IMAGE OF THE LEADER, FUNCTION OF THE WIDOW (1983)
“Image of the Leader, Function of the Widow,” C Magazine, no. 1 (Winter 1983 – 1984), pp. 40-45; extensive erratum, no. 2 (Summer 1984), p. 59. The article has been restored to its whole here.
IMAGE OF THE LEADER, FUNCTION OF THE WIDOW
FEAR OF CROWDS
Every spectacle implies a political formation. Likewise, every political party and system has a notion of the individual through political representation—and hence an implied or unconscious picture of the crowd. How does the crowd fit in here in terms of its own spectacles—in revolution, assassinations and riots?
The crowd functions in two types of spectacles, controlled and out of control: the ordained spectacle and the spontaneous, unpredictable event. It is audience and actor. The function of the leader is to return the crowd to order: to master the crowd (fascism), to return it to a hierarchy (Leninism), or to keep it in a constant state of consumption of the images of leadership (capitalist democracies). The spectacle of leadership is a political economy of the images of leadership.
Media plays the dominant role in the production and circulation of images of leadership. They stage the events of leadership as they stage the spectacle of the individual leader for individual consumption. Western media has a fear of crowds. Through their practices we can read the role of the image of the leader and the relation between the leader and crowd as a relation between violence and representation. The media follows a simple economy which is one of juxtaposition, a double image: the leader and the crowd, violence and representation. As the crowd is to violence, so the leader is to representation. The leader is doubly representative, representational: a leader and the image of leadership.
The image of the leader has a certain economy in the context of the media. Its role is to order the crowd once that crowd has assumed its own representation—in violence, in revolution and riot. It returns the violence of the crowd to the single image of the leader. Representation serves restoration.
ECONOMY OF THE IMAGE
Whether engaged in reading an image of disaster or an icon, the impulses are the same. One image does not serve to attract and the other to repel. Against our expectation, we find a covert attraction to disaster as well as a violent reaction to an image of beauty. The chaos of violence finds ambivalent response in the formalized expression of the icon. Violence is not only attracted to the iconic; violence directs representation.
Human violence, once recorded, is perceived and dealt with collectively, as a representation. Violence is not simply a disruption within the orderly; it is a mediated effect; it is not passively received, but actively produced by artist and spectator within representation.
"Violence and Representation"
Placing pictures sets up an economy between violence and representation, with representation a response and a re-ordering of violence, returning it, and with it the consuming individual and no longer active crowd, to social codes and hierarchies embodied in the image of the leader. Violence and representation, or the infigurable, chaotic image of the crowd and the single image of leadership, appear together. It is not that the crowd calls for that representation, unless it is for its disfigurement. It is the leader who is called to re-order the masses, to re-present them to themselves in his own image. It is the media that carries out this ordering, as if they were carrying out an order, and distributes it to every household.
Is the double image a coincidence of layout and juxtaposition in newspapers and photo-and-news magazines? It reappears over and over again. It is as if the crowd cannot appear alone, as if the crowd's violence and self-representation cannot appear without the reassuring image of the leader, as if the leader was the eternal end to every political struggle, the sacred father above the event. Leadership is theological, the crowd anthropological. Violence rarely appears alone without another image to draw it into an economy of restoration.
Here are two examples from the Sadat assassination, two pages from different news magazines. The first from L'Express (cover title: "Le courage assassine") shows Sadat in regal glory, the decorated embodiment of the Egyptian state. Below this photograph, the image, taken from television, is diffused in violence, the dead Sadat slouched among other crumpled bodies. This page seems to display a simple economy: before and after. It is lent value as a real time event by the caption indicating the photographs were taken seconds apart, one o'clock and 1 :03. But that compulsive fetishization of the moment before and the aftermath also recalls other stories of the mighty and the fallen, adding to the danger of leadership and the ironies of history. This irony will serve a function in underlying the double image with a warning: be thankful for the courage of the leader and your own mundane, safe life.
