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R2P: The Theatre of Catastrophe

Wrong Kind of Green

April 28, 2016

By Jay Taber

 

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Above: Avaaz  and Purpose co-founder Jeremy Heimans

Purpose Avaaz Syria-Campaign-HIRE

The Syria Campaign Facebook PURPOSE Screenshot

Under the neoliberal model of global conquest–exhibited by the heavy-hitters of the UN Security Council (i.e. USA, France and UK) in countries such as Burundi, Mali, Libya and Syria–the recurrent chorus line R2P-R2P-R2P-R2P from pro-war, social media marketing agencies like Avaaz, Purpose and Amnesty International is what the European writer Federica Bueti described as the ‘theatre of catastrophe’ that dramatically changes the way we live. The crises of the war economy concocted by these heavy-hitters throughout the world, then, become stage sets where the drama of neoliberal heroism can be enacted.

Performance extras such as the Purpose subsidiary White Helmets—good guys always wear white hats—funded by USAID, play the role of innocent victims, thus justifying the need for the heavy-hitters to ride to the rescue. Or, in the case of modern warfare, to bomb the hell out of the designated villain(s).

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New York Times Avaaz Ad, June 18, 2015. Headline: “PRESIDENT OBAMA, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” …“A majority of Americans support a No-Fly Zone in Syria to save lives and 1,093,775 people around the world [in an on-line petition] are calling for action now.” The photograph used in the ad is from the Anadolu Agency.

As Bueti observes, catastrophe has ‘become a rhetorical tool used to reinforce a general state of anxiety’ and ‘the rhetoric of crisis suggests a daily apocalyptic scenario in which preventive measures and special interventions are required to ensure the survival of neoliberal forms of governance’. The crisis as a constructed event–in which the media plays a major role–she says, ‘has succeeded in producing a peculiar representation of catastrophe with devastating social effect’ that, due to the urgency of immediate intervention, ‘has produced an opaque filter through which it is almost impossible either to understand the causes and consequences of the current crisis or to see a way out of it’.

Avaaz Obama jpg

“People write congratulatory messages to President-elect Barack Obama on a 24-foot long message board in front of the Lincoln Memorial November 6, 2008 in Washington, DC. The organization Avaaz.org has set up a global message board at the memorial with display of messages from all around the world for people to write their notes to Obama.”

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 29: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while flanked by Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) during a campaign rally, on October 29, 2010 in Charlottesville, Va. Recent polls show Rep. Perriello trailing challenger Virginia State Senator Robert Hurt (R-VA). With mid-term elections approaching, President Obama has been campaigning for Democrats who may be in jeopardy of losing their seat. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

October 29, 2010: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while Avaaz co-founder Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) looks on during a campaign rally, on October 29, 2010 in Charlottesville, Va.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Writing further, Bueti notes, ‘In Greek theatre, catastrophe designates the moment preceding the final resolution of the plot. In breaking with the rhythm of the narration and moving from one side of the stage to the other, catastrophe creates a moment of suspension of emphatic participation in the staged event. This moment allows the author to directly address the audience through the Chorus, which represented both the voice of the author and the one of the politeia, or Athenian citizens. …In the moment of kata-strephein, the staged dilemma of the individual hero becomes the shared dilemma of the whole of community, eventually creating a temporary event of solidarity’.

As Bueti reflects, ‘From a strictly pedagogical perspective, the Chorus is the moral representative of the polis and of its institutions, the bearer of a certain order that needs to be endlessly confirmed and reiterated’. When the heavy-hitters of the UN Security Council prepare to pound the constructed villain(s) into oblivion, it is the heavily-armed proxies of the heavy-hitters that produce the conditions creating moral catastrophe that the chorus cheers on toward a happy ending. As Bueti concludes, ‘Apocalyptic scenarios, in this case, possess a restorative dimension in which the hero will save the world from an imminent disaster’.

 

Further reading

THE PURPOSE OF AVAAZ: CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

Wag the Dog: Campaigns of Purpose

 

 

[Jay Thomas Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as communications director at Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and journalists defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted Indigenous peoples in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations.]