All Too Real When Fantasy Becomes Reality

In moving towards an account of the pleasure experienced by the spectator in the act of watching a 'disaster movie' or other fictional representations of a seemingly 'unpleasurable' nature, several models have been considered: identification with a 'hero'; the control of repression by the 'neurotic' or 'non-neurotic' spectator; masochistic and sadistic fantasy; mastery through repetition; or fetishization. These same models are likely to have extended into the spectator's initial experience of the events of September 11, with disorientating effects, as the ability to 'frame' became temporarily inadequate.

Returning first to Freud's notion of the psychopathic character on stage; if one _ considers this model of the spectator/representation relation and the psychical oc process involved in identification with the 'hero', an account of the psychical j= process of watching the first images of September 11 might concern the inability o of the spectator to maintain the conventional and practiced role of the 'hero' o because, firstly - and unlike most disaster movies - there is no 'hero'; secondly, 'good' does not necessarily triumph, effort does not necessarily produce results, and finally the outcome is totally unpredictable. The result, for the spectator of this ¡E disaster, is that there is no longer a tenable position from which to spectate. One ¡o can only stare in shock, in a kind of mesmerized paralysis.

For the 'neurotic spectator' of Freud's theory, the overwhelming effect of the initial images may well have temporarily unbalanced his/her tenuous grip on the boundaries of repression, the result being an upsurge of repressed material leading to a temporary lapse of control (resulting in panic, anxiety and grief). For the 'non-neurotic spectator', this particular event would have caught him/her 'off-guard': distracted by the scale of the event, the boundaries of repression would have been made vulnerable and breached, again resulting in an upsurge of repressed material.

Through nachtraglichkeit - the making sense of earlier experience through later experience - the psychical economy of early sado-masochistic fantasy might have been re-invoked: the notion that these events are happening, but elsewhere (and again, this could be related to Freud's notion of identification with a 'hero', with whom one does not have to die in order to return the world to status quo), evoking contradictory, complex and disturbing responses of simultaneous relief (arising from the recognition that it is happening 'elsewhere') and revulsion (arising from the recognition that it is happening at all, and also from a recognition of the response of relief).

In terms of repetition compulsion, the connection between Freud's theory and the media representation of September 11 is clear. One of the lasting images of the events of September 11 is the image of the second plane impacting on the second tower, replayed again and again throughout the day and over the days which followed, in a global attempt to admit its possibility and to come to terms with the act.

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