The Rodney King Global Mass Media Artwork
a short story by Luís Filipe Silva
One day, suddenly, they were there. They all looked the same: the same sentence written in fat, solid, dark capital letters upon a hypnotizing whiteness. The billboards were spread all over downtown Los Angeles, a total of one thousand two hundred of them, which meant a fifth of the whole network of public ads. Their conception was conservative, in the sense that they included neither electronic apparatus nor animated figures: just printed paper, pinned to stainless metal. It had been that idea of humility and simplicity that, along with the huge size of the things, had held the attention of the general public since the very first day.
Further down the story, black office secretary Kathy Beanfield would declare, "We were used to shining, spinning, running, all-but-screaming billboards and there it was, amid the bravado, a quiet, mysterious ad, no images, no brands, just a phrase, a question that needed an answer."
Some of the locals remembered seeing the ad while they paced the streets or drove through the city, and getting curious about what it meant, what was its commercial purpose. Marketing people knew all about the technique of holding back the final advertisement just to get more attention, but still even they could not understand why its makers had placed them in such a wide city area combined with such a narrow focus. Ads in the papers and cable channels would have got them the same coverage with lower costs: the street-fixed marketing medium had seen better days, and no amount of creativity or just plain smartness would get as much attention as other media. In the end, those same marketing people, after a few phone calls, would discover two intriguing facts: first, that no one knew who was behind the move, and second, that the ads had only been placed in downtown LA, not in Beverly Hills, Orange County, San Fernando Valley, nor in the other suburbia. Only one thing was certain: a lot of money was involved; that certainty came from intuition rather than rumor, though.
The majority of the citizens, tired of so many advertisements
and products, and of the never-ending drought that was plaguing
the city, went about their business, never paying the billboards
another moment's notice, forgetting the simple phrase
because it could mean so many things: free from corruption in government, free when the nation had had its moment of social hope before the Reagan mess, free from Japanese depredation of the economy, free from AIDS, free from gangs and drug dealers, free when one could walk the streets at ease. A panoply of freedom images that were the shadows against the wall, the picture of dreams and desires from an America whose splendor had long since been stolen.
In the following days, the number of billboards grew. The Marlboro Man was replaced by the intriguing question; in the place of some bunnies' smiling faces there were fat and dull words; and Coca-Cola's liquid youth grew to an ageless, motionless idea. In less than a week, wherever they looked, the LA citizens saw the question. It was everywhere, on all the walls, drawn against the sky, illuminated at night. To be free, when? To be free, how?
The answer came by the end of the week. It came only once, in prime time, on every local TV station. It was broadcast simultaneously, for the amazement of the technicians and directors themselves... the same soundless sequence of images was shown all around: half a minute of Rodney King being beaten up by the police; three seconds of the question; a whole minute of the 1992 ghetto upheaval during the hours after the court declared the cops innocent. The final seconds showed the near killing of the white truck driver, Reginald Derry, seen around the globe on CNN. The broadcast ended with the same phrase, but now appearing black upon white, a violent, near-rejoicing blackness.
The Mayor's reaction couldn't have been swifter. James Colburn, it is told, who was watching NBA, had such a violent shock that he ran to the phone and started dialing his office people, instructing them to find out who had been responsible. His wife had never seen him so distressed. According to her, James mumbled non-stop the following words: "Not again the nightmare, not again the nightmare." The senator's kid sister had died during the 92 upheaval.
James' hasty inquiries revealed no more than what the marketing people already knew; nevertheless, he told his office to focus their efforts on finding out who was responsible.
They found that the TV stations had established contact with third parties who, in turn had done the same with agents and representatives; the latter individuals (that is, those of them who hadn't fled town in the following weeks) would confess to having been contacted by an unrecognizable voice which had instructed them about a package with money they would shortly receive. The bank money orders were traced as far as Singapore, but there the fake companies dissolved like fog into thin networked air. The Mayor's investigation didn't produce results, but his influence made the media react against the ad, made them sensible to the danger of playing around with such touchy subjects.
