The Violence of the Image | The Controlled Televized Coverage of the Aurora Theater Shooting Trial

The father of Jessica Phillips, one of the victims of James Holmes at the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, speaks up about the recent decision, in October 2014, to allow media access to the trial.

…. Arapahoe County Chief District Judge Carlos Samour, Jr., issued a ruling in October that will help to turn the trial into a spectacle…. In his ruling, the case’s presiding judge, Samour, tried to thread what he deemed a very prudent needle, announcing that, yes, he would permit TV coverage of the trial of Aurora Theater killer, but that the footage would be limited to a ceiling-mounted camera controlled by the court. Judge Samour wrote that he was allowing the TVs “strictly to make the trial accessible to a larger portion of the public, including some victims.”

Here’s what that means: Judge Samour decided to permit a consortium of mega-media conglomerates to make money off Jessica’s death and simultaneously glamorize the man who killed her….” (The Killer I Refuse to Name | Politico Magazine)

While, as a viewer, I am once again seduced into witnessing a spectacle beyond, in so many respects, my ability to intelligibly process in full, I realize that I am also forced to essentially become a producer of yet another cultural text that is mainstream (public access) television; and talk about it. And perpetuate it amidst the illusion of a symbolic exchange that did not actually take place. I also cannot help but think of Jean Baudrillard’s comments of pornography and seduction. Martin Ham elaborates in Excess and Resistance in Feminised Bodies | Senses of Cinema:

Baudrillard argues that seduction, as a mode of representation, can be understood as fundamentally oppositional to pornography. By “pornography”, Baudrillard does not refer simply to graphic depictions of sexual acts, but to the modern tendency that seeks to render the relationship between viewer and viewed totally transparent, that is, apparently without mediation. Pornography endeavors to conceal its re-presentation of reality by raising the visibility of the most powerful images towards the points of maximum proximity and exhaustion. Taking sexual pornography as paradigmatic, such images are typically of penetration and ejaculation, the visibility of which engender an imaginary zoning of the sexual body into genitals and periphery. This marginal area, which includes a multiplicity of subjective triggers for arousal (posture, expression, context, minute exchanges between participants) is eclipsed by the centrality of the genital region. The over-exposure characteristic of pornography works to compensate the viewer for his/her passivity and absence from the pornographic scene, though at the cost of tantalizing peripheral details and the nuances of an independent, detached interpretation by its viewer. In this way, pornography is  h y p e r r e a l, in that it becomes more real than the unmediated object it depicts, and thus represents the supplanting of the real by its model:

Pornography… adds a dimension to the space of sex, it makes the latter more real than the real – and this accounts for its absence of seduction… [In pornography,] sex is so close that it merges with its own representation: the end of perspectival space, and therefore, that of the imaginary and of phantasy – end of the scene, end of illusion (Seduction, 1990 | pp. 28-9).

I also wonder whether Judge Semour requested permission from the survivors or the deceased victims’ families or not, to reach his decision to allow media access during Holmes’ trial. Mr. Phillips’ article suggests that Judge Semour did not.

Baudrillard goes on (in The Procession of Simulacra):

Go and organize a fake holdup. Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger (otherwise you risk committing an offense). Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible—in brief, stay close to the “truth,” so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won’t succeed: the web of artificial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phony ransom over to you)—in brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality—that’s exactly how the established order is, well before institutions and justice come into play….

Thus all holdups, hijacks, and the like are now as it were simulation holdups, in the sense that they are inscribed in advance in the decoding and orchestration rituals of the media, anticipated in their mode of presentation and possible consequences. In brief, where they function as a set of signs dedicated exclusively to their recurrence as signs, and no longer to their “real” goal at all.

Baudrillard emphasizes the audience’s mass self-seduction:   “The group connected to the video is also only its own terminal. It records itself, self-regulates itself and self-manages itself electronically. Self-ignition, self-seduction. The group is eroticized and seduced through the immediate command that it receives from itself, self-management will thus soon be the universal work of each one, of each group, of each terminal. Self-seduction will become the norm of every electrified particle in networks or systems.” (Kellner, Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond)

The question is, what kind of value is there in a world in which we are all self-seducing and plugged into our own terminals? Is this a meaningful, liberated, democratic, creative, and valuable world? Or is it its own nightmare inversion of Big Brother? Another question would be, how can any sort of “refusal of will” be formed, and an “original strategy” be structured (Baudrillard’s modes of resistance) under these circumstances? And why… why will James Holmes’ trial be televised? How will for-profit mega-networks safeguard our democratic territories, or our “sacred” freedoms? How is the principle of checks and balances be assigned on a hyperreal premise, and still maintain its validity? Wouldn’t thus the principle (transparent unobstructed justice) become also a simulacrum like the commissioners of its application (for-profit, self-interested media corporations)? McLuhan must be turning in his blissful grave…

When the real no longer is what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality: of secondhand truth, objectivity, and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true, of lived experience, a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. And there is a panic-stricken production of the real and the referential, above and parallel to the panic of material production: this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us—a strategy of the real, neo-real, and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence. (Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra)

… as we will soon be watching James Holmes’ trial with our insatiable pornographic gaze, the victims and their families, I suspect, will also have to look. They will have to look at something they have already seen. But we will also be there, through a lens and through television networks, and licensed opinions, and our own two cents.

To tell the victims what really happened.

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