JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The upside-down map orients us to the southern hemisphere.

The surrealist map leaves out the UK and the US.
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The Pacific-centered map emphasizes the Asia-Pacific rim as the new economic center of globalization.
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The World-square projection -----
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TV news titles — picturing the planet
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There is certainly a play on familiarity in these sequences of spinning globes, and even a lightly ironic exaggeration brought into play. These are after all expensive and sophisticated examples of both digital graphic technique and the branding of station identity, pitched at both mass and niche markets. I am chary of attributing more significance to my sample and interpret it as evidence of an ideological maneuver intended to cheat audiences of a true knowledge of the world. On the contrary, these logos require knowledge of the world so that they can offer to present it.

Instead, I want to argue that the nature of the Earth changes when we cease to consider it as a planet, as a world, or as cosmopolis, and instead consider it as a globe. The depictions of the planet we see in news program title sequences can be subjected to ideological analysis by anyone reading this: the centering on the North Atlantic, the bounding of the globe by both corporate logos and ongoing or typical storylines, and so on. The claim to know and present the world predates television, and I have little to add to what, in some sense, everybody knows. What I find intriguing is less some presupposed falsification of the world, and rather more the accuracy (or lack of accuracy) of these graphical accounts of the world as globalized, here at the beginning of a century in which globalization must, in some form or definition, be taken as a fundamental given.

Equally given in the 21st century is the mediation of human relations via global media and especially global news reporting. We can no longer take the face-to-face as the normative mode of human interaction. Our increasingly interlaced and planet-spanning networks of interdependence and communication are enacted most pervasively through money, but also through the cycles of picturing, recording, reproduction and distribution that link us multilaterally across continents. My inevitably consumer choices articulate with coffee farmers I will never meet; my charity is articulated with pictures of famine-stricken regions I will never visit; my voting behavior is imbricated in refugee camps I pray never to inhabit. Actions in which I recognize what I take to be my very self, my most precious identity, are couched in the music, the movies, the brands and the news I opt to allow into my life, the products and services I pay for with my money or my attention. This much also we all know.

The world we inhabit is mediated, and at least some forms of that mediation, notably those associated with global corporations (including the public service corporation of the BBC, permanently threatened with privatization and thence perpetually on the brink of corporate modes of operating) are invariably ideologically informed. So what's new?

At least two things strike me as different from earlier states of affairs. The first is the alteration undergone as it were internally by what was previously the key political institution of modernity, the nation state. The second is the shifting nature of and aspirations for the possibility of a successor mode of political-economic governance or management in what Habermas (2001) refers to as the "postnational constellation."

The first of these has two problematic outcomes in terms of the generation of anxiety which news titles address. The first is that the abandonment of the welfare state leads, as Claus Offe (1984, 1985) analyzed it in the 1980s, to a "recommodification" of both capital and labor, neither of which is any longer bound by the common ground of the state to bring their labor or their capital to one market. Capital has migrated. And labor either has done the same, or entered into non-labor means of earning a living, notably in the globalizing criminal economy of drugs and arms dealing, but also in political or otherwise ideological groupings, from the Zapatistas to radical Islamists. The second problematic outcome is the decreasing ability of the nation-state to control taxation, labor relations, and even the monopoly on violence (Hardt and Negri 2004) in the face of global pressures, including treaty obligations and the need to attract and hold inward investment. This change has removed the traditional instruments and spheres of influence through which the state was legitimated.

In their absence, the national has had to be foregrounded, and that largely in terms of its cultural cohesion. Thus the key legitimation instruments of the state have become essentially cultural, including arts subsidies, education policy, control over immigration — and now endocolonisation (Virilio 1994) or the "state of emergency" (Agamben 2005) through which government's establish emergency powers as the permanent basis for rule. The loss or diminution in effectiveness of a state-guaranteed level playing field for capital and minimum rights for workers and consumers, allied with the anxieties provoked in national efforts to restabilize state legitimation through xenophobia and international comparisons, produces a condition in which a further ground of certainty, the state as a field in which conflicts can reach compromise and at least temporary consensus, has lost its authority.

Utopian hopes for the supercession of the state by supra- or international powers have been dashed in the decades following the foundation of the United Nations, now overshadowed by the 1947 formation of the Bretton-Woods agreement, and more particularly the first iteration of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT and its successor the World Trade Organization, since they do not need to secure the consensus of the populations over which they exert their influence, have not needed to concentrate on the common rights due to workers. Workplace conditions are still displaced to the realm of national sovereignty while, however, that sovereignty has effectively been whittled away by economic imperatives to cater to requirements of increasingly mobile capital. Meanwhile, governments are constrained by the terms of the treaties involved in the WTO, GATS and other transnational instruments of governance, to abide by terms which effectively compel them to provide standardized infrastructural, legal, contractual and tax regimes that benefit global trade. The disparity felt between the service to capital and the absence of any parallel duty to standardize working conditions, health and safety, pay and social benefits for labor has lead to a general belief that any realistically conceivable system of global governance will not imitate the lost welfare state, but rather the management of corporations. While a significant number of people benefit from this arrangement, we do not need to look to sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, central Asia, the high Andes, or the archipelagos of the western Pacific to find populations who have failed to thrive as a result of the ensuing system. Internal discrepancies in earning and in all social indicators continue to grow in the world's powerhouse economies. Moreover, these effects are increasingly understood as effects of the globalization of capital, even where, as in the USA and to a certain extent the European Union, the institutions of federal government in particular are deeply distrusted by significant elements of the population.

