Last night, I watched John Pilger’s ‘The War You Don’t See’, broadcast on SBS Television Australia. I’ve said before regarding John Pilger, that his emotive approach detracts from his message. I think it does in this doco too, though I give him points as always for courage and consistency. The documentary focussed on the bias endemic in media coverage of the Iraq war specifically, and in favour of the military/industrial complex generally. No surprises there from Pilger. The response on Twitter was predictable. As usual, Pilger’s polemics elicited passionate left-wing support and its constant partner, dismissive conservative ridicule. No surprises there either.
The image above featured in the documentary - towards the end, as an exclamation point. It was a very effective ‘reveal’, clear affirmation of Blair’s warmongering character, on the screen without narration (or at least the narration disappeared from my head as I looked at it). It was like Pilger pulled a rabbit out of a hat. Ta da!
It is a disturbing image for many reasons besides the obvious. It elicits the regret, anger and painful disillusionment felt by people around the world who trusted Tony Blair. People who looked to him for some mitigation of the Bush war on terror nightmare. People knew George Bush was a puppet and a dolt, but many trusted Blair and he lied so earnestly, so convincingly, directly to camera, in that open forum right before the invasion, about the presence of WMD in Iraq. I remember it so well…
But I digress. After Pilger’s documentary ended, I kept thinking about this image of Tony Blair, World’s Best Liar to Camera. Something about it disturbed me beyond its intended message, beyond the memories of lies. And then it came to me. Pilger didn’t mention this photograph ISN’T REAL.
It is an image created using PhotoShop. Of course it is, I hear you say. But not everybody knows this. Though I’m no fan of Tony Blair, and one could easily argue that the image is a creative portrayal of the man’s true character, I think its insertion into The War We Don’t See is a bit hypocritical. Propaganda is propaganda, and it has no place in a documentary about the evils of propaganda, unless it is very clearly labelled as such.
I think that’s my problem with John Pilger generally, though I sympathise with many of his ideas. Polemics are designed ultimately to perpetuate each other; the critique essentially replicates its opposite in style and form. Without digressing into Baudrillard’s simulacra, Propaganda vs Propaganda is simply two sides of the same coin, or a meta-narrative of which both sides form the whole that replicates itself.
Polemicists put me off, because each side holds the other to a set of standards it is less than rigorous in demanding from itself. Then, ta da! – another muddied message, followed by another muddy critique, ad infinitem, ad nauseum.
I went on a search to find out more about who created the Blair image and in what context. I came across the article below, which answers some of those questions and poses a few more.
This week, we in Australia had the privilege of watching a ‘demonstration’ on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. As protesters around the world rally for their lives, being shot, stabbed and bombed for a taste of the freedoms we enjoy, the anti-carbon tax lobby thought it might be a good publicity stunt to stage a demo to protest against Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The right of every democratic citizen, you say? Yes indeed. But Fully Loaded Man Tony Abbott (a Jackboot Jack if ever I spotted one) once again revealed his ignorance, arrogance and misogyny as he joined the most vitriolic demonstrators on the lawn. Despite his protests to the contrary, he clearly endorses their view that the only carbon worth talking about is what’s left over after you burn a WitchBitchWoman at the stake. They’d all line up, torches blazing and mouths agape, to pay a tax on that.
In my editorial for Spellcraft magazine (Spring 2010), I wrote a response to the drivelling of that other Great Mind of Australian political discourse, the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, when he raised the WitchBitchWoman flag right before the election. It read, in part:
“After some reflection, I mention Mr Bolt’s recent op-ed
pieces here, not to promulgate his ideas, but because he
uses our magazines as supporting evidence for them. In
the lead-up to the election, Mr Bolt wrote of his dismay
that publications like ours are freely available on newsagent
shelves, lamenting the rise of “witches” as evidence of the
abandonment of Reason. The subtext of these articles
was obvious, given his readership was about to enter the
polling booth. That Mr Bolt regularly employs a toolbox
of stereotypes to support his conservative viewpoint is no
surprise to anyone, and in a free press some columnists will
always polarise, demonise and neutralise sectors of their own
community to make a crust. That’s their job description.
These days, the fundamental ‘right to reply’ is reduced to
posting a comment on the author’s blog, and thereby driving
webstats ever upward. Attempting to engage Mr Bolt or his
followers in an intelligent conversation on their own media
turf is an exercise in futility. Thankfully, there is a print
While I acknowledge Mr Bolt’s right to earn his living
by expressing views with which I disagree, I lament that
he is not more responsible in moderating the comments
that appear on his blog. Comments that incite violence,
and quote biblical injunctions advocating violence, do
indeed reflect the 17th Century Age of Reason, when other
self-appointed champions of rational thought burned
thousands of their fellow human beings at the stake. Mr
Bolt may not have heard, but following hot on the heels
of the Age of Reason was the Age of Enlightenment, the
egalitarian principles of which underpin the modern
democracy we enjoy in this country. Not to mention the
concept of a free press, which allows both the Herald Sun
and Spellcraft to exist simultaneously.”
I should be very clear that I’m not a card-carrying member of any political party, religious or lobby group. I am an Australian citizen, a taxpayer and a woman. And I protest. I protest against this kind of bigotry at the highest levels of government. I protest this kind of bandwagon publicity stunt, when demonstrators around the world are being shot dead in the street, and those who escape oppression and violence often end up in little boats, to be greeted with more of the same when they reach our shores. I protest against wedge politics and divisiveness in the name of hysterical ambition, when our country is dizzy and wounded from natural disaster and destruction. Most of all, I protest that Abbott, Bolt and their spinmeisters think it’s ok to use the tools of our democracy to destroy its fabric.
I protest against the march of jackboots and fundamentalist torchbearers no matter what colours they wear, and I always will.
Fearless and witty, “Mo” Nabbous, husband, father, geek and patriot, died today. The last trusted source of verified news and images from Benghazi as Gaddafi unleashed his fury against his own people, Mo Nabbous was a citizen journalist who was for a while a lone broadcaster, effectively ‘the voice of the Libyan freedom movement’, as communications were cut to rebel-held towns. Mr Nabbous died from a sniper’s gunshot wounds, received during Gaddafi’s assault on Benghazi tonight. I want to express my sadness and grief at the loss of this vibrant young man with so much to offer the world. Thank you and Blessed Be, Mohammad.