The Los Angeles Times editorial was considered an exemplary piece. It spoke against the rude insensitivity to ethnic questions that seven years earlier had only inflamed the problem. It warned cynically that if the marketing campaign had been started by an anti-racist institution, then it was not the best way to express their ideals. If its mere goal was to promote a new product, it showed an inexcusable social attitude, and its makers should be severely punished by the market. We're tired of benettons who exploit our suffering for their personal gain, shouted the small column. We're tired of sophisticated marketing that forces itself into our lives using shocking pictures and pretending to be liberal.
And the letters poured in. First they went to the Mayor's office, than they fell like heavy rain upon the newspapers. Confessions of dread. Demands for an explanation. Asking that some action, any action, was taken. They were written, almost all of them, by white people who had lived though the three days of racial nightmare and wanted no reprise. Some were written by black people, the wealthy ones.
James' assistants didn't ignore the trend, and they were not slow to identify what was behind it: the electorate was resenting the fact that their Mayor was black, and the current situation only made them remember it more strongly.
James Colburn knew, with the spinal certainty that only a politician can, that his image would not come through the event unstained, no matter what happened. His voters were losing confidence.
To make it worse, the global economy had seen better days. Unemployment littered the city like something foul coming out of the gutters, and violence had risen to unprecedented levels. There were more gangs out there, more ghastly deaths each minute, more work for the Police Department. The electronic billboards which had the task of forcing into the citizens' minds that brutal reality showed a daily body count of hundreds plus. This year the police had already been involved in dozens of shoot-outs with Hispanic or black kids, resulting in a large number of casualties for both sides and in a public disenchantment with the PD. The ads couldn't have come at a worse time.
Or at a better one, thought James. If they had been placed in times of general contentment and quietness, they would have had far less impact. Now, they could start a new social upheaval. That was the real danger. Their aggressiveness was more like a... command, an order to march, rather than to complain. However, the Mayor believed he had brought things under control by restricting the kind of ads the media could accept, for the sake of public safety.
Then one morning, the streets were covered with thousands of printed
flyers, mountains of paper piled up on the sidewalks, fallen upon
the cars, glued to the walls. Black, fat letters against a white
Everywhere, people were reading them, discussing them. It was impossible not to notice them: they were all around, whitening the roads, new strata under people's feet. It had finally snowed in Los Angeles, the only kind of snow it could know.
The gangs started to react that same day. By the afternoon, the police were being called out to multiple robberies in convenience stores.
It was time to call the FBI, James decided.
The agents appeared at the dead of night, stealing the Mayor and the PD chief from the coziness of their homes. Their behavior was as determined and professional as that of an executive with a million dollar deal in his hands; they even wore the same neutral gray-blue three piece suit, and underneath it the everlasting white American shirt, everything topped by a respectful tie.... a true uniform in the classical sense.
James was impressed by the serenity the agents showed in dealing with sensitive matters and how they put topics aside once they had straightened them out: there, this is settled, let's move on. He was also impressed by what he didn't perceive: the hints of humanity he was accustomed to seeing in his city cops. These men didn't belong to the streets; they might work there, but theirs was a wider goal, a less earthly loyalty. They were reluctant to attempt premature explanations, though they hinted that someone might be trying to provoke a civil insurrection. They dismissed the Mayor and the chief when they realized they wouldn't get more information. Then they got to work.
During the next day, most of the pamphlets were collected by the city cleaning services, causing a small but inconvenient drain in the city budget; the remaining papers were dirty and stained, torn apart and walked-upon: a new presence in town. What people saw were not cries of protest but garbage. This visibly calmed down the Bureau; they decided to cover up the billboards, on the legal grounds that they disturbed public peace. If someone wanted to reclaim his rights for free speech, let him come to them...
