Vilashini Cooppan

As the underlying structures of the war in Iraq become publicly visible, its basic logics emerge: a systematic campaign of disinformation waged at home and abroad, a propaganda machine of unparalleled sophistication, and a cultivated manipulation of fear in the interests of justifying and perpetuating an increasingly questionable war on terror. Exploiting the power of fear, the war on terror has accomplished a masterful division of what citizens know logically and what they are made to believe through other forms, particularly imaginative forms. The war on terror, like the war on drugs, is a metaphoric war, a war with no identifiable enemy, no foreseeable end, no definable victory, and the necessary suspension of civil liberties. Since the Clinton administration, the White House has provided undisclosed payments to Hollywood production companies to embed anti-drug plots in mainstream television, from soap operas to prime time dramas. The federal government has simultaneously spent several hundred million dollars buying anti-drug ads which their own researchers concur do little to discourage teenage drug use but consistently raise anti-drug anxieties among parents. The long federal track record of enlisting media and popular culture to bolster support for punitive drug policies illuminates a similar pattern now emerging with respect to anti-terrorist policies and the war in Iraq. In the realm of popular culture, Fox’s television series “24” and Showtime’s presently running series “Sleeper Cell” seem to enjoy, or exploit, a timely relevance to current events. Such films as “Syriana” and “Jarhead” meanwhile attempt to narrate a very different account of the catalysts and costs of the war. From the parallel realities chronicled by popular terror dramas to the recent revelation of the planting of propaganda by US forces in the Iraqi news media, popular media has been a war front at once vitally important and systematically occluded.

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