Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Apocalyptic Premediations

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Apocalyptic Premediations

Article excerpt

"And although for us the End has perhaps lost its naive imminence, its shadow still lies on the crises of our fictions; we may speak of it as immanent." Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (1966, 6)

"Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion." John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007, 1).

[1] Scholars, journalists, political theorists, and others have noted the extent to which evangelical religious traditions shaped the policies of George W. Bush, particularly in his dualistic worldview, his belief in divine providence, and his resistance to science (including evolutionary theory, anthropogenic global warming, and stem cell research). While it is certainly true that Bush's beliefs and policies were shaped by fundamentalist religious doctrines, insufficient attention has been given to the ways that Bush's tactics mirrored those of religious leaders, particularly leaders in the apocalyptic tradition. In both cases, power was derived by using what media theorist Richard Grusin calls premediation, a strategy which enables a broad manipulation of affect. (1) I will argue that Bush, like the apocalypticists who preceded him, sought to instill a sense of fear, insecurity, and vulnerability in the populace, resulting in a heightened sense of unquestioning obedience. According to Grusin:

   Unlike prediction, premediation is not chiefly about getting the
   future right. Premediation is not like a weather forecast, which
   aims to predict correctly the weather for tomorrow or the weekend
   or the week ahead. In fact, it is precisely the proliferation of
   future scenarios that enables premediation to generate and maintain
   a low level of anxiety ... (2004, 28-29).

In other words, premediation is not about foreseeing imminent future events, but creating an immanent affective state. Grusin cogently explains how this premediatory logic can serve as an "affective prophylactic" (Premediation Book Manuscript, 61), diminishing future shocks, since they have already been lived through in some form. However, I am more interested in exploring the use of premediation as a tool for control. By evoking an ambiguous future catastrophe which could happen at any moment, leaders can rally the support of a frightened and anxious populace looking for protection.

[2] To see the potential power of such a strategy, it is instructive to note the response of Americans to the September 11th attacks. The intense anxiety and uncertainty that dominated in the post-9/11 climate led many Americans to put faith in authoritarian structures, particularly political and religious ones. For example, polls indicated that support for George W. Bush increased dramatically after the terrorist attacks (Moore 2003). There was also a spike in church attendance after 9/11 (Skitka, Bauman and Mullen 2004), and 71% of Americans said that "religion was increasing its influence in American life," the highest percentage ever recorded for that question (Newport 2007). Such data make it clear that the interests of political and religious hegemony are often best served when a populace is fearful and anxious. Thus, when actual disasters are not taking place, premediating potential disasters is one effective method for instilling a perpetual sense of dread which bolsters faith in authoritarian institutions. I will argue that this was one of the primary tactics of the Bush administration. I will also argue that this premediatory logic cannot be fully understood without considering its apocalyptic underpinnings.

[3] It will be useful to begin by closely analyzing the book of Revelation, the quintessential apocalyptic text. (2) Throughout this essay, I will emphasize Revelation's affective dimensions. I do not wish to minimize the accomplishments of historical-critical biblical scholars, who have persuasively linked much of the imagery of Revelation to specific individuals and events of the first century. …

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