Meanwhile, the assaults diminished, the enthusiastic black and Mexican young men cooled down, and the police presence was intensified in the most volatile areas, surrounding downtown with an invisible wall. It meant the city budget would get drained even further, but by then Colburn had already made Washington grant them the status of an emergency situation, backing it up with material support. For the first time in many days, a smile dawned upon the Mayor's face.
The FBI agents started a methodical interrogation of certain sectors of the population. Homeless and beggars, pimps and whores, gang members, people who lived in condos near the pamphlet-dropping sites, newspaper stand owners, waitresses, they were all led inside police stations or questioned where they worked. The results were frustrating and mostly contradictory. Most had seen nothing unusual: one minute the pamphlets weren't there, the next they were. There was no logical reason for it. Some chose fantasy answers, describing pterodactyl-shaped flying creatures that expelled papers through their mouths; aliens with antennae offering people their messages that warned against a corrupt government; garbage trucks in the dead of night, with drivers who wore ski masks on their faces and left packages with pamphlets on the sidewalks. Most stories were dismissed on the simple grounds that, beyond their weird nature, they had been identified by single witnesses alone.
...With the exception of the one about the garbage trucks. Several people from different social strata and city areas had seen them that night; some had been embarrassed by their statements, fearing they might be labeled as nut-cases. The FBI concluded that there might be some element of truth in this version of events. It was not much, but it was the only account where the enemy was even vaguely human.
The billboards were completely covered up by the end of the week. TV and radio stations, newspapers, became suspicious of any strange phone calls, any dubious looking package, any e-mail that referred to the situation from a new perspective. The city was waiting for its hidden opponent's next move.
Then, one night the billboards began to burn.
According to those who saw it happen, the fires began as a mild glow under the billboards. The glow turned red, blowing smoke, and the billboards began to catch fire. The flames went into the air, blackening the walls of nearby buildings, staining with ashes the white smiles of young girls in the other ads. The repelling smell of burning nylon was everywhere; and from afar, one could watch the show of Los Angeles covered with small fires, like funeral flames or candles in church.
The sentence, then exposed, had changed:
GET EVEN, BROTHER!
it said upon a blood-red background. WHITE was painted in a ferocious, animal whiteness, but BROTHER was black and proud of it. Something was not right with the words; they seemed to be held in a haze, as if the air was hot, as if the message itself was fire and was burning up; as if the red color underneath was real liquid blood.
The riots began that very night.
The FBI reacted instantly. While the LAPD was busy trying to break up the violence, and James asked Washington for backup from the National Guard, some agents tried to find out what had made the billboards burn. The most likely explanation was that tiny fire bombs had either been placed after the billboards had been covered (but how was it possible to trigger the simultaneous burning everywhere? and how could the bombs have been placed amid such heavy policing?) or while they were being covered (meaning there were saboteurs or terrorists, something the agents were more familiar with). But the way the billboards caught fire didn't seem right. It was like... spontaneous combustion.
The next move was to analyze the billboards themselves.
They couldn't find anything unusual in the supporting structure. The paper, however, looked different. It really didn't look like paper at all, and it was attached to the metal as a single piece, not in separate sections, as was the normal practice.
The reason soon became obvious: it wasn't paper at all, but an organic sheet, very reactive, that changed colors according to chemical stimuli.
And these stimuli were caused by the thin layer of nanobots that infested it.
Both the laboratory and the warehouse that held the samples underwent strict sterilization. Technicians were placed in quarantine, until any side effects of nanobot exposure could be determined. For the very first time, the new technology, which was being cozily developed far away in Antarctic military bases, had been released to the world, putting people at its mercy: millions of human beings, thousands of air connections.
The Bureau panicked. Then the Army, the CIA, the White House, and all the experts with Security Clearance A who knew about it.
They decided to ask people (at random) for blood and urine samples, with the excuse of protecting them against an incoming international viral plague. They also sampled buildings and walls with billboards, though it was hard to explain why there were so many men in the streets with spacesuits.
