Live-Feed: Komplex Abba-Meinhof Mania 2.0

Rupert Goldsworthy

"Andreas Baader didn't have a record player in his cell. It was removed on September 5th 1977."

Cienfuegos Anarchist Review, No.5.

"I think the government really doesn't know anything and we will probably never learn the truth." Pastor Helmut Ensslin told Italian newspaper Lotta Continua on November 5th 1977, circa two weeks after the death of his daughter. "And they advise us to give up and keep silent. Everything is so perfect that it really reminds me of National Socialism in some parts. Many don't know anything about it. Others don't want to hear about it; they don't want to be disturbed in their comfort, they have their Bild newspaper; the sport of hunting the special offers in the department stores, their holidays and the lottery. Springer (publisher of Bild newspaper) has actually won after ten years."

In a discussion of terror strategics during the 1970s, media theorist Melani McAlister notes that in the first wave of televisual terror: "coverage of hijackings and bombings offered a "magnifying effect," similar to "a form of political advertising." Like the sponsors of early television who produced shows as vehicles for their commercials, media terrorists now provided drama-murder and kidnapping, live-in return for advertising. More or less consistently, the media gave the hijackers and bombers the kind of political status they were seeking." (From Slocum, Melani McAlister, "Iran, Islam, and the Terrorist Threat, 1979-1989," 2005). McAlister highlights the para-osmotic interrelation between terrorist cells and mediocrats. Terroristic media interventions of the 1970s produce sensational live news feeds that became eye-catching cogs of the "info-tainment" industry.

Since that time, Seventies on-screen terror tactics are downsized and re-purposed in the contemporary entertainment cycle. The techniques of the hostage video are re-hijacked in the total-spectrum-domination of the reality TV spectacle. The live-feed humiliation trips of Seventies kidnap footage are re-enfolded in Big Brother's group mobbing and the rhetoric with which Simon Cowell dices his victims' failings on camera. The celluloid pop opera Mamma Mia seems to torment its audience with the infantilizing force-fed-feel-good surveillo-logic reminder that at heart every body "needs a hug" and the Extreme Makeover knife.

The strange dichotomy: Images associated with violent anti-capitalism are dŽtourned in bleeding-edge artworks that then develop currency in a high-end capitalist cultural marketplace, traded and collected by the same demographic-industrialists-who had been earlier targets of left-wing terrorism. What synaptic strand viral connects ownership and the need to assimilate the oppositional?

Like Che, Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF) are subjects ripe to be re-tooled as commodity culture precisely due to their appeal as icons of resistance to the market.

Former RAF member Inge Viett in Die Tageszeitung in 2007: "Our linguistic terms and symbols-for us a passionate anticipation of a different way of life, were filled with historic inspiration drawn from the historic unbreakability of a worldwide class struggle. These terms and symbols were for us verbal and visual weapons that labelled our enemy, and signalled our solidarity and unity to our allies. They stand today in the service of the ruling forces. Their empty shells now hang from the ideological boarding hooks of the imperialistic robbers and their media hordes, their court historians, and system experts. Our linguistic terms and symbols have become filled with chains of association from the world of the consumer and from the world of war, from the Empire of Zombies." (From Die Tageszeitung "Lust auf Freiheit. Unsere Geschichte als Klassenkampf von unten verteidigen." May 12th 2007).

"Ginsberg saw himself and his friends as the true heirs of the modernist tradition. [..]... For the modernist tradition had to be rescued from the tenured philistines who had falsely appropriated it, the Van Dorens and the Trillings and the Tates and the Blackmurs, and all the other pusillanimous time-servers who claimed to be at the center of American literature, which was controlled invisibly from the universities by the teacher-writers. Ginsberg wanted to break their strangehold, to get away from their faculty tea prose, from their bloodless, gutless, overintellectual approach."

(Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. p.286).

Who owns the RAF? The ethics of using terror signs in academic corridors as sigils of outrage and danger, as art-school-masonry, art McGuffins, vacated symbols of danger that now become signs of urban ennui / anomie, something that is endlessly name-checked, terror chic'd.

In certain settings, a type of mob rule consensus can still exert domain, where particular citizens feel entitled to publicly enact their own regimes of correction, denial, and punishment. Such elements do this (presumably) in the name of maintaining-even essentializing-their notion of respectful social and linguistic order. Unlike the state-legitimated model of copyright control, the unauthorized use of a terror group sign or, say, the Hell's Angels "colours" provokes a different kind of "forbidding" injunction from extra-legal forces-often enacted in a more random way, via threats of physical violence from gang members, associates, rivals, or from "lobby groups."

"I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it."

In June 2007, Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz found herself forced to make a public apology on a trip to Peru for wearing an army green handbag with a red star and a Mao slogan in Chinese that read "Serve the People." To some in Peru, the bag and its slogan evoked painful memories of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency that fought the government in the 1980s and early 1990s in a bloody conflict that left nearly seventy thousand people dead. According to the Associated Press, one prominent Peruvian writer claimed that "Diaz should have been a little more aware of local sensitivities when picking her accessories."

The Diaz story illuminates this pattern of random social policing of outlaw signage. Diaz was compelled to make a public statement to express her regrets for this unintended faux-pas: Her apology suggests how particular kinds of outlawed signage are conceived in the public domain, however unintentional or unknown their meaning to the wearer of such a sign. Although renegade signs are not usually controlled directly by legal means, they are patrolled by other forces (i.e. the general public and lobby groups). In the blame storm of social policing swirling around taboo signage, outlaw signifiers exist on the fringes due to their potentially-problematic, banished, interstitial, and/or redundant status.

Following the release of the film Baader-Meinhof Komplex in 2008, the home of scriptwriter and RAF historian Stefan Aust was attacked with bricks and paint bombs. Aust said in The Telegraph: "We thought the whole thing was history, so I was surprised - shocked."