Iran, the arrogance of Empire and the death of Michael Jackson By William Bowles

27 June 2009

The arrogance of Empire is so pervasive, so intrinsic to our everyday lives, that it seems ‘natural’ for us to be telling other countries how to behave, what’s right and what’s wrong. This is brought home to me every day as I struggle through the vast stream of news that flows into my inbox. The sheer weight of corporate/state media output is staggering, but especially the seamless integration of the ‘take’ on a story, regardless of country of origin.

Of course there’s no active collusion between the handful of media conglomerates that control the flow of ‘news’, there doesn’t need to be; they take their cues from their respective governments as to what the ‘message’ should be.

This is most apparent in the way the media have presented the unfurling drama in Iran, a drama whose direction has been shaped directly through the intervention of the Western media machine. Regardless of the ‘take’ the Western media has—their centrality to transmitting messages to millions in the West—the media inevitably has become part of the message. So powerful is the global media machine how could it be otherwise?

A simple example: Why are most of the posters we see being displayed in demonstrations in Iran, in English? Who are they directed at? Iranian or Western audiences (audience being the operative word)?

The problem we confront as ‘consumers’ of ‘news’ are our inbuilt assumptions that we bring to our interpretation of the headlines and the messages they carry. Messages that reinforce the illusion that only we in the West live in democracies (as self-defined by the West). And this illusion helps shape the justification for the media’s intervention, so powerful is the role of the media in today’s world, especially so given that we have no such pervasive voice of our own that can compete.

Here are some headlines on the situation in Iran over the past two days selected from the hundreds of news pieces that I receive every day:

26 June, 2009

Gov’t sees ‘crisis of credibility’ in Iran, AFP
Slain woman’s story said much about life in Iran, Kansas City Star – MO,USA
Obama Condemns Iran Goverment’s ‘Unjust Actions’, Washington Post
Congress grows impatient on Iran, N. Korea, vows action, Christian Science Monitor
‘Blood everywhere’ in fresh Iran crackdown, ABC Online
The nature of the beast: Iran’s thug leaders, not Obama, are to …, New York Daily News
When caution becomes abdication, The Star-Ledger

25 June, 2009

John Simpson: Secret voices of the new Iran, BBC News
US Senators vow help for Iran dissidents, AFP
Top US commander warns of Iran influence in Lat Am, AFP
Britain replaces USA as Iran’s verbal target, The Associated Press
Iran’s attacks on UK tap into centuries of suspicion, CNN International
Memo to the Mullahs — It’s Over Boys, FOXNews – USA
Iran’s struggle, and ours,
The New Republic: Iran’s History Of Violence, NPR – USA

What these headlines reveal is how power is expressed obliquely, and consistently, through the corporate news media. Themes laid down by the state are restated endlessly, the emphasis not being on news per se but on perceptions and emotions. Thus “blood”, “mad”, “beast”, “suspicion”, “violence”, “credibility”, “thug”, are some of the chosen vehicles with which to inform an otherwise uninformed public about Iran.

The bottom line is that it matters little to the West what kind of government Iran has or how it treats its own citizens, after all compare the media’s treatment of the Iranian elections with its coverage of the destruction of Gaza by Israel/US. ‘Operation Cast Lead’ was presented to us as Israel defending itself against those dastardly Quassam rockets aimed at ‘innocent’ Israeli civilians, ergo, the slaughter of innocents was justified as ‘defence’.

The bottom line is that it matters little what kind of government Iran has as long as it toes the Empire’s line (Iran’s one and only democratic government was overthrown in 1953 by the combined efforts of the USUK ‘security’ services).

The Left, such as it is in the West, seems not to know what to do, caught up as it is in the same blast of hot air about the ‘Mad Mullahs’ and projected definitions of democracy. So the left’s broadly anti-capitalist thrust is neutralized by its desire not to be seen as a supporter of an autocratic Islamic theocracy as if it’s either one or the other.

The notion that perhaps it’s not for us to be judging events in Iran, especially by our own, twisted ‘standards’ seems to be entirely missing, or are we trying to be more democratic than the democrats?

What seems to escape most of us on the left is that it’s not for us to be passing judgements on how best the Iranian people should deal with its rulers, surely that is for the Iranians to decide. And yes, obviously the West interferes in the internal affairs of Iran, funding opposition groups, even terrorist outfits under the guise of supporting ‘democracy’ just as it does elsewhere, wherever it sees its interests threatened, to do otherwise would be sheer folly on the part of Empire. You can argue of course, that the Empire’s attempts at destabilizing Iran are short-sighted and counter-productive, producing a nationalist reaction, but then perhaps that’s also their objective? Reaction begets reaction. As far as the Empire is concerned it’s a win-win situation.

The ‘Mad Mullahs’ Meet Michael Jackson

The arbitrary and contradictory nature of how the media covers events is revealed by the death of Michael Jackson and how it has affected the coverage of events in Iran. It seems to be a case of what to cover, or perhaps the two can be combined?

‘Net big enough for Michael Jackson and Iran’ – USA
Everything else online, including the historic battle over democracy currently being raged in Iran, paled as people clambered onto social networks to …

‘National Security Experts: Jackson Death Could Doom Iran’
By The Huffington Post News Editors
The jokes popped up almost immediately that Mark Sanford was the luckiest guy on Earth after word broke that Michael Jackson had suffered a heart attack.

But clearly, at least two media outfits are only too aware of the paradox, for on the one hand, we have the historic events unfolding in Iran and on the other the death of a rock star. What’s it to be?

But the notion that Jackson’s death, which preempted virtually all other news coverage on the cable networks last night, is sucking up media attention from other matters carries a dark edge to it as well. National security experts are warning that without sustained attention on Iran, its repressive tactics could grow more deadly in the coming days.

The Jackson story, paired with Farrah Fawcett’s death and Sanford’s own scandal, “without a doubt” poses a danger in Iran, according to Michael Rubin, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and former Bush administration official. Huffington Post, 26 June, 2009

Thus the perilous journey of Iran and that of Jackson reveal that events as commodities rely on the interchangeable nature of ‘news’, both underpinned by ‘received opinion’, that is to say, the historical trajectory of Empire and how it  presents the world to us, its subjects.

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