Results were negative. Technicians under quarantine didn't suffer any side effects, either. The nanos only worked inside the artificial billboard sheets, or so it seemed. They fed on them and lived in them, but did not reproduce. According to DOD experts, the nanos had short and strict life spans.
The Bureau breathed a sigh of relief, but it didn't calm down. The main questions were still unanswered. Who was using military technology with the purpose of inciting social unrest? How had they got it, in the first place? Maybe they were terrorists, foreign countries, enemies inside Congress itself, enemies of democracy. Was it another round of Oliver Stone-type conspiracy theory, and was it just a trial for the real attack, in Washington, DC? Was it a smoke screen for something completely different? And the most troubling question was: how did they get away with it? Who was in charge of all the false companies and garbage trucks that had distributed the pamphlets? Until answers were found, no one could say that the events would not be repeated.
They thought its origins were racist: an anti-white movement. Street gangs were out of the question: they had neither the money nor the technology nor the patience (but mostly the money) to accomplish such a feat. Forensic evidence suggested an action from abroad: according to lab analyses from Washington, pamphlet ink and paper could have come from France. On the other hand, that might as well be another red herring. Agents felt as if they were moving on continually shifting ground; they were afraid to take the initiative, instead asking their supervisors and conferring with CIA agents working undercover in the main world terrorist groups.
Words continued to shine in endless nano activity. They were embedded in the code itself, and without a doubt there were more sentences than the three the public had seen. Which trigger they would react to was another matter. It could take weeks to find out. The nanos' instruction algorithm was not, it seemed, the same one that the DOD used in Antarctic. In other words: these were not US militia nanos.
But time was running out. The riots continued, mostly in the poorest areas. Theft, attacking white car drivers, the same as had happened years ago: maybe the people involved thought they could make it to prime time on some international channel.
News helicopters overflew the riot areas regularly, commenting live on the situation using swift words and camera shots that looked down upon the mad citizens as if journalists came from a higher moral plane, while in the background the motor went vup-vup. Until someone took offense, broke into a deserted Army arsenal, and sent a missile into the nose of those supreme, untouchable beings.
In TV and radio stations and newspaper agencies all over the world, there was a minute of silence to remember the fallen journalists.
Then they ran like hungry beasts to get exclusive rights to the pictures of the fallen heli.
By now, the President was giving the situation his personal attention. He replaced his speeches that addressed the victims with speeches for the whole nation saying that immediate action would be taken. As it had been predicted by his Image Office, his public appreciation ratings grew by ten points in just half an hour.
His immediate action consisted in sending the Army to end the riots once and for all.
The rioters' response (or maybe the response came from those that had started it all, but it was never discovered) was to detonate five bombs in the metro region. They blew up a whole McDonald's, a Van Nuys mall, a health center, and a home for the retired. The fifth bomb was detonated in a school yard, in the early hours of the morning, before children were supposed to enter. It killed a young black teacher who had come in early to organize the end of year party.
One hundred and eighty dead people. Two hundred injured. Headlines in the Los Angeles Times local edition went from the sober "Is the Riot again among us?" to the presumptuous "Terrorists attack race minorities" or to the radio drama-like "Panic in Metropolis"... excepting the local edition for Beverly Hills, which noted the fact on page 2, because the lead story told of the palm trees that would be replanted by the City Hall.
The next morning, people woke up in terror.
The billboards lay dead on the streets, turned over, torn apart.
They had fallen off unaided, apparently, because the phenomenon
didn't affect the normal billboards. The ones that were not turned
over proclaimed the order
But the real terror was in the walls themselves.
Every house in the city had been covered with violent black graffiti: FREEDOM NOW, in gigantic words, black upon white. It appeared not only on walls but also over other ads' frames, on shop windows, on parked cars, in the asphalt. It covered buildings from ground to top floors, making them the biggest painting canvas in the world. The population, waking up, found the intimacy of their homes full of faces that had fought the racial wars: Rodney King, Martin Luther, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko. As in the streets, these images were everywhere, in walls, in furniture, in objects. One couldn't look away, couldn't run from them.
