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THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE

Master of Global Media Communication

GLOBAL MEDIA: THEORY AND RESEARCH


(100401 2010 2) (MECM40014 2010 SM2)

Capiterrorism
Of the Guerrilla Marketing of Guerrillas, or the Marketing Guerrillas of the Market

Nicolás Mendoza
347170
September 19 2010
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit
we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have
no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great
Depression is our lives.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

1 Of nasty sites

The first time I visited the website of Colombian terrorist organization FARC1, I was
scared. Fear was an inarticulate soup of imaginary scenarios with varying amounts of
blood and plausibility, simultaneously playing in the back of my head. Irrationally, I
imagined that my door would be slammed the next minute by the terrorists, who could
either execute me on the spot or kidnap me for some years in order to collect a ransom
that would leave my family broke. Would they kill me in the jungle and then still
negotiate a ransom for my corpse, as they often do? A similar fantasy involved not the
terrorists but the army coming for me, guilty of terrorist conspiracy for participating in
the enemy‟s cyber experience. Less sensational scenarios involved the fear of being
somehow „flagged‟ by them; if I‟m in their website, can they see me? To some extent
they could, that is part of what the web is about after all, but after a few minutes reading
through the different articles posted I started doubting that their technical skills went
anywhere near to the point where they could collect any significant information about
me. What was more striking was the childishness of their discourse, based mainly in
name-calling and blatantly flawed argumentation. To realize that the „brains‟ of a group
in possession of significant destructive power operate in such a childish level is what was
actually creepy about the experience, after realizing that no one was going to invade my
apartment. Visiting their website became a sort of entertainment after a while, a virtual
terro-tourism where I amused myself with their exquisite leaps in logic and repulsive
aesthetics. It is a kind of obscene pleasure that I sometimes also search for in Fox News
or the Herald Sun.

A recent headline featured in the site caught my attention. It read: “The time of guerrillas
will not pass as long as there is capitalism”2. What is interesting about this is that,
coming from the guerrilla, it reads as a sort of Freudian slip that openly recognizes their
dependence on the system they claim to abhor. In this essay I will try to examine until
what point terrorism (even left wing terrorism), rather than holding a radically different
answer, constitutes a sort of dark side of the current globalised, capitalistic, status quo.
What are the internal mechanisms within the Zeitgeist that results in an age of permanent

1
www.anncol.eu
2
http://www.aporrea.org/tiburon/n162187.html
and widespread fear? What can we know about the shape of the infinite knot that binds
contemporary terrorism, contemporary capitalism, and its global media apparatus?

2 Rhetoric and Blood

In „The Mind of the Terrorist‟ (Post, 2007) the genesis of the basic concept behind
contemporary terrorism is briefly described in the following terms:

“The origins of their (national separatist terrorists of the 1960s-1970s)


revolutionary ideology and practice can be traced back to the anarchist era of
“propaganda by the deed.” Initially introduced by an Italian, Carlo Piscane, it
was developed and incorporated into anarchist ideology by the Russian
revolutionary Pyotr Kropotkin, who argued that a demonstration to awaken the
consciousness of the masses was necessary, including the gun and the bomb: “By
actions which compel general attention, the new idea seeps into people‟s minds
and wins converts. One such act may, in a few days, make more propaganda than
thousands of pamphlets.””

There is a chilling pragmatism at the heart of Kropotkin‟s argument, the kind of


reasoning one might hear from corporate marketing executives trying to maximize
advertising budgets to achieve “in a few days” the goal of rising brand awareness beyond
what could be achieved with “thousands of pamphlets.” How exactly „the new idea‟ is
represented in violence, which is hardly new, and how that wins a cause a „convert‟ is not
clear. For example, in September 11, what the world learned was not that it is fair to
support a Palestinian state, but that there is an organization (Al Qaeda) capable of
unprecedented destruction. To what extend Kropotkin‟s „actions which compel general
attention‟ need to be violent is nevertheless not clarified. The next stage of the
evolution of the concept is the idea of „Action as Propaganda‟:

“John Most, Publisher of Freieit, the leading German newspaper advocating


terrorism, in his Advise for Terrorists, emphasized “Action as Propaganda”:
“We have said a hundred times or more that when modern revolutionaries carry
out actions, what is important is not solely these actions themselves, but also the
propagandistic effect they are able to achieve. Hence we preach not only action in
and for itself, but also action as propaganda.” Thus revolutionary violence is
violence as communication.” (Post, 2007)

