NOTE: Though I make mention of the World Trade Center attacks, I use the reference only to highlight my point. By no means am I implying that the attacks were staged or faked. I am simply pointing out that the event, like so many others, serves as a convenient means of keeping the population on edge. There are examples of this all throughout history, I simply use this particular example because of its contemporary nature. I assure you, I am not a conspiracy theorist, so please don't misinterpret my intention here. I'm just throwing out food for thought and am really interested in examining fear as a political tool at large. It's just something I thought about one morning and I may even explore the idea further as a topic for a research paper. Just want to get people's thoughts on this. Thank you.
Douglas Rushkoff's recent trope, Present Shock, contains an apt summation of classical Aristotelian narrativism and its relationship to storytelling as practiced by the television and advertising industries in contemporary technological settings—particularly television and film. Yet there are two particular areas that have effectively usurped and manipulated narrative techniques for the purposes of mass indoctrination and distraction: Politics and Journalism.
The basic tenets of traditional narrativism can be reduced, as Rushkoff demonstrates, to a rather simple outline:
"Like a breath or lovemaking, these sorts of stories have a rise and a satisfying fall; a beginning, a middle, and an end...The traditional linear story works by creating a character we can identify with. putting that character in danger, and then allowing him or her to discover a way out...At each step along the way, the character proceeds further into peril and takes the audience further up the path into tension and suspense...Just when the audience has reached its peak of anxiety...we get our reversal...And with that, finally, comes full recognition and release of tension...The greater the tension we were made to tolerate, the higher up the slope we get, and the more we can enjoy the way down." (pp 18-20)This storytelling technique is nearly as old as dirt and highlights a mutual understanding—a contract, if you will—between the storyteller and the audience. The reader or viewer or listener is willing to allow the storyteller to take them up that ladder of almost intolerable suspense (provided the storyteller is doing his job properly) with the understanding that there will be an inevitable release in the tension and a resolution that will satisfy the audience. But what if the storyteller breaches that contract and sends her audience into a state of suspended anxiety in which no resolution or release of tension is forthcoming? The audience, in this case, is doomed to float suspended in an almost constant state of tension, with no seeming way out. He or she has been consigned to the bottomless abyss of an unresolved narrative, one that allows the storyteller to manipulate his audience almost indefinitely. We, as a culture, have been consigned to such an abyss by the media megalith and the political anxiety-machine that supports it.
Simply consider the current master narrative of "terrorism" that has blighted our culture for at least the past twelve years now. The narrative follows the simple structure to a point. We have our character or characters—in this case it us—the people—represented by the monolithic cultural structures by which we define ourselves (The World Trade Center, The Pentagon, New York City, Washington D.C., etc). We have the scenario that places these characters in danger—an attack, or series of attacks, causing vast destruction of lives and property. The narrative next introduces a solution (heightened security, the establishment of new intelligence agencies, indefinite detentions, torture of detainees, war) and allows us to determine that these solutions will inevitably resolve the conflict in which we find ourselves, to our satisfaction, and thus should come the release...should come the release.
But that's where the story ends. There is no final resolution of conflict. That all-encompassing storyteller of our time—singularly titled The Media—has misled us; coaxed us into a false sense of conflict that offers no resolution, no way out. This is the sad reality of our time. We are suspended indefinitely in a state of tension and anxiety and stuck in a constant loop of resolutions (TSA security points, spying on citizens, intercepting private emails and phone calls, deploying drones, etc.). The narrative has turned on us. We have willingly consigned ourselves to the role of both protagonist and antagonist.
Recent events involving leaks by Edward Snowden concerning NSA wiretapping of citizens and foreigners has only served to highlight this scenario. There is no doubt that this kind of unresolved master narrative serves a grand and cynical political purpose. By keeping the people suspended in an endless state of tension and insecurity, the political junta in Washington, with the support of the media apparatus, have become a veritable factory-outlet for trepidation and alarm. As long as we continue to swallow their line, we may never find our way out of this perpetually unresolved storyline.