From time to time, another image was noticed amid the semiotic
chaos: the image of a head with a white hood and the caption
It was this image, more than any other, that made black people turn against white people, who in turn fought back.
Traffic was submerged in an avalanche of human figures that all at once, as if directed, like drops of water in rain, descended on the avenues, crashing through police barriers, tearing apart cars and shop windows and building entrances and everything in its path. It climbed stairs and went up lifts and entered homes in blind madness. Were those people attacking other humans, or just icons? Were they avenging a repression felt through the centuries, or was it a reaction against a semiotic overdose? They were unable to provide an answer, for they could speak no more. They could reason no more. It was as if a latent force in them, a force that had been and would always be, in normal conditions, asleep, had woken up and cast aside those superior, human brain functions. Because those who would survive the coming holocaust did not see human beings, but fierce animals, tangs dripping saliva, eyes that knew no pity.
James didn't waste any time asking the National Guard for help; their first tactic was to build a defense line to stop the violence from spreading. But the riots were already widespread: not a neighborhood, but downtown itself, making it harder to keep that defensive line from breaking apart. Their second tactic was to wait for the anger to subside naturally, but that time didn't seem likely to come. The only way to really stop the insurrection would be to use heavy weaponry, but the Mayor was reluctant to give the order... even though the conflict, feeding on the American pioneer tradition, had enough fire power to rival ex-Yugoslavia.
James Colburn didn't have to worry for long, because the President gave the order in his place. After all, he had a whole nation to account for, and couldn't let the threat spread to the other cities... which had begun their own signs of unrest, promptly quieted down.
The National Guard marched in.
They marched in with the wherewithal to neutralize the enemy's anti-air holdings... they sent strongly armed helis to take out any bastard they found with portable missile launchers. They marched in with a ground force whose aim was to neutralize any hostile groups... the ground force included state-of-the-art tanks that ejected ice water streams and tear gas grenades onto the crowds (since it wasn't having the desired results, someone proposed using real grenades, but the suggestion wasn't accepted). They marched in with harmless chemical and biological means to reduce the opponent's anxiety and violence... instead of tear gas they applied a new, untested product to make the rioters fall asleep; in the long run, its side effects led to brain lesions and epilepsy, but no one knew it at the time.
Hard as it might be, it was clear from the beginning that the National Guard would eventually win. However, when hostages were taken the President feared the worst. He suspected that he wouldn't get much public approval if he ordered those enclaves to be torn down before the world audiences.
His next idea was to use diplomacy.
Diplomacy had the looks of Rodney King. The charismatic figure, whose involuntary video performance in a live police beating had led to the earlier LA riots, was the perfect symbol to address the masses and ask for peace and common sense. Rodney was reluctant. He lived in the Midwest now, in a quiet town where no one knew who he was, and he didn't want to be exposed again to the violence of western urban spaces, since he knew that kind of situation only too well. The upheaval had helped him get the right legal results, but to face the beast again was sheer craziness. The President didn't allow him much choice, though. So Rodney boarded an Air Force plane that same night, destination Los Angeles.
A presidential Image Office writer was put in charge of completing Rodney's speech. He would deliver it from the tenth floor of a building in front of the riot areas. He was driven there inside a tank, under heavy guarded escort.
The sound equipment was already in place. Rodney began to address the audience as brothers, brothers in skin, in blood, in war. He spoke of his own experience at the hands of oppression. He spoke of his capture, of popular reaction, of the angry impotence that everyone felt. And then he concluded, saying that it was wrong, it had been wrong then and it was wrong now, even more so. He reminded that amid the hostages they would find only one or two active racists; the others were as innocent as them: heirs of history and of a culture they did not embrace. Those kinds of behaviors just legitimated racist opinions.
"... so, brothers, let us end this," he added in conclusion, thinking that his memorized text was running out and if they asked him questions he wouldn't know what to say. "Free the hostages and let the city resume its normal life. After all, under our skins, we are all alike. Acting in anger, we are not listening to Martin Luther! For was it not him who said..."
