By Daphne Barroeta
Every single bourgeois media outlet, from BBC to NPR to MSNBC, is presenting the Palestinian genocide and the cocurrent Israeli destruction of the Gaza Strip as the “War on Gaza.” Those of us who are supporting the resistance movement to imperialism and the protests happening worldwide in solidarity with the Palestinian people have most likely heard the phrase “it’s not a war, it’s genocide.” While this statement is brief and accurate, it does not explain why this genocide is being labelled a “war.”
Fortunately for workers and oppressed people, scholars in the field of media studies have been wrestling with questions like this for decades.In the early months of 1991, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote a series of three essays titled “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.” From a Marxist viewpoint, the central point of the book is that the consent of working-class and oppressed peoples is manipulated by the structure of language and the artificial (un)reality that is cultivated for us in biased images and clever camera tricks.
Columbia University professor of Iranian Studies Hamid Dabashi explained in 2015 that Baudrillard “wished rhetorically to register the fact that the Gulf War was an unfolding media event, a virtual reality, with simulated reactions masquerading for the real human experience of being at war. In the midst of this hyperreality, the reality of the Iraq war was drowned.” (Al Jazeera, Nov. 2015)
What does this mean in the context of Gaza? By repeating the Israeli Occupation Forces’ lie that “babies were beheaded by Hamas,” along with doctored photos or videos of revolutionary Palestinian forces fighting back — portrayed in a negative light which attempts to cast the Palestinian resistance as “terrorists” — the media coerces the casual viewer, who does not understand the ground truth, into believing this false reality of Palestinians as the “villains” and Israeli soldiers as the “heroes.” This manipulation obscures the real suffering and death of Palestinians and the destruction of their ancestral land.
The general outcome of these psychological mechanisms is that any calls to defend Palestinian civilians go unanswered and become lost in a swirl of thought terminating in cliches like “ … but terrorism … ,” or “This is the inevitable cost,” or “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Workers are set up to consume media coverage from mainstream sources to such a degree that the reality of the situation on the ground is obscured, and they can no longer discern the truth. All that exists as “real” are the lies people are fed.
Media fixation on Paris 2015 attacks
Professor Dabashi’s article for Al Jazeera puts Baudrillard’s book in the context of the Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed, allegedly by “Islamists”: “The BBC was so thoroughly fixated on the events in Paris that its coverage became positively prosaic, formulaic, utterly inane, overwhelmed by vacuous images to such an extent that they became bereft of meaning.
“The BBC would momentarily break from Paris to go to its ‘Focus on Africa,’ for example, but only to ask its reporters to go and collect words of sympathy from Africans for Paris — not for Africans to talk about their own terror — so the report could underline the Paris attacks.” (Al Jazeera, Nov. 2015)
The use of staged scenes with reporters on the ground, showcasing imperialist government officials, the fast pace of reporting and strong lights and colors are part of the effect which works to cultivate a specific narrative in the mind of the viewer.
It is often noted that those who consume fascistic media outlets like InfoWars, Breitbart and Fox News are being brainwashed by the deliberately misleading narrative structure, constructed sequences of images and emotionally evocative phrases. Yet outlets like PBS Frontline and NPR do these things as well. So when a so-called “centrist” media outlet interviews an IOF soldier, it is still participating in the bourgeois business of supporting the U.S. empire and its allies.
Gaza: no conventional war
In Gaza there arguably is no war in the conventional sense. There is a genocide committed by the colonial entity, Israel, and there are brave Palestinians who are fighting to defend their people and their homeland, but there is no war — as many Palestinian comrades have pointed out to this writer in recent months.
A war generally implies that there are two opposing forces, both constituting a standing military of some sort, with the conflict being open and declared. The people of Palestine do not have a standing military. They have resistance fighters, but they do not have an army or an air force. Their land is occupied, and the invaders have made their intentions to steal every bit of Palestinian land.
Imperialist powers are working together to eradicate an already colonized people, and the bourgeois media outlets are using the language of equal warfare and some of the stylistic techniques of Hollywood action movies to manipulate the working class into allowing our tax dollars to be sent abroad to kill families. These are civilians who should be protected under international law, war or no war, and who have the right to life and self-determination.
In our current era of fast paced digital media, it is important to develop and consume news publications created by our class, most especially by oppressed and revolutionary members of our class. It is important to use the digital tools at our disposal to look at events on the ground and interrogate narratives fed to us by mainstream media organs and the imperialist state.
And for those of us who hold revolutionary intent in our hearts and work hard for the liberation of all working-class and oppressed peoples, it is important to not only understand the great thinkers of our movement, such as Marx and Lenin, but also to understand some of the core concepts of human psychology and of media and cultural studies.
This will build up our tool kit to fight for our class and against those who wish to control and exploit us. While we gather and sharpen these tools, we must practice our theory among the masses, stay grounded in it and meet working-class people where they are — but with the goal of raising class consciousness. We should not stray into the bourgeois traps so prevalent in our society.