The American tragedy is to be our
One possible starting point of the tragedy is that for too long the images have only been traversed and not observed.
Images are no longer sought after with the lust for knowledge of the ethnographer, the obsessive decipherment of the criminal investigator, or the meticulousness of the editor who desperately tries to create a narrative that touches us.
The images are injected into the second and the megabyte into tik tok, into FB, into Youtube, into WhatsApp, and from them, we expect only a second of fantasy, of comicality, of eccentricity that will satisfy our need for comfort.
Images no longer have narrative and testimonial value.
What Capa, Walid Raad and so many others have tried and continue to try with their work, whose value is now almost extinct, allows us to see that “One.Six.” is by no means a point in a course of violence with a plan of destruction.
It is only the place and the time of one of the possible arrivals of a sordid campaign of chaotic aggressiveness without foundation and mainly without a defined goal.
The first images to be observed are those on the Capitol stairs.
The images show that each one of the intruders about to be is on his own, there is no revealing sign of the organization and premeditation of the cellular phalanges of the Black Bloc, of the Proud Boys, or of so many other radical political micro-entities ready to execute evil.
The members of those and so many other micro-entities are on the stairs, but with each one of them, there is neither the phalanx, nor the plan, nor the operation.
The intruders are now advancing through the corridors always looking back, they stop in the rooms looking everywhere, in their hands, they have only the devices with which they record themselves, and it is not they, but the comfort of the crowd that takes them forward.
The images that we should observe most with the methods of the ethnographer, the criminal investigator, and the editor are those of the democratic room.
The line of the tragedy continuation is built here.
We have to recover abilities lost in the past and to fix the personal profiles drawn by the images because every detail of them has the clues that we must decipher.
The caps, the hoods, the horns, the special operations helmets.
The waistcoats, the camouflage, the graphic shirts, the trousers of the military replica warehouse.
The intruders have dressed for the frequency of the ritual with which they periodically try to break the inescapable fatality that is part of most of their days.
The ritual is usually performed in the marathon of the video game arena, on the way to the stadium, at the barbecue in the forest after the fire training, at the cosplay festival, in imitation of an urban block and avenue demonstration of the radical warrior for the climate or human rights in Hong Kong, or on the way to the political rally, if on American soil.
The intruders are practicing the ritual where they never expected to be, after having departed from their most cherished ritual in recent years, the Trump rally.
The performance of the ritual in their country’s supreme democratic room is a shock for them.
As Simon Schama shared in the Financial Times, still believing in the function of images, “there was a moment, amid Wednesday’s mayhem in the US Capitol, of revelatory confusion on the part of the invaders. Once through the smashed windows, it was unclear what was next on their agenda”.
It is not strange that for the intruders is enough to occupy, and mark their occupation with image and steal.
It does not pass their mind to destroy what is important, to blow up space, to hurt who matters, to kill.
To break with the rules of the democratic system, to execute terror, and to pass to the other side is not their plan, much less their choice.
The intruders are still a long way from Timothy James McVeigh in Oklahoma in 1995 and the Weather Underground, and even further from those who now swear that soon destruction is the only path to revenge.
J.G. Ballard observed and met similar intruders, writing about them in “Kingdom Come”, which remains one of the great manuals of knowledge of contemporary Western society, that “the suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world”.
Those observed by Ballard are in the European suburbs but also in the urban slums and the small impoverished city of the American topography.
Those who roam and pose in the democratic room are those Ballard identifies as those who cannot avoid the fact that “parking was well on the way to becoming (…)” his “greatest spiritual need”.
Those who film themselves in the democratic room for the moment and later to immortalize somewhere in the web are the metallurgists of Ohio, the factory workers of Pennsylvania, the meatpackers of Chicago, the small local merchants of Michigan, the retail employees of New York.
At their side, it’s important not to forget, there’s the political influencer that has failed the minimum number of followers in the networks, the app's programmer submerged in the endless connection from JFK in Dallas that explains it all, the unemployed gardener, the chemical truck driver, the manager of the midtown insurance company.
