Battle of Symbols
Preface & Introduction
The Battle of Symbols looks at news for approximately two months - beginning with September 11th and ending around November 20th - from the perspective of symbols and symbolism.
Like that great architecture for symbol narratives called screenplays, this particular story is divided into major narrative parts or acts. Part one involves the set-up or the introduction of the battle as well as the introduction of the protagonist hero and antagonist villain. The nature of the battle is suggested and the major elements of symbols and symbolism briefly outlined.
Part two centers around the dualities of symbols and the various forms of battles between heroes and the villain seen from both historic and contemporary perspectives. There is also the suggestion of a number of common alignments between heroes and villains. In effect, a re-working of the Pogoesque philosophy that the enemy is us, a reversioning of the Jungian "shadow" theory.
Part three offers an examination of symbol application in the early stages of the battle. There is the identification of the formal institutions and embodiments of the American symbol machine: symbol creation in Hollywood and Madison Avenue, symbol communication in media, symbol management in Washington and ultimately symbol understanding by members of the consumer "audience" if indeed this is even a real possibility in the first place. At the end, there is more of a tentative summing up conclusion rather than a climatic, cinematic resolution. Some type of sequel (or sequels) is perhaps called for and hopefully other young symbol maestros will step up to the plate.
A few lingering concerns should be addressed up front. There might be an objection from some that our symbol "lab" was constructed too close in time to the events of September 11th for the "dust" to have settled allowing for the revelation of some larger perspective, or, symbol. Of course it was one of the most news saturated periods in history perhaps even the most. For example, at the end of November 2001, the Internet Archive Project estimated there were 500 million Web pages created surrounding September 11th. This represents five terabytes of information or 1/20th of the total Internet archive of 100 million terabytes tracked by the project since 1996.
Yet behind all the loudness of news content attempting to explain the events and repercussions of September 11th, there was a surprising quietness on the western front of symbol- making machinery in America. The great symbol power station was "down" and in search of new images and story dynamics. Hollywood and Madison Avenue were in a state of confusion trying to decipher the shifting mass mood. And even the Pentagon admitted it needed help with its announcement of a type of "science fair" contest of ideas from the general populace to fight terrorism. In effect, it was a period of time that offered a rare opportunity to look at American symbolism, a time that most likely would not come again for a long time.
Finally, while our "lab" may have used input data from that two month period after September 11th, we hope the reader will see that our ideas and theories about symbolism apply to a far larger period of time. The battle of symbols started long before September 11th and it will continue long after any formal victories (or defeats) are announced by Washington. What really is at issue here is the application of symbols to a global arena and outside the largely American context they have been contained in for many years.
The battle of symbols will provide the context for a new "cold war" some suggest is beginning to start. If this happens, news of the war will retreat from the front pages of newspapers and web sites to that perpetual context of world view, felt more than heard, sensed more than seen. The grand symbol making machinery of America will slowly start up again.
But it will always be a little different world after September 11th. New heroes will emerge and perhaps a villain will finally be determined. A new American mythology might even arise to contain the symbols. And in all of this there is the possibility (and certainly the hope) that Americans will come to understand the symbols they have created as much as the rest of the world (especially our emerging enemies) understands them.
"You see, nothing is more thrilling than trying to understand. One comes to see that life is great and beautiful, that nonsense and stupidity do not always triumph."
Interview with Pierre Courthion (1942)
C.G. Jung Speaking
The following is an attempt to apply theories and ideas about symbolism to the events surrounding September 11th and the new war America (and the world) is engaged in.
In the 90s I had written two long works on symbolism - Symbolism of Place (1995) and Symbolism of Popular Culture (1997). I had not sought a publisher for either one. Rather I planned on publishing them myself on my web site when I finally got around to putting it up.
But in a sense both large works saw publication through a number of articles and reviews in magazines, journals and ezines. The big works seemed like "mother ships" sitting in the bay from which the smaller "invasion craft" of articles attacked the beaches.
All of this was fine for a while and allowed for further refinement of ideas and theories. After a while, though, these smaller "invading" applications seemed lacking in some sense. A larger canvas was called for but large canvases were hard to find in the postmodern relativism of the 90s.
And too, one wondered about motives for such a project. Whose side was I on anyway? The "hidden persuaders" of Hollywood and Madison Avenue or the pundit cultural critic revealers? The choice seemed somewhat stifling - between joining the ranks of the "hidden persuaders" and helping them be more persuasive, more hidden, or marching with the cynical band of cultural critics and revealing the old "Wizard of Oz" behind the curtain? America didnt need any more deception but at the same time she also seemed to need a new type of hope and magic.
These questions seemed unusually "noisy" at the beginning of one summer and I realized some type of new answer was demanded.