Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics between the Modern and the Postmodern

By Douglas Kellner | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Reading the Gulf War

Production/text/reception

In previous chapters, I indicated some of the ways cultural studies could analyze how cultural texts transcoded political and ideological discourses on both the macro level of major political events and struggles and the micro level of everyday life. I suggested how cultural studies could also use its readings of cultural texts to illuminate the socio-political events and realities of the era and how analysis of the competing political discourses and struggles could be used as a framework to analyze cultural texts. In this chapter, I will indicate how the methods of cultural studies can be used to analyze and critique political events like the “Gulf War” and will also be concerned with expanding my conception of a multiperspectival cultural studies.

In a sense, the 1990s war against Iraq was a cultural-political event as much as a military one. 1 In retrospect, the Bush Administration and the Pentagon carried out one of the most successful public relations campaigns in the history of modern politics in its use of the media to mobilize support for the war. The mainstream media in the United States and elsewhere tended to be a compliant vehicle for the government strategy to manipulate the public, thereby imperiling democracy which requires informed citizens, checks and balances against excessive government power, and a free and vigorous critical media (see Kellner 1990a, 1992b).

And so cultural studies faces the challenge of explaining how the successful manipulation of the media and public took place during the “crisis in the Gulf and the war against Iraq. A politically active cultural studies should intervene in the key social and political debates of the day and attempt to illuminate major political events and crises, as well as the popular texts of media culture and audience reception and practices. As we shall see, cultural studies is particularly well suited to undertake such tasks and practitoners who wish cultural studies to be political and to connect with the key political events of the era should not shirk such responsibilities. It is also the duty of good citizens to learn techniques of media manipulation and to see through government and commercial propaganda and disinformation, since democracy can only flourish if there are informed and active citizens.

In this chapter, I will thus apply the methods of cultural studies to the text and effects of the “Gulf War” (itself a media construct, as we shall see). I will also

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