The intruders are just the members of MAGA (Make America Great Again), a media label that has involved both memberships of Trump over the past four years and a tribal brand and a desire for personal, community, and ethnic survival.
What brought them to the room, and what little unites them in the room, in the hope that “a light is better than none (…). Any light is better than the dark night”, as Sam Shepard discovered in today’s forgotten “American Chronicles”.
Five people died in the siege, invasion, and occupation by force of a public space for three hours, a common crime that never had the texture to be an insurrection or the first movement of a coup d’état.
It is not a farce because people died, but it is a minor tragic episode.
It is not the first time this has happened in American history.
Don DeLillo, in his accounts, often tells us of the countless localized American internal conflicts which are nothing more than the will unleashed by the truncated variant of the founding mythology.
“But the bombs were not released (…). The men came back and the cities were not destroyed”, he wrote, in “Underworld”.
The closing point of the tragedy is here, apparently.
In fact, the tragedy of “One.Six.” has a few other starting points, a path line that can be seen, and an end of course square that involves us all.
One of the other starting points, which has guided and determined the whole path, is the historical repetition of the ease with which a political leader, provided he is supported by the appropriate volume of Power, legitimacy, and visibility, can lead the masses.
Based on a simple concept of enormous and permanent communicational value, because it allows the infinite unfolding into captivating narratives, shared from Twitter to the public television channel, which Arlie Hochschild defined in “The Guardian” as “to complex problems, Trump offers simplistic, strongman magic. Like the image on the five-year-old boy’s flag of a Rambo-Trump, muscular arms wrapped around a magical missile gun, the image fits his magical claim that only he can fix everything”, the former president and defeated candidate in November broke the main trail for the One. Six tragedy.
Until his defeat in November, he was able to sustain for four years the narrative that the internal and external world atrociously and permanently isolated him, even though he was one of the main culprits of the extreme calamity of his nation to go down in history as one of the most incapable of facing a viral pandemic, paying a high price for it, and he never had a coherent, intelligible and consistent internal and external policy.
After his defeat in November, he was able to sustain the narrative that the internal and external world was now playing at the unique opportunity to isolate him illegally, atrociously and permanently, exiling him, with dirty electoral tricks, from the possibility of remaining president.
The astonishing ability to captivate millions of Americans with two such basic narratives may be due to the fact that, as Schama wrote, Trump “(…) cast himself as the defender of a “true” America under siege from liberal pluralism and immigrant invasion. “They’re coming for your suburbs” was the core message of his re-election campaign. Pandemic notwithstanding, Mr. Trump resorted to mass rallies where he could once more feel the love and weaponise the hate”.
As Susan B. Glaser wrote in “The New Yorker”, “Trump’s journey has now produced his desired result, even if he may not be back for another four years: a superpower torn apart from within, no longer trusting of his own democracy”.
The fact that Donald Trump has succeeded in captivating millions of Americans, and millions more around the world, with two such fragile narratives, will be the subject of research in the decades to come, and it should always be at the centre of our concerns when we think of the world we have at the moment.
Another possible starting point of the tragedy is the ability of the digital territory to locate, convert and feed the mind and soul of those who are seeking or are ready to accept a reality that is competitive or even parallel to the dominant one.
MAGA, as in other quadrants of the infinite network the Antifa and so many others, frenetically research and devoutly consume the digital sites generated by the essential nature and by what is today one of the primordial functions of networks, which Castells defines as “(…) meaningful because they provide the platform for this continuing, expansive networking practice that evolves with the changing shape of the movement”.
In this way, Castells stresses, the hybrid platform guarantees “an interaction between the space of flows on the internet and wireless communication networks and the space of places of the occupied sites and of symbolic buildings targeted by protest action”.
For Castells, “this hybrid of cyberspace and urban space constitutes a third space…”, that is “…the space of autonomy”.