The notion of „violence as communication‟ articulated by John Most raises then the
question: If communication is somehow served by violence, what is the true nature of
communication? Aristotle defines of rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given
case the available means of persuasion.” While this definition seems to open the door to
all sorts of „available means‟, regardless of whether those means are the use of speeches,
explosives, crashing planes against buildings or radio jingles, for Aristotle only those
arguments correctly formed within the rules of logic can be considered to be „available‟.
Therefore, the Aristotelian framework imposes an ethical dimension to the practice of
„persuasion‟. Persuasion, however, still remains an indeclinable goal that today is
pursued regardless of the means. To better understand the nature of terrorism as violent
communication, it is important to further examine rhetoric as defined by Aristotle:

“Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds.
The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on
putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or
apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.” [Aristotle, Rhet,
1356a]

This three modes are known as ethos, pathos, and logos. This taxonomy helps us
understand that terrorism is a practice that seeks persuasion and has renounced to most of
the elements of Aristotelian rhetoric (ethos, logos, ethics) to rely on one and one only;
pathos, or „putting the audience into a certain frame of mind‟. The pathetic rhetoric of
the terrorist, consisting of bloody actions fits Kropotkin‟s view on methodology of
“propaganda by the deed”, mentioned above. We must note here that this interpretation
of the terrorist action is taking strictly into account the fact that there is no speech, and
therefore there is really no logos, at least in any Aristotelian sense of the term, especially
because for Aristotle it is in the logos where arguments reside, being ethos and pathos
important, but complementary, aspects of persuasion. Because for American theorist
Kenneth Burke‟s theory of rhetoric all actions (like sales promotions, etiquette, art,
cuisine, etc) constitute communication (Foss et al, 1991), James Der Derian‟s lecture of
the terrorist act as a text, which has a „grammar‟ and a „logos‟ (Der Derian, 2005), is
therefore part of the Burkean tradition.

To close the circle, it is key to finally mention feminist theorist Sally Miller Gearhart,
whose position on the very field of rhetoric illuminates in my opinion a most central, and
largely neglected, aspect of the debate: “My indictment of our discipline of rhetoric
springs from my belief that any intent to persuade is an act of violence” (Gearhart 1979,
p. 195). Is terrorism nothing else but the natural, inevitable, prolongation of the violent
essence of rhetoric, as identified by Gearhardt? Slavoj Zizek flirts with the idea when he
asks „What if, however, humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence precisely
because they speak?” (Zizek 2008, p.61) Further, Zizek explains that “As Hegel was
already well aware, there is something violent in the very simbolisation of a thing, which
equals its mortification” (Ibid.).

3 The Dark Side of Global Media

From „violence as communication‟ to „communication as violence‟; it is indeed the


argument of this essay that although communication is not by any means synonymous
with violence, there is a relationship between both at an operative (if not structural) level
that is fostered by capitalism. This brings us back to the headline mentioned in the
introduction: “The time of guerrillas will not pass as long as there is capitalism”. More
accurate tough, would be to state that “The time of terrorism will not pass as long as
there is capitalism”, given that while capitalism and terrorism are the norm, communist
guerrillas are the exception. Here it is important to introduce the notion of the
„impression‟, as articulated by Derrida in a post 9/11 interview with Giovanna Borradori:

“The "impression" cannot be dissociated from all the affects, interpretations, and
rhetoric that have at once reflected, communicated, and "globalized" it from
everything that also and first of all formed, produced, and made it possible. The
"impression" thus resembles "the very thing" that produced it. Even if the
so-called "thing" cannot be reduced to it. Even if, therefore, the event itself
cannot be reduced to it. The event is made up of the "thing" itself (that which
happens or comes) and the impression (itself at once "spontaneous" and
"controlled") that is given, left, or made by the so-called "thing." We could say
that the impression is "informed," in both senses of the word: a predominant
system gave it form, and this form then gets run through an organized
information machine (language, communication, rhetoric, image, media, and
so on). This informational apparatus is from the very outset political, technical,
economic.” (emphasis mine) (Habermas, J., J. Derrida, et al., 2003).

That the terrorists themselves state their dependence on capitalism , or the „predominant
system‟, as Derrida calls it, is barely surprising by now; after all, the more the system
engulfs and the more predominant its global media becomes, the better the cost-benefit
relationship of the violent action for the terrorist. The best description I have come across
of what 9/11 left us, its impression, was summarised the next day (September 12, 2001)
by an ESPN2 journalist called Hunter S. Thompson:

“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for
Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake
about it: We are At War now -- with somebody -- and we will stay At War with
that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fuelled by religious hatred


and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a
global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.”3

