“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


First, the casualties:
"An American soldier was killed and another was wounded today in a drive-by shooting in central Baghdad, the latest in a series of assaults on the United States military.In a separate incident, two Iraqis were killed when a United States soldier fired into a crowd of protesters this morning.
A United States military spokesman said today that attackers fired on soldiers from the First Armored Division from a passing vehicle. On Tuesday, a soldier from the same division died after being shot in the back by a sniper while on patrol in northern Baghdad."

The Guardian reports a remark from Bremer, who is getting high marks from the likes of Tom Friedman -- a sure sign of incompetence. "Mr Bremer admitted he had too few staff but said: "I don't accept the proposition that we don't know what we are doing."

Now onto Scandal.

Go to NY Magazine to read the delicious summer souffle of an article detailing the feud between Robert Kennedy Jr. and the man who would be Winchell, Dominick Dunne. Dunne, apparently, is in trouble. As readers of Vanity Fair know (and if we did a Venn diagram, would we find LI readers and VF readers in the same circle?), Dunne is the man on the spot when it comes to celebrity murderers. Others have taken the road more travelled, going after who killed the Bob Cranes of the world --but not Dunne. Dunne's daughter, Dominique, was murdered by a semi-celebrity, and Dunne was encouraged to vent, therapeutically, in VF by the ever ingenious Tina Brown. Since then he has gone on to persecute O.J., Kennedy cousins -- innumerable and felonious, all of them, apparently -- and Gary Condit. About Condit he speculated, on a radio show hosted by Clinton's blondie persecutor, Laura Ingraham, that Condit's own special intern was disposed of by being dropped from a plane into the Atlantic -- shades of the Capers case in Delaware! Alas, nothing so gaudy was done to the murdered intern, and Dunne is now seeking an out of court settlement with Condit.

Scandals are interestingly unprobed by the social scientist, who perhaps still believe, a la Daniel Bell, that they are "pseudo-events." . This point is made by Ari Adut, a University of Chicago professor, in a brief, scintillating essay entitled SCANDAL AS EVENT, SOCIAL FORM AND EPISODIC PROCESS: PRELIMINARY NOTES FOR A PHENOMENOLOGY OF SCANDALS. "Phenomenology" might not provide the best set of tools by which to describe or analyze scandal -- as LI readers know, we are Deleuzians around here, with our own idea about event ontology. But the essay is well worth reading. Here is Adut's idea:

...scandal seems to be a perfect total social fact --located at the
intersection of transgression and moral condemnation, group solidarity and social conflict - all privileged objects of sociological imagination. Moreover, scandal is a truly multi-dimensional social phenomenon: a disruptive event, a general social form with a proper grammar, and a distinctive episodic process with identifiable trajectories. It erupts, evolves and dies off in the most disparate social settings and involves the most heterogeneous contents. Scandal feeds on, links and problematizes the standard dichotomies of social theory: micro and macro, the private and public, the subjective and objective, the individual and group, the event and structure..."

For our money, the sociological imagination has failed to grapple with scandal because it has insufficiently problematized seriousness itself. Without understanding how seriousness is instituted, it is impossible to see how scandal has the effects it has. But Adut is still very suggestive about the phenomenon:

"The grammar of a scandal - consisting of specific actor positions, rules and strategies of conjugation between these positions, the objectives of aggrandizement and diminishment, and the antagonistic as well as collective management of contagious disgrace that a scandal disseminates - is autonomous from its content. Distinct performative
acts like denunciation and provocation seem to be the core of any kind of scandal. Furthermore, there seems to be established scandal genres and scandal scripts available for the participants that differentiate the scandal from related phenomena, like gossip and rumor."

Scandal, it seems to us, has played an essential role in generating the order that currently rules us -- that odd combination of populism and conservatism. That ideology seems to create liminal figures who operate as scandal attractors while at the same time remaining fundamentally immune to destructive force of scandal. We are thinking, in particular, of Reagan and Bush. The reason for this is the difficulty establishment organs -- the press, academia, etc. -- have with the attack on the canons of seriousness which these organs have generated. The populist conservative synthesis generates its own canons of seriousness -- in a sense, its own "facts" - and its own system for degrading or elevating agents. When the organs of the establishment encounter the liminal figures of the synthesis -- like Reagan -- they naturally apply those measures (degree of intelligence, responsibility, competence, etc.) to them which are consonant with the structures that make for success of failure of agents within the establishment. Scandal is an inevitable result of the failure of the liminal figure to measure up to the establishment's norm. But scandal takes a peculiar course with these figures -- instead of undermining them, the establishment organs themselves are undermined.

This is why we think that the scandal of the missing WMD is not going to harm Bush in itself -- while we think that Blair, whose legitimacy is intimately bound up with establishment norms, is really threatened by the intelligence deception he was a party to.

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