In the flows, nodes, and platforms of the global digital territory, the freest and most libertarian location of the space of autonomy proposed by Castells, open and without state and multilateral control, are constructed all the narratives that simplify the contemporary political, economic, and social reality, plus all the other alternatives that perfectly serve the emotion, the questioning, and anger of the excluded, the distant, the powerless.
These are narratives carved in a covert way by the plot and methodology of some of the classic fantastic literature and by the mould of historical propaganda, with an extreme thematic latitude, going from the gathering of the recognizable suspects united in a maneuver to seize or control power, to the subtle survey of impossible verification data imposed as facts to support an unsustainable hypothesis, going through the denial of what institutions, from scientific to political, present as investigated, tested and proved.
The narratives, impregnable on digital platforms, and instantly available on the device, allow the initiated to somehow remove “(…) the sadness and clarity of time (…), how the sound, the shaped vibrations made by hammers striking wire strings made them feel an odd sorrow not for particular things but for time itself (…) the texture of unmeasured time that were lost to them now (…), which DeLillo fixed in a paragraph, again from “Underworld”.
The use and frequency, sometimes obsessive, sometimes out of existential necessity, of the platforms of the digital territory that accantonate the above-mentioned narratives, ensures, prolongs, and renews the existence of the movement and the local, regional, national and global community that keeps it alive, sometimes leading movement and community to move to moments and places like that of “One.Six”.
The most solid possibility of a starting point for tragedies such as “One.Six.”, which is also the path it takes from start to finish, and the end square, is both of a genuine North American nature and of a contemporary global nature with the necessary extension to reach any citizen of Western democracy.
The “One.Six.” is genetically a US tragedy because in the culture of its citizens is engraved the deep conviction that DeLillo, again, so well interpreted in “Running Dog”, that ours is “the age of conspiracy […] This is the age of connections, links, secret relationships […] Worldwide conspiracies. Fantastic assassination schemes”.
In the culture of millions of its citizens, the pillars of the US superpower initiated in 1945, the culture of the American dream and meritocracy, the checks and balances guaranteed by democracy, the rule of law, the economic power of the multinational, the value guaranteed by scientific and applied research, and the force guaranteed by the military and police apparatus, are also the agents and mechanisms, from the military-industrial complex to the QAnon, the Deep State and the Big Tech, that subvert the Constitution and the Law to achieve their interests.
The “One.Six.” is at the same time a Western tragedy because what initiates it and makes it concrete is the loss of confidence of millions of citizens in a democracy and the fundamentals of their society.
Levitsky and Ziblatt, in “How Democracies Die”, consider as main indicators of democratic erosion the “rejection (or weak commitment to) the democratic rules of the game”, the “denial of the legitimacy of political opponents”, the “tolerance or encouragement of violence” and the “readiness to reduce the civil liberties of opponents, including the media”, that is to say, strategies and political actions being implemented today throughout the West, applied with sufficient art to captivate citizens.
At the same time, millions of Western citizens are also finding no way to deal with the rising dominance of China and Asia, income inequality, the automation of work, and the permanent instability of a society that fails to solve many more of its complex problems, from the disintegration of the family to the low quality of public education.
They long to believe that the solution lies in a new Trump that arrives, in a narrative placed on the digital platform that illuminates reality, in a credible system that replaces the democratic, in a rhetorical formula that solves inequality and guarantees employment.
It is these millions of citizens who already believe or who may one day believe that a “One.Six.” is a necessary step to transform utopia into the real world.
This is fundamentally why the American tragedy of the “One.Six.” is ours.
Confined in their flats, walking alone in the streets, crushed in a chariot of a bankrupt public transport system, sickly fixed on their mobile phones, lost in an American city or a Western city, there are millions of citizens who “still happen to be silent, quiet, looking at nothing for a long time. He refers to his past as the time when he did not feel shattered”, Shepard imagines in the book quoted in this text.