We would expect to find the same economy in print - a semantic representation of the image of leadership and the violence of crowds. Under the juxtaposed images of Sadat and his assassins on the table of contents page of Newsweek, two sentences of a summary fulfill that role: "Anwar Sadat sat in a reviewing stand in Cairo, a commanding figure in gold-braided hat, starched uniform and green sash .... Mortally wounded, Sadat fell in a bloody jumble of overturned chairs." It is as if they are already describing photographs.
The second set of images seems more natural, analogical: "The last Parade: Sadat's funeral cortege and mourners in the streets of Cairo," says the caption to the two photographs in Newsweek ('"Act of Infamy'"). The mourners seem a natural analogue to the funeral cortege, the crowd's grief, holding handkerchiefs, newspapers and photographs of Sadat aloft, a natural response to the solemn, structured procession. This mirroring is already to return that violence of emotion of a grief-stricken crowd to representation, to an ordered image of the state that is inherent in the cortege. (The two are not equal, however, as a statement in Life, November 1983, on the Kennedy cortege implies: "It was so simple, so egalitarian, so American." That is how Sargent Shriver, now a Washington lawyer, remembers the silent, sunstruck procession of kings and Kennedys to St. Matthew's Cathedral. "The walk was a family ceremony to which the world had been invited." They were still kings and Kennedys nonetheless .) Another figure, besides the state, will mediate the crowd to the leader and to succession, a figure to whom grief, with all its sexual energy, can touch and cohere in an economic movement back to a leader. This is the function of the widow. If the widow mediates these two images, and the assassins mediate the two images of the erect and fallen leader, as the absent event between the two images, is there a secret sympathy between killer and widow - both scapegoats?
Once again, as well, we have a semantic representation of the crowd, which is a negative image of the festival. Against the statement in Newsweek: "To a nation that had learned to count on him, the murder brought back a flood of images: Sadat bear hugging Henry Kissinger in the days of shuttle diplomacy; Sadat laughing with Golda Meir on his historic trip to Jerusalem; Sadat, hands triple clenched with Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin after the exuberant descent from Camp David," is contrasted: "On the occupied West Bank, jubilant Arab shopkeepers passed out candy. In Beirut, leftist militia men honked car horns and fired automatic rifles into the sky. In Tripoli, crowds waving the green flag of Libya danced in the streets, in what one Western envoy called 'ghastly jubilation.'"
We are talking here of the West's image of Arab grief and celebration, however, and must consider the special use, which is an ideological use, to which Western leaders and media (that is, American) are putting the image of Sadat, in their mythologization of him as a great man of history. We can also look at the West's view of the crowd in terms of Soviet leadership.
Here we can take two examples, this time one day apart in the same newspaper. In both cases, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the crowd is set between or below leaders. In "We'll 'crush' aggressors: Brezhnev," a crowd of Soviet anti-nuclear demonstrators is neutralized by a line of Politburo chiefs. By placing this collective line, as if it were a caption, above the crowd, the newspaper implies that even this "popular" expression of the crowd is under the dictates of astern oligarchic autocracy. The ribbon of headline separating the two is the newspaper's "proof" of this sham demonstration.
The photograph serves within Western speculation on struggles within the Soviet Politburo. Intelligence agencies look to these photographs for evidence of a hierarchy and hints at succession. Photography becomes a means of interpretation. And as with Brezhnev, once again a year later, the same questioning is taking place with the absence of Andropov from the same proceedings. Here leadership is a spectacle of non-presence.
