The Power of ‘Evil’

NEW YORK, Jan 09, 2003 — First, there was Austin Powers.

His nemesis, a cartoonish character called “Dr Evil” was out to conquer the world.

Then there was Osama bin Laden denouncing the west as “evil” infidels prompting President Bush to respond with the E-word, denouncing “evil doers” and later the “axis of evil.”

The term evil had become a modern update for the term Satan.

Recently, Hollywood unleashed the latest James Bond movie with North Korea demonized as the adversary of the iconic British agent 007. North Korea had become the new evil empire on the movie screens and soon assumed the same on Washington’s radar screen,

In the days of yore, movies mirrored life; now it’s the other way around.

This week’s Newsweek put North Korea’s Kim Jong i1 on its cover. What do they call him? “North Korea’s Dr. Evil.”

The circle has been closed.

Its not enough to comment on the absurdities of all this. We need to look more closely at how and why the People’s Democratic and an often Surreal Republic of Korea, has come to play the role it has on the front lobes of the world’s political attention.

Where did this designation of “evil” come from? We have the current New Yorker to thank for partially answering this question.

The magazine’s Talk of the Town column references a new book by David Frum, a Canadian who wrote that A of E speech for his Excellency in Chief: “In the book, he writes that when drafting duties for last year’s State of the Union Message were being doled out, his assignment was “to provide a justification for a war,” specifically a war with Iraq. After much cogitation, he hit upon the idea of likening what the United States has been up against since September 11, 2001, to the villains of the Second World War.

“The phrase he came up with was “axis of hatred.” Higher-ups changed this to “axis of evil,” to make it sound more “theological.” Although Frum initially intended his “strong language” to apply only to Iraq, Iran was quickly added. (You can’t have a single-pointed axis.)

“North Korea was an afterthought. It got stuck in at the last minute, but Frum doesn’t quite explain how or why. Perhaps it was meant to echo the global span of the original (Baghdad-Tehran-Pyongyang equals Berlin-Rome-Tokyo). Perhaps it was an application of the rhetorical Rule of Three (our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor; of the people, by the people, for the people; blood, sweat, and tears). Perhaps it was the product of intoxication brought on by an excess of moral clarity.

“Most likely, it was simply oratorical affirmative action, bussed in to lend diversity to what would otherwise have been an all-Muslim list. One thing it was not was the product of careful policy deliberation. It had not been, as they say, staffed out. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the State Department’s East Asia hands learned about it only hours before the speech, and they were not happy.

What we learn here is that the phrase comes from the world of propaganda more than politics. And it seems calculated, as scholar Laura Redieh writes in the new book, “Collateral Language,” just published by NYU Press.

“The rhetoric of Bush’s speeches and news conferences shows the construction of the kind of ideology of good versus evil that is meant to justify a violent militaristic response,” she writes.

“Furthermore, he employs clever rhetorical strategies that play on both our wishful thinking and our fears in order to persuade by emotion rather than logic.”

This seems to reflect so much of the fear-based and anxiety-provoking advertising on the news itself — endless commercials for new drugs and home protection devices.

It is not coincidental that the SUV and especially the Hummer has become the car du jour because they look and often drive like tanks and military vehicles.

Consumer products are also being refashioned in the same way with all the TV news programs and even science shows like NOVA matter-of-factly showcasing all the latest weaponry that turns real war into an extension of video games by other means. Increasingly these reports seem like a marketing tool for a Pentagon Home Shopping Network.

Reported Business Week in a piece on what is now called network-centric warfare: “Once on this network, they could call for air strikes, direct reconnaissance planes, or plot the movements of the most powerful flying force on Earth — all from their laptop in a café (or, more likely, at a secured facility).”

“All you need is Internet Explorer,” says Doug Barton, the director of technology for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, based in Gaithersburg, Md.

How cool. Or is it? Is Internet Explorer all the world needs?

Critics reject this lexicon of evil, whenever and if their criticisms are ever heard or seen in our media. And that’s the final worry in the use of “evil” — as constructed and deployed by politicians on TV.

As “Collateral Language” explains, the ambiguities inherent in, and the fears evoked by, the rhetoric of evil forcefully silence dissent.

And that may be the most evil among all the evils in and outside the axes we operate within.

— News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and writes a daily weblog on Mediachannel.org. He is the author of Media Wars,


Danny Schechter Executive Editor Mediachannel.org http://www.mediachannel.org Executive Producer, Globalvision.Inc 1600 Broadway, #700 NY NY 10019 USA 212-246-0202 F: 212 246-2677

Leave a comment