After nine years, there is little doubt that Thompson‟s prophecy was accurate; there is by
no means an end in sight: this is for the rest of our lives. The attacks, magnified by the
capitalist global „informational apparatus‟ beyond the wildest borgesian fiction, provided
near infinite value for the terrorist. The global media were thus „converted‟ to the
spectacle of terror, by terrorists who reasoned, Debordianly according to Stallabrass, that
“capitalism is dependent on the colonised social circuits that comprise spectacle
-including confidence in the market and the state, and an identification with commodity
culture.” (Stallabrass, 2006)

Moreover, Global Media tends to make the impression increasingly worse as time goes
by because, as Robert Hassan points in „The Information Society‟ (Hassan, 2008),
capitalism with its imperative of eternal growth, by definition needs to colonise every
3
http://www.reddit.com/tb/dctnq
time more and more aspects of our life. This means that our attention, our time, is a
commodity that needs to be increasingly be retained by some form of media for economic
gain. We are therefore constantly reclaimed by some form of media, whether it is our cell
phone, our iPad, our social network, or plain TV, that eagerly magnifies any event, in the
hope of capturing our attention just once more, just a bit longer, thus consuming the
unholy but structural marriage of capitalism, global media, and terrorism.

4 The Colombian Impasse

The intrinsic synergies of conflict often result in a situation where parties involved in said
conflict end up, paradoxically, extracting long term benefits from the existence of an
„enemy‟; in these cases those involved, in both sides, tend to generate a relationship of
mutual dependence. This kind of model replicates relentlessly throughout the world of
globalized neoliberalism. In a 2009 paper titled “The Comfortable impasse of peace in
Colombia”, scholar Luis Humberto Hernández exposes the ways in which the military
establishment benefit from the ongoing conflict, hence refraining from defeating the
„enemy‟. „Victory over the guerrilla implies to reduce its exaggerated administrative
corpus, which is the most coveted because administrative positions are the key to rising
upon military hierarchy”. (Hernández 2009, p. 183) The overall situation also suits the
guerrillas, allowing them to have a “positive political economy (…) to maintain the status
quo instead of a definitive victory or a negotiated arrangement”. (Ibid.) This explains
(partially) the sustainability of the Colombian conflict (over 50 years); according to
Hernández: “The impasse provides the stability to the war system and allows the
guerrilla groups and the state to coexist and arrange their strategies according to those
conditions, thus dilating the conflict.” (Ibid.) The instances of co-dependency multiply,
and become multilayered in a conflict like the Colombian, where the disproportionate
influx of global capitalism flows to both ends, simultaneously financing

a) the rebels and the paramilitary: through drug trade, which can be paid for in
weapons or cash4

b) the army: through „aid‟ represented in billions of dollars, equipment, and


human support of different kinds5

c) the Venezuelan government: through oil. Chavez provides FARC with a safe
place for retreat thus guaranteeing the endlessness of the conflict. (Post 2007,
p. 158),

As we can see, the funds that sustain the actors in conflict in Colombia, regardless of
their „side‟, come from the global „predominant system‟. Because these flows are
4
According to Wikipedia “FARC receives most of its funding—which has been estimated to average some
$300 million per year—from taxation of the illegal drug trade, ransom kidnappings, bank robberies, and
extortion of large landholders, multinational corporations, and agribusiness. From taxation of illegal drugs
alone, FARC has been estimated to receive approximately 60 to 100 million dollars per year”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Armed_Forces_of_Colombia#Financing
5
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_Colombia#Financing
infinitely disproportionate, and intrinsically alien to the country (not to mention the
clandestine nature of drug revenue), a conflict arises. Even in the unlikely scenario that
the FARC would be definitively defeated the conflict would remain, just as capturing a
drug lord is only useful to change the name of the one in charge.

5 The Helicopter and the Cameraman

On July 2, 2008 a helicopter of Russian fabrication landed in one of the FARC camps
deep in the Colombian jungle. The camp was home to over 200 guerrillas and a group of
15 hostages that had been imprisoned for 6 to 10 years. Sadly, it was the international
profile of some of the hostages that account for the presence of the helicopter that day.
French president Nicolas Zarkozy had personally pushed for the release of half-french
hostage Ingrid Betancourt in different ways, without realising that in doing so he was
playing right into the kidnappers‟ game. That day the guerrilla commanders saw a group
of foreign-looking people descend from the helicopter, some had Che Guevara t-shirts,
one had a Red Cross vest, there was a „cameraman‟ carrying a TeleSur (Venezuelan TV
network whose board of directors features characters as diverse as Perez Esquivel,
Ignacio Ramonet, Richard Stallman, and Danny Glover) camera. They really were
Colombian army commandos infiltrated into the heart of the FARC with the mission to
rescue the hostages. Through a previous infiltration of the group‟s internal
communication systems, army intelligence had managed to give false orders to the camp
commanders, of flying with the hostages to a different location. The TV camera was used
to reassure the guerrillas of the authenticity of the proceedings, as TeleSur consistently
provided positive coverage of FARC. In a mission without weapons it was the abstract
power of the media, that even among the illiterate and violent warriors in the depth of the
Amazonic jungle sealed FARC‟s undoing, by conjuring the spectre of the global
watching.

