Alison Mckee writes:
the American media tended to
>depoliticize it by representing it at the level of personal
>tragedy. As if it were an either/or proposition . . .
>Rape can be a powerful mobilizing metaphor (hence the success of Bush's
>incessant references to "the rape of Kuwait"), but when rape is *not*
>invoked symbolically -- that is, when it is all too literal -- it still
>tends to remain marginalized in the realm of the personal--
I agree. What was so effective in terms of the Persian Gulf TV War was the
overall "structuring absence" of injured bodies. Now, the sanitized
postmodern packaged "hyperreal nonevent" (that's Baudrillard's description)
was seen as a corrective to the "mistakes" of Vietnam--TV lost that war in
our living rooms, but it won the Gulf War in our living rooms in the 90s.
The absent bodies of the over 100, 000 dead Iraqis still serves to construct
the popular memory of the instant historiography of the GUlf War as clean
and precise. At the same time, a piece published after the war as a
"commemorative history" titled "Rape and Rescue of Kuwait City" still
assigns these rape and rescue co-ordinates to the conflict. Yet there is no
documentation of any sexual injuring in the article.
Instead the article suggests that the rape was against Western
institutions (Kuwaiti libraries, technologies, hospitals, etc.).
So the absent body
was working on (at least) these two levels, one which is a stunning
realization of Elaine Scarry's account of the disappeareance of the literal,
injured body in war, and the other as a utilization of the rhetorical
strategies that date back through other US cultural productions like BOaN.
As with most things, an either/or logic doesn't come close to cutting it,
and, of course, a both/and logic is only a slight improvement. As far as the
personal narratives go, Alison Mckee's comments are insightful in this
regard as well. I think that the overall televisual experience of the Gulf
War points to the melodramatization of television in general, which of course
can be traced back through film and beyond. Bush assigned familial
coordinates to the conflict--Saddam Hussein was an angry adolescent who had
run away from his global family of nations. OF course there was also a
Manichean logic of Good vs. Evil. Also, while the Gulf War narrative was
one of traumatic separation and a threat to the physical and economic
well-being of the family, it was one of sobbing wives saying good-bye to
their husbands or Mommy Warriors leaving their sobbing children. Even the
images of women soldiers in the conflict were habitually "feminized"
(holding pink pillows, in traditional roles of nurterers for their male
counterparts). This can be seen as a way of mitigating the threat to the
military's masculinity, trying to negotiate the participation of women in the
war. Of course
the Gulf War had another narrative: Operation Desert Sword, Shield and Storm,
suggesting that this is the new Crusade for the NEw World ORder. (Even the
term "operation" becomes overdetermined in relation to the Gulf-a sick body
in need of beneficent intervention through skilled precision in a sanitized
context. Of course, surgery is often a violent process, involving the
tearing open of the body, ripping tissue, breaking bones, etc.) Thus the
metaphor "operation" invokes violence against the body but reconfigures the
connotations as it becomes a necessary intervention to save lives.
Another explanation for the comparative lack of outrage in response to
the documented rapes in Bosnia (if you will forgive my Althusserian
last instance) is economics. The Media's complicity with the
military/pentagon/Bush administration is no mystery. GE owns NBC and is one
of the largest weapons contractors (they were involved in making almost
every weapon used in the war), and top execs in all three major networks sit
on the board of oil companies.