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The Savage Eye: Aesthetics After 9/11

By Mark Dery
Thought Catalog

Dery_Bad coverThe reflexive habit — reflexive, at least, in these United States — of falling back on the mythic languages of Hollywood and Madison Avenue when we’re narrating our lives is a fact of life in the Society of the Spectacle. In his essay “This is Not a Movie,” the New Yorker critic Anthony Lane noted TV commentators’ tendency, on 9/11, to resort “to a phrase book culled from cinema: ‘It was like a movie.’ ‘It was like Independence Day. ‘It was like Die Hard.’ ‘No, Die Hard 2.’ ‘Armageddon.’”

Apparently, even the severe-clear horrors of 9/11 weren’t immune to the Stepfordization all around us — the replacement of the immediate by the mediated, the physical thing by its filmic image. Reversing the polarities of the real and the fake gives Americans a big, fat, Baudrillardian migraine because, while European philosophers seem to think of the United States as Disneyland with the death penalty, we pay lip service, at least, to the primacy of hard fact and harbor a romantic attachment to authenticity. (Umberto Eco maintains that our longstanding love affair with the simulacrum — Disneyland, Forest Lawn, Las Vegas — is borne, paradoxically, of the fact that “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.”