The second example, "Grim challenge ahead for the Soviets," poses, not a collective, but two leaders, Lenin and Brezhnev, next to a photograph of soldiers storming the Winter Palace during the October Revolution. They are placed as if they were giant portraits in Red Square, the representatives of the October Revolution. Set on either side of the image of action, the activity of the crowd, the two also contain that crowd and representationally frame it. That crowd, moreover, is displaced from its original historical activity and active overturning by the caption under the picture of Lenin. "The fiery Lenin came to power at age 47 by gambling everything on a single daring stroke." His "fiery" youth and daring historical gamble set him apart from the then present aging leadership: "The ailing, 75-year-old Leonid Brezhnev presides over a group of men as old as himself," says the caption to Brezhnev. The captions contrast two leaders, but their real function is to displace that crowd: the leader is elevated by cancelling the crowd. Under Lenin, the Revolution is returned to the great man theory of history, with the masses playing no part; they are merely a "swarm," as the caption labels the Bolshevik soldiers.
This prejudice on the part of newspapers obscures the history and makers of history of this revolution. The historical image of the Storming of the Winter Palace indicates another economy of the crowd, another self-representative spectacle. For this is not a photograph of that historic event, but a representation and recreation by Eisenstein for his film October (1928). These images, based on news photographs, commonly have been taken by news-services to fill in for that event.
Photography served in the proletarian deconstruction of autocratic images of authority and at the same time the construction of revolutionary self-representation. That photography was recognized as a reactionary tool for representation is indicated by the Novy Lef Kushner-Rodchenko debate. Rodchenko: "The revolution does not consist in photographing workers' leaders instead of generals while using the same photographic technique as under the old regime, or under the influence of Western art. The photographic revolution consists in the strong and unhoped for effect of the 'how' quality of the photographic fact.... A worker photographed like Christ, a woman worker photographed like the Virgin Mary, is no revolution ... we must find a new aesthetic ... to represent the facts of socialism in terms of photography." Kushner: "But it is quite clear to me that Rodchenko is wrong to claim that the revolution does not consist in photographing workers' leaders instead of making portraits of [Czarist] generals. This is precisely where the revolution lies.... There could not have been any leaders before the revolution, inevitably there must have been generals. It is unthinkable that there are generals after the revolution, but leaders are essential and do exist.... According to every revolutionary-proletarian photographer the essence of the past revolution is based on this change."
For Eisenstein, photography—montage in film—was both a depiction and a process. Montage was used to show the construction of the image of the leader with its religious foundations (which has been replaced in the West by family foundations for the leader). This process of deconstruction within the film is duplicated on another level as a narrative-historical movement to recognition in action. So that in October, the dispersing crowd being fired upon by the Provisional Government's army, that follows from the images of a statue of the Czar being overturned during the February revolution, is raised up and replaced by the sequence of the Red Army attacking the Winter Palace during the October Revolution. This crowd was no Hollywood cast of thousands. It was literal and had its source in mass-spectacle re-enactments such as "The Storming of the Winter Palace" on November 7, 1920 in Petrograd with its cast of 10,000 and audience of 100,000. No longer are we treated to the elevated image of autocracy, nor yet to those of the cult of personality of Stalin that persists to today. At that time, a public found expression for its own political representation in mass performances such as "Toward a Worldwide Commune" which was staged on the steps of the Exchange Building in Petrograd, July 19, 1920 with a cast of 4,000 and audience of 45,000.
RITUAL OF SUCCESSION
For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism. The profane existence of error is compromised as soon as its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [plea on behalf of hearth and home] has been refuted. Man, who has found only the reflection of himself in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a superman, will no longer feel disposed to find the mere appearance of himself, the non-man, where he seeks and finds his true reality. The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man.
Marx, "A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"
Images of leadership appear in times of crisis—clearly in politics, disguised in other cultural forms. We can examine how they appear, by whom they are announced and by whom they are assumed or believed. Why, for example, should a class find its image in a single figure rather than in itself, especially when this figure, or party, serves as a means to seize state power? This question has been asked historically and once again today: Why did the masses desire their own repression under Fascism? But instead of analyzing fascist representations, crowds and investment of images there, we should more urgently concentrate on the conditions of contemporary representations and their disinvestment. These representations are not historical or sub-cultural but are found on contemporary economic conditions. Their disinvestment signals new social set-ups. For us, it is more a question of why we should find our image in terms of American capitalism, power and culture—in other words, in American leadership.