The absence of either an unique source of rule and rules, or of a viable and legitimated chain of rule makes us free, but it leaves us uncomfortable. Everyday experience tells us we are subject to rules and to rule, yet nowhere do we find an agency that can genuinely claim responsibility for them. There is, in short, and reducing the state of affairs to its most general and banal statement, a habit of anchorage which globalization has unsettled, not simply by raising the anchor, but by changing the nature of the seabed.

An unusual feature of New Zealand TV's One News title sequence is the transparency of the globe, the globe as a skin whose further side remains in view. Clearly a metaphor for the sleepless eyes of Argus, this transparency also operates to express the world's presentation of itself for that gaze. It's a view, then, in the sense that the word "view" has of both the gaze and the gazed upon. Heidegger's "world view" concerned the framing of the world; in contrast, this presentation offers us the world as the arbiter of vision, that which contains all vision by offering itself in total as visible through and through. Nor is this a point of view, since for any individual point of view, the world is opaque, both because the phenomenal world absorbs all gazes and keeps its silence, and because the global, unlike the phenomenal world, holds itself apart in invisible abstraction.

To add a little more precision, the view engaged does not belong to a point, and thus does not obey either the window metaphor that Heidegger's worldview essay promotes, or the perspectival geometries governing depiction and illusion. The world presenting itself as both global and as view invokes some other order than the point as its referent. The viewer is dispersed but not indefinite, still individuated but now ensconced not as a member of the masses but of a network, in the sense firstly of the broadcast TV networks, and secondly of a team, global in span, of journalists, technical staff, stringers, informants and infrastructure. The subject implied is then an ensemble gaze, though not Hardt and Negri's multitude, with their differences and dynamism. Subjected to a world or subject of the transparent planet that gives itself to total network vision while hiding itself from any individual gaze, this networked subject that sees interminably is the nearest thing that global media can offer as a subject position capable of undertaking the lost authority of religion and science, of responding to the broken habit of anchorage, the distress and vertigo of freedom. What these spheres tend then to enclose, brand and distinguish as discrete is the externality of freedom encoded in the externality of videographic effects.

Our freedom, which gives us so much grief, is unmanageable as long as it produces only the sensation that we are standing, incapable and uncertain, at the brink of a precipice, and nonetheless responsible for all that happens subsequently. The implication of a networked ensemble subjectivity, whose primary role is to witness the process of the world rather than to intervene in it, accommodates this freedom. Without denying or destroying that freedom, the networked subjectivity displaces it where it causes far less aggravation: external to the individual, and out with the parameters of either depiction or scientific imaging that otherwise have offered us our key ways of understanding the secular universe. In externalizing freedom in the visual allegory of videographics, however, the networked subject in the mold of the corporate logo is essentially subject to the global as much as subject of the world. And in either case, this subject is stripped of agency, which the network replaces with the omnivoyance of twenty-four/seven coverage.

To some extent this is fine. I am not among those for who fear surveillance or mourn the passing of privacy or identity. I have never really believed in the primacy of an inner life except in what it has become for us — the publication of intimacy. So I am happy enough to greet this latest turn in the history of subjectivity, the more so since it shifts the balance away from the subject towards the constitution of the world as object. This to me is the challenge of documentary: the problematic of all the ways the world can be approached, as it must be approached, as an object. I agree here with Adorno (1997: 37) that the subject-object divide is necessary to the extent that without it we are lost in undifferentiated terror, the terrain of myth and fate; yet that this divide is not the final word in the relation between human polis and the physical universe.

My concern here is rather with the notion that this constitution of the world as videographic, implicated as it seems to be in nostalgia for an authoritative discourse while knowing that no such authority exists. This constitution of the world builds an ideological image of the world-object as author of its own authoritative statement, a statement which, however, is limited to the merest announcement of existence and the solitary statement of its own unity. Such a limited conception of truth is the bread and butter of documentary analysis. But when it becomes the generalized hallmark of a genre of documentary practice that occupies such a strategic position in the defining of the practice, I find grounds for concern.

The responsibilities shirked in the effort to find a reconciliation between yearning for and dread of freedom include the identification of truth, where truth is not so much a given as the pursuit of ethical as well as provable qualities of the world. I proposed at the beginning of this article that the spatializing, anti-dialectical drift of contemporary global news graphics harbor an ideological response to dread. And I will here ask in conclusion whether digital graphics offer a particularly powerful way of resolving the twin challenges of conflict and dread of freedom. A fuller account of this problem will require more research into the emerging global news services, especially those arriving from the powerhouse Asian economies of India and China. Will they too seek to heal conflict through digital surfaces? Or will they devise both new iconographies and new digital visualization tools more appropriate for the 21st century, when the hegemony of the English language and of both the USA and the old British and British settler colonies will diminish?

The question I have is whether the means of announcing this new subjectivity are in some way implicated in the shift. Do graphical codes have a specific task to perform in establishing the distance between viewer and viewed that enables the post-aristocratic, managerial gaze? Do these TV news graphics indicate a democratization of this managerial perspective, the managerialism of a networked corporation? And is the ethos of the mutually-imbricated definition of a global object committed to revealing itself and an ensemble subject as bereft of agency, other than the power to witness specific to 3D motion digital graphics? Or does the ethos antedate and drive its mediation?

(Continued: Notes)


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