His voice stopped. The crow focused their eyes, trying to look up at the tiny figure. No further sound was heard.
Seconds later, Rodney King's dead body dropped into the street, thirty meters below, like a flag without wind. He hit the pavement with a low, human thump.
The crow didn't react instantly. The ones nearest him saw the cause of death immediately and spread word. Rodney had a burned hole in his forehead the size of a silver dollar.
And, when the crow began to shout, "Treason! Treason! Assassins!
Death to white people!" Los Angeles lit up, echoing that
It appeared on every surface. The words were not quiet. They flew from building to building, across whole streets, through parked vehicles and billboards and other marketing devices. They changed color randomly, grew in size, shrank, and were persecuted by images: Martin Luther speaking, Rodney being beaten up, Martin Luther being arrested, Rodney being beaten up, Martin Luther being shot to death (a fictional image, but the crowd didn't care), Rodney being shot in the head and dropping from the heights.
The crowd went mad.
It was impossible for the National Guard to contain the thousands of people who in a single movement broke through the barriers and drowned the agents in a human wave. White hostages were thrown out of the windows, a mild revenge, as were the security guards escorting Rodney. James Colburn, who though it was the Mayor's duty to be present at the City's good and bad times, and who romantically fantasized himself to be like a sea captain, willing to sink with his ship, saw his dream of glory accomplished: he died in his duty.
The wave flooded the streets. It was like the previous days, only worse. The images on the walls sang along with them, a big show of lights and colors. They acted as if guided by a disturbed consciousness, not by mere and petty little individual minds. The crowd destroyed, burned down, ransacked... and moved on. It spread out.
Only after eight days of military siege and heavy fighting was it possible to say that the situation was under control. Meanwhile, Los Angeles had become a shadow of itself. It was the first American stage of war, for the US landscape had been spared both world wars and a few local, South-American arguments. It would take years and billions of dollars to rebuild downtown LA. The two thousand lives that had been lost couldn't be recovered, though.
Dan Peterberg, a white Jewish survivor of the killings, living nowadays in a small Illinois town, wrote in his book about the last days of the event.
"... when I was a child, I lived among images of violence. My maternal grandparents had walked through the living nightmare of Auschwitz, and, having survived it, considered to be their duty (which, I believe, is a common assumption among all those survivors) to pass on to the future generations the terror, therefore to keep it alive. I, myself, being the second generation's firstborn, was the available target of their stories about theft, abuse, rage and death. I was exposed to photographs and the personal miseries of strangers: people with no more than a dried-up, parched skin upon their bones, still standing up thanks to some miracle, and of others whose heads were down in piles of corpses. I don't criticize my grandparents' decision, let me make it clear: what they suffered should always be remembered, lest it happens again. But, in my case, I felt dispossessed of my childhood innocence. I felt I was learning to hate, instead of learning to love. They died when I was seven, but I was so infected by then that I was never able to hear the German language without some primal shiver taking hold of me (...)
"What was impressing in those stories was the total and complete nazi un-humanity. The so-called process of consented dehumanization. Consented for it was perpetrated by the State with the permission of the German people. When is the turning point? From which moment on did a Jew cease to be seen as a human being and to be classified instead as a bug, something that needed to be exterminated? Germans accused their own lifelong neighbors! (...)
"I found that very moral shift during the fifteen days of terror in LA. People whose differences were merely in skin colors (despite rumors, there were people from all social and cultural strata, so it was not a question of poor individuals against rich ones, as some were led to believe) got themselves trapped in the old trap: they became elitist, powerful. With no morals whatsoever. A few days hence, the convenience stores were being controlled by gang members trying to earn some money from the situation; it was then that differentiation changed its way: ideals can only be maintained when your belly is full. As hunger settled in, moral values shifted again: who had food and medicine had the power. But the situation wouldn't last long: it was consuming itself. It was not Army intervention that made it stop (the Army having been impotent to do anything until then), but sheer dynamics of social anger. It was important to stay alive until the end, and nothing more, and let the world resume its normality (I was finally learning my grandparents' lesson). (...)
