May, 7 – «Like a Movie»: Terrorism, Counterterrorism and the Premediation of Violence in the 21st Century

The phrase “like a movie” was used by numerous witnesses on the scene of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Even though the event was historically unprecedented – never before had commercial airliners been turned into missiles and flown into buildings – the image of the burning and collapsing Twin Towers seemed strangely familiar, because similar scenarios had featured in various blockbuster films. The perceived convergence between Hollywood spectacle and terrorist violence on 9/11 was a reminder that in our media-saturated society, real events are always already “premediated” in the sense that they are invariably framed and perceived through previous media representations. As this presentation argues, however, premediation can also be used strategically by both non-state and state actors: The uncannily cinematic quality of the World Trade Center attacks found its equivalent in the Bush administration’s ensuing “war on terrorism” campaign, which deployed premediation in multiple ways to advance its counterterrorist agenda. My presentation tries to understand the workings of premediation by reflecting on the interplay between violence, fear and the blurring of the boundary between fact and fiction in our current age of terror, in which real death and destruction are often made to appear “like a movie”.

Michael C. Frank (University of Zurich, English Department)