"I think that you'll find a little S&M will be necessary to trigger off a good healthy dose of hallucinations." - Videodrome
9/11 changed everything. Dissenters are uncommonly quick to call bullshit on that talking point. And maybe it didn't. But it changed me.
"The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome," says the McLuhanesque Brian O'Blivion, referring to the pirate broadcast of a torture and murder circus that contains in its transmission a frequency that triggers the tumorous growth of new organs of perception in the brains of its viewers. "The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television."
For almost all of us, 9/11 was only a televised event. Yet, like Ruby shooting Oswald live in America's livingroom, and like Videodrome, it was also a spectacular trauma; the unscheduled program was also programming, inducing a national trance to initiate the stage-managed winding down of our familiar world. But it also created within us fresh capacities of insight, and that too may have been the intent.
Apart from the chain-smoking, and though there's not much to laugh about, the opening sequence of Who Killed John O'Neill? is comically familiar. I don't sleep, I don't eat, I don't shower, I don't shave.... I don't do anything but think. I filled eight binders with tabs like "Osama," "Foreknowledge" and "Anthrax" with articles like the Guardian's "CIA Agent Alleged to Have Met Bin Laden in July," Newsweek's "Alleged Hijackers May Have Trained at U.S. Bases" and the Baltimore Sun's "Anthrax Matches Army Spores." I started reading again the samizdat history of the National Security State, though now with greater urgency and comprehension, because the existential stakes had been raised, and having seen the towers fall I felt as though I knew already how the story ended.
We were getting rewired: the new eyes that 9/11 gave us were entraining our brains to penetrate our flat screens to the real-world paramechanics of power, money and appetite. (Remaining on the surface analyzing pixels, with 9/11 as nothing but a special event broadcast while forgetting that it was filmed before a live audience, is how the more absurd hypotheses of holographic airplanes and pods arise.)
And there are a lot of us putting on this new flesh: a full third of Americans now, according to a poll this past week, suspect federal officials either "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East." Lee Hamilton, the former vice chairman of the Kean Commission and trusted Bush family fixer stretching all the way back to the October Surprise and Iran/Contra acknowledges "One out of three sounds high, but that may very well be right." (Hamilton is a Democrat, it should be noted, because if your wiring isn't up to code for these days that still matters.)
The same week we saw the limited hangout's most risque striptease yet with the release of Vanity Fair's "NORAD tapes", bringing at last into mainstream discourse NORAD's coincident gaming of hijacked aircraft the morning of September 11:
"When they told me there was a hijack, my first reaction was 'Somebody started the exercise early,'" [Lieutenant Colonel] Nasypany later told me. The day's exercise was designed to run a range of scenarios, including a "traditional" simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum. "I actually said out loud, 'The hijack's not supposed to be for another hour.'"
The author, associate producer of United 93, Michael Bronner, promptly adds: "The fact that there was an exercise planned for the same day as the attack factors into several conspiracy theories, though the 9/11 commission dismisses this as coincidence. After plodding through dozens of hours of recordings, so do I." And so we can suspect why NORAD entrusted to Bronner's care the glossy unveiling of just one of 9/11's wargames. (Kyle Hence's 11 Questions Avoided by the Media On NORAD Tapes makes a nice, concise refutation of Bronner's plodding.)
Then there was the story in the Washington Post that "some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission." Naturally, the assumed intent of the Pentagon's criminal fraud goes no deeper than the hiding of "the bungled response to the hijackings." Commission members dare go no further, because their deliberately misleading report places them on the Pentagon's own side of manufactured history.
Has the Bush administration been "rocked" by these cautious disclosures? Only in the fantasy life of Democrats still awaiting their Fitzmas. Rather, it presses ahead with the next war, expands Guantanamo Bay, and intends to "allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction," meaning that dissidents "not directly involved in acts of international terrorism" may be subject to the Pentagon's discretionary justice.
I occasionally receive the comment that it's a waste of our energies to give any regard at all to strange things in the sky and weird visitations, because even if they exist, there's nothing we can do about them. If so, then for all our energies, what have we been able to do about this White House?
If there's a touch, and perhaps more, of the demonic about both, there's also a phantasmic daimonism. Their methods are to display, as well as evade. Discs and giant triangles have lit up American skies with performances of flashing coloured lights, demanding attention while denying comprehension. In the mid-80s, New York's Hudson Valley became a venue for a public exhibition of silent running isosceles triangles 400 feet or more from tip to tip, blinking garishly to the towns below, and were reported by seven thousand eyewitnesses. Perhaps even more disturbing than the prospect of them being of otherworldly origin, is the prospect that they are not.
The new flesh of 9/11 enhances our perception, but not our reach. We can look up and see - we're invited to - but the invitation is one to reinforce a sense of helplessness. The great public spectacles written in the sky - the gaudy lights and the falling towers - are meant to debilitate us, and pin our hopes passively upon a "disclosure" by the intelligence community's own information warriors. Nothing good, and nothing true, can come of that.
In a Rumsfeldian sense, we should know enough now to know that we know enough. But the insight 9/11's new flesh gives us into America's unnatural state of affairs becomes debilitation, if nothing changes by it. How to be the change is our challenge. Perhaps our last challenge.