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January 2009, Traversing the Phantasmatic Fight

January 2009, Traversing the Phantasmatic Fight
Canadian Forces, film still

 

TRAVERSING THE PHANTASMATIC FIGHT
 
Illuminated under the glass awnings of bus shelters, plastered on the bare corridors of buildings, situated at eye-level in bathroom stalls, and most tellingly, set before the previews of feature-length films, is the message: FIGHT FEAR, FIGHT DISTRESS, FIGHT CHAOS – FIGHT WITH THE CANADIAN FORCES. Now unless you have already made a considerable effort to fight these intrusions on your visual landscape, this specific slogan should be recalled with clarity.
 
Armed in 2006 with a marketing budget of 15.5 million dollars, Canadian Forces (CF) marketers began their re-branding campaign with a new strategy and a renewed determination that was matched only by the concerted aggression of the armed forces themselves.
 
The scale of the campaign and the degree to which the CF was able to realize its imagery was straightforward and ambitious: re-brand the military as an exciting, masculine, collective enterprise – a project which no longer engaged in 'peace-keeping' as such, but with the act of war (invasion, occupation —rituals which must include the bombing and killing of innocent civilians, such as in Afghanistan today) —and hopefully capture the new 'market' of potential soldiers who are instinctively attracted to this false, 'heroic' rite of war.
 
Although most promotional messages are transparent for the majority of critical consumers today, what is most uncertain in the CF ads is what, or even who, the Canadian forces are 'fighting.' In each instance, the juxtaposed text and image provide an ambiguous association on screen: the symptom, 'fear' is associated with the labyrinth, grey-scale architecture of Afghanistan; 'distress' with a stranded vessel on the turbulent gulf waters of Oman; and 'chaos,' with a distraught soldier amidst the car-bombed streets of Afghanistan.
 
Analogously, the CF poster campaign proved to be even more ambiguous since the composition forms a simple mélange of the commercial-short —an image that promotes the CF as though the potential recruits were auditioning for the TV docu-drama Band of Brothers (2001) or Flags of our Fathers (2006).
 
These associations are clear and present, yet, the key nugget of analysis that addresses the complexity of the message, and more importantly casts light on the indeterminacy of each symptom, was a decisive elision by the CF: namely, the exclusion of the word 'terror.'
 
As reported by the CTV, before the CF ads were finalized, earlier versions contained the words 'Fight Terror,' which were subsequently removed after the commercials were pre-screened.[2]
 
To understand this omission, it is imperative to take into consideration how 'terrorism' today operates as the very Master-Signifier in the symbolic logic of global conflict: a phantasmatic background that sustains the precise emptiness of itself.
 
In particular, the lack of specification in the CF campaign allows for the protective fantasy of 'terror' to fill the gap created by its conscious exclusion. The particular indeterminacy of emotional and environmental symptoms of 'fear,' 'distress,' and 'chaos,' fabricates the semiotic territory for what Slavoj Zizek, calls the "signifier of potentiality" —a potential threat which, in order to function as such must remain virtual, or in fact potential. To put it more succinctly, "precisely because the threat is virtual, it is too late for its actualization,"[3] and the State must, according to this logic, act preemptively, before the supporting symbolic order begins to fall apart. The dominant defense cliché that we, the Nation, must strike in advance, "before it is too late" illustrates this point.
 
For Zizek apropos Agamben, this 'invisible threat' is possibly the most troubling image evoked by the state, as it justifies a permanent state of exception, defined as a means "to suspend the rule of law(s) on behalf of the Law itself"[4] —for example, the establishment of the Patriot Act as legislature, or the effort to erect prisons operating under the illegal logic of Guantanamo Bay. If rule of law(s) is not suspended (so far the case of Canada), the state of exception still permits the justification for continued conflict against the 'invisible threat' of the 'Terrorist.' Under the rubric of CF's military ads, the threat of the terrorist strike triggers perpetual justification of Canada's pre-emptive role in Afghanistan as the last bastion of defense against 'terrorism' at home and abroad. If the National Defense Department had its way, the concept of the 'Terrorist' would never be eradicated entirely but perpetually evoked ad infinitum. Does not the exact same hold true for George Orwell's conception of war as a project for the restoration of class power as demonstrated in his 1949 classic, Nineteen-Eighty-Four?
 
The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.
 
And is it not also true that in both Canada and the United States, the two parties who promote the continued occupation of Afghanistan are the two parties in power who are concurrently waging class warfare against their own citizens: eradicating funds to social programs (social housing, public education, health and child care) while promising major tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest members of society?[5] In light of the War on Terror, Orwell's diagnosis could never be more apparent: class societies of great inequality are only possible on the basis of an ongoing war against the Other "not meant to be won."
 
As an apparatus of the global War on Terror, the CF marketing campaign provides the primary means for displacement of antagonisms (that citizens should have against today's liberal-democratic state) onto the Other, the 'Terrorist, the Thing, which haunts and penetrates the social body. For Lacan, one way for the patient to come to terms with their fantasy – the nightmarish scene which structures their reality – is to "traverse the fantasy" itself. Lacan by no means advocates for the destruction of the symptom in its entirety, but instead, the full identification of the subject with their symptom. Since the fantasy structures, and at times veils the subject from their own responsibility for how they experience the world, to "traverse the fantasy" is to re-assert the subject's own ethical responsibility to first, come to terms with their own radical subjectivity; and lastly, provide retrospective justification for such action.
 
With respect to the phantasmatic background of terrorism promoted by the CF and others, what psychoanalysis suggests is not identifying with "the terrorist" as a normative subject as such, but in fact, the non-violent 'terrorism' of social antagonism – or, other words, the pluralist (peaceful) agonistic practice which should shape our current political practice. To traverse the fantasy of terrorism, is in fact a call to a call to radical identification and action. Not a practice dedicate to the reproduction of the state of exception, but instead a practice dedicate to an analogous Cause – an uncompromising fidelity and belief in an Act which would fundamentally alter the very coordinates and operation of the current liberal, democratic system.[6]

 
[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZhGx3AREcw
[2] Smith, Roger "Canadian Forces ads zoom in on combat mission," CTV.ca 13th Sept, 2006[http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060 913/CF_ads_060913/200 60913?hub=TopStories]
[3] Zizek, Slavoj The Parallax View [New York: Verso Press, 2004] 373
[4] Zizek, Slavoj The Parallax View [New York: Verso Press, 2004] 373
[5] For example, the Conservative party of Canada when elected will provide a %15 tax rate to corporations come year 2012
[6] A more elaborate analysis of the Act can be found in Zizek's Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002)

 

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Andrew Witt


Andrew Witt is an Art History student at University of British Columbia.
awlax10@yahoo.co.uk

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