moving beyond & thinking back on “shock and awe.”
…You’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. — Barack Obama, First McCain-Obama Presidential Debate, October 2008
Mark Landler of the New York Times, one talking head in Frontline’s marvelous “instant history” documentary, Inside the Meltdown, describes Hank Paulson and Ben Bernacke’s decision — after much avoidance — to go to Congress for direct capital injections from the federal government to the private banking system as “almost the economic equivalent of ‘shock and awe.'”
It’s an intriguing comparison, one that commentators such as Ariana Huffington pointed out at the time.
It makes me wonder two things:
First, during parts of the “Dubya” years, “shock and awe” seemed so powerful as a technique. It inspired fear and loathing (and analysis) on the left such as Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Aside from “shock and awe”‘s obvious problems (small things such as killing a lot of people and causing plenty more to suffer), what seems more striking now is what a failure “shock and awe” seems to have been, both in its military and financial versions. What initially appeared as such agile legerdemain — the spectacle by which neoconservatism (in the political realm) and neoliberalism (in the economic sphere) was able to dominate, steal, overwhelm, and even win — now seems like such a desperate ploy: the anxious posturing of a vulnerable bully; the last sucker punch from a heavyweight going down for the count.
Second, and more intriguingly, now that its moment is perhaps passing, might begin to think about the broader metaphor of “shock and awe” during the first decade of the twenty-first century? Does it, will it, serve as a useful tool for understanding a wider swathe of cultural production in the face of shifting technological and social foundations? Now that we are moving from the hatchet blow method of power (shock and awe them and bop them — or ourselves — over the head) to the Obama administration’s surgical scalpel, can we ask: what was “shock and awe” all about in a deeper sense?
Was it a kind of collective spell out of which the U.S. and the world is beginning to snap? And snap to what: attention or pieces?