For many people the news of a missile strike on Poland had a Dr Strangelove feel to it. Suddenly the launch of World War III might be only moments away, and with it the inevitable nuclear holocaust. In the world of hyperreality so carefully constructed for many decades through the diligent work of our political institutions and our media in the context of our consumerist way of life, this was truly a moment of unwanted surrealism.
Fortunately, the masters of our official hyperreality stepped in to calms things down. Without any solid evidence but plenty of noble intentions, they found the most palatable explanation for this dramatic incident. As The Eurasian Times reported: “Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was ‘highly probable’ that the missile was launched by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense.” He added that “there is no evidence that the Russian side launched it.”
The Ukrainians have been following a well-constructed hyperreal script. It contains a hallowed principle inherited from Russiagate. Its central dogma bluntly states that if something bad happens anywhere in the world, it’s Putin’s fault. Dutifully following this script, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy immediately accused Russia of the attack on Poland. He clearly hoped this would at last push NATO into fully engaging in the war against Russia. But US President Joe Biden, who can be thought of as the executive producer of the film with the hyperreal script, was quick to explain that the missile was not fired by Russia. Jan Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, quickly followed suit. Outside of Ukraine everyone agreed that the two Polish farmers were killed by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that had presumably gone astray.
Zelenskyy denied it. “I have no doubt that it was not our missile.” According to Reuters, he “believed Tuesday’s explosion was caused by a Russian missile,” based on reports from Ukraine’s military which he ‘cannot but trust.’”
Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:
A handy expression to affirm what a person possessing real or imaginary authority would like to be true, whether or not it is true.
According to Ukraine’s news service, Interfax-Ukraine, Zelenskyy also had this to say: “Today, something that we have been warning for a long time has also happened. Terror is not limited to our state borders. Russian missiles hit Poland … Missiles hit NATO territory. This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation.” The article described Zelenskyy as “urging Poland to take decisive action.”
About one thing at least there is literally “no doubt:” that Zelenskyy was hoping to Poland and NATO to declare war on Russia. The Ukrainian president saw this as a game-changer. He simply failed to realize that those who write the rules of the game aren’t quite ready for a change in the state of play.
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This war has produced an interesting tug-of-war within it. Zelenskyy is pushing for a shift in the meaning of a proxy war Joe Biden’s team has designed and managed explicitly to “weaken Russia.” But Biden remains prudent, as executive producers tend to be. He doesn’t hesitate to tell Ukraine’s clone of Winston Churchill when he’s off script. Hyperreality must be respected. Zelensky may think otherwise, but for the US, it isn’t about Ukraine’s victory but about Russia’s defeat. The US is ready to accept the total destruction of Ukraine and the decimation of its people if that’s what’s required to serve the goal of taking Russia out of the European equation. How else can one understand the idea that the US and the EU will keep fueling the war “as long as it takes?”
Western media was flummoxed by this unexpected moment of surrealism. Up to this point, Western media presented the war as a heroic combat between a brave people and an evil invader. They treated it like an sporting match or, more accurately, like a playoff series taking place within an arena on the far side of Europe. So long as the two teams remained within the confines of the arena, the media could cheer for the home team, applaud its clever attacks and successful feints, and hiss at the opponent, whose every gesture was described as a war crime.
In the past week, Western officials and the media have provided no updates. An investigation is presumably ongoing, just as in the case of the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. In both cases, this may mean that the results of the investigations will be eternally hidden from public view, a pattern well established since the John F Kennedy assassination, from which crucial evidence is still being withheld 59 years later.
This incident highlights a problem that no one in the media wants to mention. Since that critical moment earlier this year when the Western media began to turn Zelenskyy into a bearded superhero clothed in a green t-shirt, the former actor and current war president assumes that anything he says will be dutifully echoed in the Western media and treated as gospel truth. For the media, the rule has been that any expression of doubt about the truth of any of his statements falls into the category of either heresy or Russian propaganda.
This time, in what’s turning out to be a “he said/she said” case, the media must decide whom to believe or to assume that all are lying, which is possible when the evidence is not on the table. For the moment the media appear to be going with the interpretation supported by Duda, Biden and Stoltenberg. It seems safe and requires no further comment.
Or does it? Zelenskyy’s insistent denial could be interpreted in three ways. First, he simply doesn’t want people to believe his army could make a mistake. Second, he doesn’t want the Polish people to hold Ukraine responsible for the death of their countrymen. After all, a traditional enmity between Ukrainian nationalists and Poles exists that could once again come to the fore. That enmity played out in murderous, sometimes genocidal ways in the past. The third option, left unmentioned by the media, is that it was a false flag operation specifically designed to produce the effect Zelenskyy called for: the engagement of NATO against Russia.
Our civilization built around the principle of hyperreality – what Guy Debord called “la société du spectacle” – is a direct outgrowth of the industrial revolution and its evolved technology. In the early 20th century surrealism became a major movement in the world of art and literature. At the same time, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, working with both commercial corporations and American presidents, was working to turn the US economy into a powerful machine driven by public relations and advertising. It aimed at transforming the worldview and mindscape of a docile public. Advertising’s imagery and messaging became the breeding ground for an elaborately sophisticated culture combining politics and commerce, governed by hyperreality.
Surrealism and hyperreality differed in one important way: surrealism used illusion to both entertain the public and challenge its thinking. The culture of hyperreality aims at conditioning the public’s thinking, replacing perceived reality, in people’s minds, with a simulacrum.
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But another factor distinguishes the two concepts. Hyperreality reflects a rational, structured strategy engaged by a group of people who collectively exercise some generally invisible political or cultural influence. Working together, they produce a different idea of the world, better constructed, simplified and more attractive than everyday reality, which tragically suffers from its multiple contradictions.
Surrealism seeks to trouble its public’s thinking. Hyperreality is designed to reassure and put questioning to sleep. A “surreal” painting, film or novel contains elements from the real world combined with something unusual, deviant or simply weird. It violates our accepted laws of perception. In the film, Un Chien Andalou by the surrealist pair Luis Bunuel and In a scene and Salvador Dali, a closeup reveals a colony of ants emerging from a hole in the hero’s palm. The hand is absolutely realistic. So are the ants. But the spectator sees this fantasized construction as something created by an author and achieved thanks to technology. No one could confuse this with reality.
Hyperreality, on the other hand, exists for the specific purpose of confusing the public, distorting its perception. Propaganda is one form of hyperreality, a heavy-handed one, but if enough of the institutions are complicit, especially the media, it functions efficiently. It produces on an industrial scale something intended to replace visible reality in people’s minds.
The confusion over the story of who fired the missile that hit Poland is an example of hyperreality inadvertently showing its seams. The event itself was real but the reactions have been surreal. When Stoltenberg affirms that the missile was Ukrainian but the fault lies with the Russians, it is like watching Bunuel’s film. It simply makes no sense. The difference is that it isn’t art. It pretends to be the truth.
*[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 Devil’s 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.
Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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