Commanders, commandos and hostages boarded the helicopter. After takeoff, the FARC
commanders were neutralised by force, undressed, and tied down in a swift and long
rehearsed move. Then the commandos revealed themselves to the now free hostages:
“We are the Colombian army, you are free!” This episode in the Colombian conflict was
called „Operation Jaque‟6, and by removing (to use Derrida‟s expression) one of the most
pressing impressions, the endless captivity of international profile hostages, from the
global imaginary, completely redefined the internal balance of power within the actors.
„Operation Jaque‟ was the quintessential media event. It has already been converted into
several books, a Nat Geo documentary, a TV Series, and, of course, Hollywood style
movies7; producing its independent, and evolving, impression of its own.

With the passing of years in which FARC held hundreds of hostages, a bizarre media
ecosystem, a sort of media economy began to evolve around the kidnapped. A radio

6
„Operation Jaque‟, from „jaque‟, the Spanish term for „check‟ in chess
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1819862,00.html
7
http://www.cromos.com.co/entretenimiento/cine/articulo-tom-cruise-podria-protagonizar-la-pelicula-sobre
-operacion-jaque
station started broadcasting a show where relatives of the kidnapped read letters and sent
messages of love and news of births and deaths from the real world. The TV newscast
started, for years, with the anchor‟s daily „demand‟ of freedom for the hostages. An
inexperienced civil engineer, Oscar Morales, started a facebook group to organise a
demonstration against FARC and their kidnappings8. The demonstration was attended by
an estimated 4.8 million people in 130 cities around the world, becoming one of the
largest in history. I became part of the maelstrom; after designing and mass producing a
voodoo doll of widely abhorred Venezuelan president Chavez, I was interviewed by
Reuters International and my statements about the „Chavez Personal VooDoo Doll” were
featured in CNN among hundreds of media outlets around the globe9. A second product
was designed but never released: an action figure style „Operation Jaque‟ toy helicopter.

6 Epilogue

Ad man Juan Carlos Lecompte, Ingrid Betancourt‟s husband at the time of her abduction
had been campaigning to pressure the Government to agree to the „humanitarian prisoner
exchange‟ proposed by FARC, by attending public events with a natural size cardboard
image of „Ingrid‟. In another stunt he flew over the jungle for days, throwing flyers
(which for once were, literally, flyers) and playing a message through a speaker system. I
know this because the media registered it. Lecompte as an ad man, was applying
Kropotkin‟s idea of „propaganda by the deed‟, without realising the tragic irony that it
was that very concept the reason why his Ingrid was being held hostage. Marketing
companies around the world pride themselves in their cutting edge and innovative
„guerrilla marketing‟ unaware that they stand at the exact crossroads of capitalist power,
the Kropotkinian pragmatics of propaganda, and global media phenomena. Has the
practice of „guerrilla marketing‟ led to a faster mainstreamization of terrorism? Has it led
to its transformation into pure spectacle? Was Osama Bin Laden thinking in terms of
„guerrilla marketing‟ when he envisioned the jets crashing into the towers? Is there a
similar spot in the brain of Bin Laden and Murdoch, where their projects secretly meet, a
mental place we should call Capiterrorism? Of course there is.

8
http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-3926151
9
See video and links in www.proyectoincorrecto.com
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Accessed on November 8, 2009

Der Derian, J. (2005). Imagining Terror: Logos, Pathos and Ethos. Third World
Quarterly, 26(1): 23-37

Foss, S.K., Foss, K.A., and Trapp, Robert (1991). Contemporary Perspectives on
Rhetoric, Illinois: Waveland Press

Gearhart S.M. (1979). The womanization of rhetoric in Women‟s Studies International


Quarterly V. 2 p.195 - 201

Habermas, J., J. Derrida, et al. (2003). Philosophy in a time of terror : dialogues with
Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/066649.html

Hernández, L. H. (2009) El cómodo impasse de la paz en Colombia Pensamiento Juridico


No. 26

Hassan, R. (2008) The Information Society Polity Press, Cambridge

Post, J. M. and Ebooks Corporation. (2007). The mind of the terrorist the psychology of
terrorism from the IRA to Al Qaeda. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Stallabrass, J. (2006). Spectacle and Terror. New Left Review 37

Zizek, S. (2008). Violence : six sideways reflections. London, Profile.