Sunday, May 27, 2007

Commencement Round-up: Former Bush Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card Booed Off Stage at UMass; Cheney at West Point Says "Screw Geneva Conventions"

Both grads and faculty wore signs protesting Card's presence. One banner read "Criminals go home." The theme of the day was "Honor grads; Dis-Card."


Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney told graduating Cadets at West Point that the Geneva conventions should not apply to the (so-called) "war on terror." This comes at a time, bizarre and surreal, that West Point instructors are having difficulty persuading cadets that US soldiers ought to be better than terrorists.

Recently, West Point instructors have complained of the difficulty of persuading Army cadets to adhere to the principles of the Geneva Conventions in the war on terrorism. A February article in the New Yorker highlighted a dialog on the problem between West Point's dean and Joel Surnow, producer of the hit Fox television program '24.'

"This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind '24,'" wrote Jane Mayer in the magazine. "Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors - cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by '24,' which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, 'The kids see it, and say, ''If torture is wrong, what about '24?''"


Anonymous said...

I'm not Republican, conservative, or delusional...I'm just curious. Does the effect of 24 on those West Point cadets relate to that theory that "the medium is the message" or to media ecology?

Dr. Fallon said...

That's a really good and really complex question, and the answer is probably far too complicated to fit into a comment box on a blog.

In fact, I've been looking at the answer to this question (or very nearly this question) for the last several years in the book I'm working on right now, "The Metaphysics of Media."

One TV show would or could NEVER have that kind of effect on people. That's too much like older, discredited theories of propaganda that see TV as pure passivity. The metaphor used is usually "spoon-feeding information to us," and the common conceptual paradigm is usually of "brainwashing." Jacques Ellul taught us that this is pretty much nonsense.

But the overall change in television in the last thirty years, its ascendancy as a bulwark rather than a critic of a social status quo, the transformation of the conceptualization of information from a right central to the proper working of democracy to that of a consumable commodity, and the rise of newer networks -- like FOX -- with a clear ideological bent, all have had an effect.

So, of course, has 9/11. But then, look at how the rest of the world has reacted to terrorism and the threat of terrorism, and look at how we have...

24, I think, certainly provides many people with the narrative they are looking for regarding life in a post-9/11 world. The fact that it is fiction (and utter nonsense at that) doesn't seem to matter.