"Notes on the Sumptuary Destruction of Leaders"
Current images of leadership indicate what order the West wants to maintain. Taking a cross-section through the media in late 1983; besides the spectacle of absence of Andropov, we can observe two spectacles being played out for our benefit: Kennedy and Sadat. These spectacles reinforce the image of the benevolent but firm leader, a leader who does not act out of interest but ideals of humanity. These mythological images lend an authority and human face to a current American administration that rules by blunt force.
The first spectacle is a glorification at a distance for purposes at home - the essence of mythology or ideology. The current American television movie on Sadat's life is as much a glorification of American media itself in its "role" as mediator of leaders. Sadat as an Arab is an Other. The West cannot afford to mythologize this Other, except as a caricature, unless he can be domesticated, unless his image can be used for consumption at home. This image then has two purposes: to secure and glorify American interests, initiatives and prestige in the Middle East; to create a portrait of a type of leader. An advertisement for the television movie reads: "He was a voice of reason in a corridor of madness. A giant of a man—complex and resolute. A moment of terror ended his life, but not his accomplishments." His was a voice of reason, because now his image is susceptible to use by the West; he was a voice of reason, reason defined as Western in interest, because he could be used for Western ends. In the movie, Sadat is portrayed as acting individually outside of any political or economic forces—even within his own country—except as a personal response to American Presidential suggestions. He is made into one of the great men of history who can forge history individually, by his own will, in order to make us believe that great men can act that way. "One of the few leaders whose bold imagination and personal courage seemed to have made a difference to history," writes Newsweek. This image of Sadat does not have to accord to a reality. He is a symbol for the resolve and will of the single leader who acts outside of partisan or political interest, who acts according to conscience, human ideals and universal values, but who often, therefore, acts outside of constitutionality. Thus he is a surrogate for the current American president, who acts as a figurehead, and class agent, of a great power that can impose its will outside of other national interests
The second spectacle is a mythology in a process of deification.On the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, life magazine published a spread on the man and the memory, on images of the man and his family, not his policies, and the memories of those common Americans who had some connection with those four days in November. These memories are often based on photographs of the event: Zapruder's film, the photograph of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald, etc. Between part of the magazine on the man and the memory,this statement is set:"Of the 135 million Americans now living who recall the events that began on November 22, 1963, most know exactly what they were doing when they heard about the shooting of John F. Kennedy. It was that kind of moment—terrifying, deeply painful, beyond rationality—and one could struggle back to a bearable reality only by framing the huge unacceptable truth, a vital young President gone, within the banal margins of one's own life." With the emphasis added here it is apparent that glorification takes place at a cost. Deification only takes place against the devaluing of our own experience. In a reverse of the Soviet images above, the leader is framed in representation, "a vital young president gone", against our own mundanity. Leaders and media recognize one another; a complicity is set in motion outside people's democratic representation and rights by the power of political office and the power of the media.
FUNCTION OF THE WIDOW
During the early days of pop art, Andy Warhol took newspaper photographs of violence and icons of movie stars as subjects for his silk-screen paintings. There were car crashes, race riots, suicides, and electric chairs, caught in the casual indifference of newspaper print, and at the same time, as if by contrast, the calm, hieratic close-ups of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. The conjunction shows more than mass fascination with these two types of media imagery. More than an opposition, there is an essential tie between representations and disasters and icons.The middle term between disaster and icon, condensed in Warhol's paintings of Jackie Kennedy after the assassination of John Kennedy, shows that death can be represented only as the catastrophic, and its violence displaced by the iconic.
