images of Aylan Kurdi on the beach, to this sprouting of questions from Brussels, the question is not, as Baudrillard would have it, that of the hyper-real, but rather of the omni-real. We do not have a problem with too great a distance between the real and its image as he argues, but instead are grappling with the knottier difficulty of too great a quantity of imagery of the violence of the real. Baudrillard’s was a rather refined question of quality: How real is this image? Ours is a much more quotidian issue of quantity: How many images can we contend with, share, approve and subsequently repel?
If We Can’t Share it, We Can’t Bear it
I would go further, as I always go too far. For my money the significant disjunction of our times is not between simulation and reality, but rather between language and imagery. Time and again it can be recounted how horrendous it was crossing the Med. In a blow-up boat, or the treatment of ‘’infidels” at the hands of ISIS, but we will only believe it when we see it. It no longer matters what enters you through your ears; it is all about what enters your consciousness through your eyes.
In my recent article Uneasy Lies the Head for The White Review one of the many points I made about the ISIS videos was that they are in reality rather fake. They don’t show people being beheaded. They show people being threatened, then a cut (not a real one but an editorial one), then a body with a head resting on top. The fact that these images were fake didn’t seem to trouble anyone and was barely commented on at the time. What was all important was that we suspected ISIS to be beyond the pale, journalists had told us ISIS were beyond the pale, but we needed that visual confirmation. Thanks to ISIS, the digital caliphate, and the unwillingness of the social media behemoths to police their own content, visual confirmation, in the form of true snuff, was what we got.
As we currently stand the accessibility of snuff is a new phenomenon. When 9/11 occurred there was little or no hand-held footage of the event. We just couldn’t accept that now. No disaster can pass us by without our exercising our digital privileges to be there, first hand, front row. What is more, if you don’t got the goodies in terms of pics and vids, then you are not going to be liked, shared and so on, and so it is as if whatever happened, never happened. If 9/11 occurred now, true Facebook would go into melt-down from all the sharing of first-hand footage. As it stands, however, maybe in less than a generation it will be as if 9/11 never was because, if we can’t share it, then we just can’t bear it.
Not Hyper-Real but Hyper-Feel
Last week I blogged about the interesting resistance there was to sharing the Brussels attacks’ more graphic imagery. At the same time others noted there was relatively little traffic online about the explosions. My point was we were developing an emergent, communal social conscience. Others went instead with the possibility that perhaps we were getting a bit inured to snuff. Now, less than a week later, my prophesy seems even more irrelevant than Baudrillard’s especially as he had to wait three decades to become obsolete. That my aprerçus couldn’t even last three weeks is evidence of the pure velocity of experience and change that we currently occupy (as well as of my lack of French genius?)
Looking back, after one week looking back, I see how ridiculous we have all been. In resisting the urge to share, to show that we really care, we were actually debating whether or not we should transmit images that themselves were not the transmitted images of the event. While we fiddled about with our consciences, the Rome of snuff burned all around us, consuming our self-righteousness along with our grip on authenticity.
The simple fact is; it doesn’t matter to us if the images we share are real or fake. It has never mattered very much whether snuff was real or fake. What matters is how it makes us feel and, in sharing that experience, how it makes others feel, about themselves yes, but first and foremost, how they feel about us. And so, in our hunt for constant instant affirmation we are become the new auters of snuff, avid purveyors of all kinds of violent filth and, like any low-level pornographer, we don’t concern ourselves with the quality of the goods, we just attend to the number of bums squirming on seats, and the rapture of those eyes affixed upon the obscenity of the screen.
Baudrillard was wrong. The Gulf War did take place; 9/11 did happen. There are no simulacra in the world of socially mediated snuff, because authenticity does not belong with the quality of the image, but with the power of our investment in it. We do not live in the age of the hyper-real, but in that of the hyper-feel. If we can see it, feel it, and share it, then whether the image is snuff or duff, matters not. We don’t care about what actually happened, we just want another excuse to pass the click-pipe round, and feel that warm glow of social relevancy soften the edges of our increasingly friable, post-millennial existence.