"I remember those days in LA as a gigantic social experiment we were made to go through; or maybe, made to learn: the making of an environment that made us go back to a primal, larval state of mind, in which only life and death matter... precisely, in a place stolen from nature by modern technology..."
When the siege ended and experts went in to access damages which they would report back to the President, they found out that the nanobots had left no traces of themselves. Not in the city, not in suburbia, not even in the underground. Lab samples also self-destroyed. The President ordered an analysis to be conducted all over the US; the results were negative. There was no sign that these events would recur in another place.
Of course, that was no warranty at all. The President thought it would be wise to implement a nanotechnology development fund, aiming to find ways of fighting back next time. Los Angeles had been the testing ground of a whole new weapon: it would go down in History as the Hiroshima of modern times.
It was found later on (by Government commissions) that the LA water supply had been contaminated by a chemical product that caused temporary insanity. That revelation was denied by most survivors, claiming that they had felt normal ... that the revelation was another government smoke-screen to relieve social guilt and public impotence.
When the President finally addressed the nation, his tone of voice was the same as Dan Peterberg's, but from a whole different viewpoint:
"We have been victims of a new terrorism," he said his eyes tearful, gazing through silver rimmed spectacles, America inside a round camera hole, "the terrorism of concepts. But maybe that claim isn't true, because that is what racism is, a prejudice, an idea that sinks roots in the absence of experience, that uses our subconscious fears. In Ancient Rome, Christians were accused of eating little children... nowadays we regard such accusations as excuses for the persecution. We also believed we had learned something.
"This new terrorism has existed among us since the dawn of television. Because TV is a global and swift communication device, it can also be used as a global and swift misleading device. It can be used to manipulate and control prejudices... to create them. If you heard it on TV, then it has to be true. But journalists are like us: human. They are also prone to error, to exaggerate reports, spread unfounded rumors.
"So, what can we do to protect ourselves from such information wars? Doubt everything we hear? Criticize everything that is learned and read and seen? Yes, those are steps in the right direction. But what I am asking is this: people from the press, executives, journalists, artists, writers, citizens of the nation, criticize. Be skeptical. We have to change our attitudes. We have to evolve as viewers. It doesn't mean that we should reinstate Censorship all over again," he added in a hurry, "because by doing that we would be denying our greatest achievement: freedom of speech. We are and will continue to be the land of equal opportunity and justice. This is the true democracy, and we will not turn our backs on it, not matter the cost. Even when events like the LA upheaval happen.
"We can no longer pretend that TV is not the face of any culture. If we want our legacy to reach the next generations, we must start to act responsibly. A compromise of honesty and truth in information. The discovery of the atom bomb gave us the power to destroy the planet, but it also made us more mature and aware, so we had the good sense not to use it. Television is the new way, and culture the new weapon. We have entered the visual era. From now on, it will be harder to distinguish truth from fiction, reality from virtuality. We can only defend ourselves if we have high moral standards."
Having finished his speech, the President waited for the technicians to cut him off. He hoped it was not necessary to do it again, that his voice tones and speech assurance levels had come out the right way, that his image advisors would let him go home to rest. Screw it! he thought, if my reputation was not stained by that Californian mess, an unsteady voice won't hurt me.
But, just before he left, he asked one of his advisors to soothe out the tired look in his eyes; after all, it was done by such a simple computer method, and it was not as if he was compromising his moral standards with such an innocent exception.
Translated by the author.
Revised by Keith Brooke.
© Luís Filipe Silva 1997, 1998
This story first appeared in Side Effects, edited by Maria Augusta and António do Macedo (Simetria, Bloco UV--2.o Piso--Porta 11, Outeiro da Vela, 2750 Cascais, Portugal).
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