The scapegoat must resemble the person it substitutes (which it represents, i.e., stands for) in order that the violent and vengeful impulse be satisfied. This is the mimetic function of the scapegoat. But, at the same time, the scapegoat must be different, recognized as different, in order that it not be confused with the original object and continue the chain of vengeance. It must represent the violence that afflicts the ·community, allowing the community to differentiate by excluding what is different: the violence of the other. Representation is a marking preparing for exclusion. Marking is a stigma, which allows the surrogate victim to be identified as different;it sets the limits of exclusion; and it locates the marks of violence for sacrifice.
"Violence and Representation"
The fascination of Western media with the widow or first lady before or after assassination reveals her to have a domestic function. That domestication is double, as wife and widow, respectively: to familiarize the image and authority of the leader;to domesticate the crowd after assassination by being a relay between one image of the leader and another. At that point a new first lady steps into the chain to domesticate the new image of the leader .
The widow is a supplement and remainder that is activated as a third term between leader and crowd only on the occasion of assassination. She stands between the disorder of the crowd and that death. The image of the widow channels the violence, grief and released sexual energy of the crowd during a dispelled social order into the image of her own grief in order to transfer that crowd back to the single image of the leader and legitimate authority. It is a representational strategy to contain and retain that crowd in an order while the transfer of succession takes place.
We can look at one case through the example and techniques of representation of one magazine, Paris Match. We can start with the cover before examining the specific and consistent techniques of representation inside the magazine. Unlike most other news magazines, this cover has an image of the mourning Jihan Sadat. The widow stands for her husband, as a remainder. As the caption puts it: "He had the courage to open the dangerous way to peace. She remains dignified in her distress."
The fifty pages of this coverage open not with Sadat but with his successor, as the issue deals in every sense with succession. The cover announces"Who is Mubarak, the new Pharaoh?" A readership wants to know, who is Mubarak ? The world wants to know, before it can consume him, is he a danger to peace, and oil shipments? The new leader is given to us as a danger, the unknown, and for consumption. On the cover, he is already reduced to consumption, to a caricature and myth: "the new Pharaoh." Immediately inside the magazine, we are confronted with the "incarnation of the future of Egypt" in an image of men's mourning. Here, alternatively, is a threat to peace and the strong arm of peace. We turn the page and are reassured by Mubarak at home, in his sweater with wife and children: "Like Jihan Sadat, his wife is half English." The leader is domesticated. He is an Other and the Same—a leader and a husband and father.
Further along we are treated to the same economy of the leader, regal representation and dead body, in the wife and widow. Two double pages have an image of Jihan Sadat as first lady, followed by her grief. The turn of the page is used to show that passage, but it is also a mark of irony. This has two effects, two concepts that it sets up for the reader: inevitability and reversibility. The turn of the page reveals and explicates the reversible: Jihan Sadat as first lady, Jihan Sadat in mourning. On the first page "a few minutes before the tragedy, beside the one who is going to succeed her" (there is succession for women just as there is for men), the two sit watching the military parade. Not only is reversibility of social position implied here (along with rivalry) in this one photograph, but also the inevitability (and irony) of history: "They ignore, that in a few. seconds, their destiny will be cruelly reversed." This set of photographs then has a double warning of reversibility and inevitability with one meaning and message: be content with one's own life; leave history and glory to the leaders.
TOWARDS A MASS PHOTOGRAPHY
Each mundane moment revealed by the photograph is given a significance as a preparation for an historic event. Unforeseen, that moment must be prepared by a framing and representation. The images of Jihan Sadat and Suzanne Mubarak are not only given secondary roles; they assist history ushering the climactic moment of the assassination. They wait for their husbands and history. The following photographs of the assassination are uncontrollable; they are history itself: these "photos enter into history," as the cover imports. These photographic events, nearly as accidental and unintentional as events themselves, are given a representational frame. We shall have to liberate the photograph in the way the crowd has to liberate itself from the leader.
Philip Monk, "Violence and Representation," Impulse, 8:4 (Autumn
1980); reprinted in ZG, no. 2 ( 1981).
Philip Monk, "Notes on the Sumptuary Destruction of Leaders," ZG,
no. 8 (1982).