US Presidentrose to hyperbolic heights of hyperreal narration last weekend as he described the Pentagonâs successful takedown of the Islamic State (IS) groupâs leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria. The world will undoubtedly be a better place without Al-Baghdadi, but much of the mediaâs reporting focused on Trumpâs telling of the story.
Like an author of pulp fiction, describing the action he claimed to have witnessed in the Situation Room as it was playing out. â said he watched the entire mission, noting that âit was just like a movie.ââdrew on his talent for literary creativity when
Just as cinematic detail.â said: âHe died after running into a dead-end tunnel whimpering and crying and screaming all the way âŠ He died like a dog. He died like a coward.â Most significantly wanted everyone to understand that as commander-in-chief he had outdone his predecessor, : â[Osama] was big, but this was bigger.âhad reveled in former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafiâs horrendous end in 2011, not only took pleasure in recounting Baghdadiâs extinction, but he created the scene in â
Whereas US media tended to celebrate the outcome of the operation without delving too much into its meaning or Trumpâs style of presenting it, The Guardian published an article with the title: âDoubts over ‘s dramatic account of Baghdadi raid.â What did Trump actually see? âFootage of the US special forces raid on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadiâs compound reportedly consisted of overhead surveillance footage and no audio, prompting questions over the extent of the dramatic licence taken by in describing the final moments of one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.â
Here is todayâs 3D definition:
The right to invent narrative sequences granted to writers of fiction and exercised routinely by politicians eager to have people believe in their own imaginary heroism
The Washington Post, reviled by the White House in Trumpâs war against Jeff Bezos, compounded the confusion and provided the president with an opportunity to take the moral high ground when, in its obituary, it hesitated between three descriptions of the IS leader. Initially, it called Baghdadi âthe Islamic Stateâs terrorist-in-chief,â before changing it to âreligious scholar at helm of Islamic State.â Finally â under pressure from Trump â The Post modified the headline to read âAbu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.â Itâs all about the words you use and the roles you define. The narrative is far more important than the facts.
As the world on was left waiting to hear a possibly more truthful and less bombastic account of the events from a Pentagon official, The Guardian noted that the US defense secretary, Mark Esper, âdeclined to endorse aspects of Trumpâs cinematic account in an interview with ABCâs This Week programme on Sunday morning.â Yahoo News reports that a âtop U.S. official who watched the raid with Trump in the White House Situation Room said heâs not sure where the president got that information.â
To justify his purple prose, Trump moralized that the âvivid termsâ of his narrative were required âto deter would-be [IS] fighters.â
Evil characters die ignobly. In one historically ironic note, foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi of The New York Times offered a portrait of the deceased leader telling readers: âIn all, Iâve spoken to 17 people who knew him, including his teachers, his childhood friends, his aides and three of the Yazidi girls he raped.â
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Since Trump relishes comparing performances, he must certainly be aware that far more than three women have accused him of rape, putting the US president clearly in the lead.
Trump has good company in the practice of the art of dramatic license. In her 2008 primary campaign when she was pitted against told it, “There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” Video shot that day showed that the greeting ceremony did calmly take place and in totally secure conditions., recounted how in 1996 she had landed in Bosnia âunder sniper fire.â As she
Joe Biden notoriously embellished his story of pinning a medal on a soldier in Afghanistan to the point that, though it wasnât an outright lie, his narrative conflated elements from several different events and deviated wildly from the truth. Reality is never as convincing or instructive as the hyperreality politicians are trained to elaborate. Still, Trump, the TV professional, seems to take it further than most politicians.
And yet this improvised tale of fear and trembling seems rather banal and unimaginative. Full of clichĂ©s, it depends on categories that border on insult rather than observation. It sounds like a third-ratescreenwriterâs attempt to portray a villain in an underfunded action film. As in a cheap western where the audience roots for the good guys and expects the defeat of the bad guys, Trump gloated: âMany of his people were killed. We lost nobody. Think of that. Itâs incredible.â Donald, it isnât incredible. Thatâs how it was scripted.
But the ultimate banality was Trumpâs resorting to the âmission accomplishedâ meme made famous in George W. Bushâs stage of it on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf back in 2003.revived it with his triumphant but low-keyed announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Trump has now simply duplicated âs grand gesture with many of the same details: helicopters, bravery in the face of a formidable enemy and the discarding of the body at sea.
The narrative for all three presidents reflects two features of US culture that rely on simplistic thought: the belief in decisive moments of history that mark dramatic endings and the permanent illusion created by celebrity culture. They combine in the meme of a combat in which good definitively conquers evil, or at least proves that good will always be capable of mobilizing the forces to defeat evil. The media â whether itâs the movies or the evening news â entertains those beliefs and exploits them in its own narratives.
Popular entertainment typically creates a hyperreal world of potential moral perfection that stands outside of history. As the US media celebrate the success of the raid and encourage the belief that IS has now been decapitated and cannot survive, other voices sound a note of warning. Writing for Al Jazeera, Ibrahim al-Marashi, an associate professor at California State University, analyzes the prospects following the assassination of the IS leader: âThe day after al-Baghdadi’s death, [IS] appears to be slated for a comeback. While Trump is triumphantly celebrating a PR victory at a time when he is facing impeachment woes domestically, his foreign policy decisions in Syria are likely to facilitate [the Islamic Stateâs] regrouping and re-emergence.âEmbed from Getty Images
Marashi explains that Trumpâs recent decision to withdraw US troops from theborder and allow Turkey to occupy the terrain, increasing the instability in the Middle East, will make it easier for IS to regroup under new leadership or for a new insurgency to emerge.
Trump has always preferred hyperreality to reality, to the point of becoming a hyperreal creation himself. He has no patience with the complexity of reality. He now finds himself playing the role of impresario of an unoriginal hyperreal event that had already been scripted byin 2011, with the raid on bin Ladenâs compound in Pakistan. âs feat had the merit of finally breaking a suspense that had been building for nearly 10 years. Trumpâs remake lacked the lengthy buildup and featured a second-rate lead actor who couldnât rival with bin Ladenâs international stardom. To compensate, Trump scripted his overblown dramatic voice-over composed entirely of cheap Hollywood clichĂ©s, spoken in the presidentâs inimitably (and unintentionally) comic voice.
So, was this a turning point in history? Al Jazeera quotes Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College London, who called ‘s death “mostly of symbolic importance.” In other words, it was hyperreality. But, after all, thereâs an election coming up next year in the US. Thatâs what itâs all really about.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devilâs Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the authorâs own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observerâs editorial policy.