The New Image

David Levi Strauss

In the year 2000, the artist Jon Winet invited me to collaborate with him in his ongoing multi-media project to cover the American Presidential campaigns every four years. He had been getting good press credentials to get onto the floor of the national party conventions, as a photographer, since 1984, and thought he could get me in as well. He would take the pictures, and I would write dispatches from the floor.

The first time I walked onto the floor of the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City in August of 2004, I realized that I had walked inside a machine for making images. I was afraid that someone in authority would recognize me as a fraud—that I didn’t belong there, that I was not a photojournalist, that I was not any kind of journalist, and that I was, effectively, a spy. But no one did. As long as I had the proper credentials, I was in, no questions asked. It was magnificent.

In 2008, I joined Jon and his photographer colleague Allen Spore inside the Pepsi Center and Mile-High Stadium in Denver to see Barack Obama accept the nomination. I couldn’t bear the thought of being trapped in Tampa, so I sat out the 2012 conventions. But when it became clear that Donald Trump was going to actually be the Republican nominee for president in 2016, I knew I had to be there. Whatever happened, this was going to be something extraordinary in the realm of iconopolitics, and I wanted to experience it up close.

I was not disappointed. Being inside the convention halls this year in Cleveland and Philadelphia was both exhilarating and terrifying. I wrote 35 dispatches, all accompanied by photographs by Jon and Allen (and a few of my own). They can be seen here.

After the election, I realized that I, like most Americans, had misread the signs and misjudged the electorate. The changed communications environment had created a new kind of politics. So I began to write a different kind of dispatch, in the voices of the regime, and in the voices of complicity. Here are a few of those dispatches.

Prologue in the Theater (After Faust): The New Image

Photo: David Levi Strauss, The Trump box at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

Hello. Welcome to our world. It’s yours too, now, in a way. You built it. We understand that many of you thought it would turn out differently, and lead to some democracy of affect. But you must have noticed the changes. You must have seen them coming up on your screens. You must have noticed as the images began to separate from their referents. You told yourselves it was a temporary spectral shift, or a minor glitch in the iconosphere, but you must have seen it.

When we saw it, we knew that the image had been set free. It was no longer bound by the old rules. The change began years ago, soon after Stewart Brand proclaimed that information wants to be free. Then the image became information, and once it was free of its old bond to the referent, to the signified, it became possible to move images around, at will, and to make up our own reality. Our Father taught us how to move them around. Grandmother used to call it the realitíe effect, in a fake French accent, and laugh.

We are the disruption you have been preparing for all this time. We know who you are because He knows who you are, defined by what you want and fear. We were raised in the knowledge that we would eventually and inevitably control the future by simply reflecting your own desires and fears back to you. We were trained in these secrets of the black mirror, trained to rule. We always knew the time would eventually come.

We know that many of you were surprised when it happened, but you shouldn’t have been. When the Social died, it was replaced by Social Media, and that was made for Our Father. When everything and everyone became connected, everything and everyone became controllable. When everyone turned the camera around on himself or herself, the circuit was closed. You freely gave up all of your information, including your image, and clamored to be told what to do.

Much about the change is still misunderstood. We are actually against politics, per se. In our world, there is no more class, no more alienation, and no more identification with the Other. Everyone wants to be like us. We are the revolution now, a revolution of the image, and soon everything will be revealed.

The World on the Screens

Photo: David Levi Strauss, CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer in the control booth, ‘Blanked.’

The images on the screens have become better and more beautiful over time, because I decide what comes up on my screens. I am in control of my own feed, and I choose from among an infinity of choices. I am free because information is free.

Because I am free, the old categories of right and left and right and wrong no longer apply to me. The old morality is dead. The old democracy has been disrupted. Our new democracy puts each user in control of his or her own destiny.

Once I give up my personal privacy, I can choose anything I want from the infinity of choices provided by other users. Everything that exists, exists on the screens. There is nothing outside of the screens.

The world on the screens is beautiful. All human problems can be solved, quickly and easily. We can eradicate world hunger, cure all disease, do away with poverty, and stop climate change. These are all technical problems. Believe me.

Politics is not the solution to our problem; politics is the problem. No one is in power. Mark and Jeff and Eric and Steve are not in power. Donald is not in power. We are no longer citizens. We are greater than that. We are singular. We are singular. We are singular.

Trump Talks

Photo: David Levi Strauss, Boxing promoter Don King on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016.

You all talk a lot about the way Trump talks. You all have a big problem with the way he talks. You think the way he talks is unbecoming to a President. But for us, the way he talks sounds just right. He’s not talking down to us, but straight at us.

The Black President was a master of your kind of talk. He wasn’t quite as bad as Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton (don’t get us started about that), but he still talked like he was better than us—like he was trying to teach us something.

Trump might be rich, but he knows how to talk to people who aren’t rich. He’s got the common touch. His talk reaches out and touches us, and that’s what we’ve been waiting for, to have someone reach out like that.

When Trump talks, you’re always trying to catch him up on something, to catch him in a mistake. And then you do, but it doesn’t make any difference. Because it’s not about that. It’s not a game. It’s real communication, person to person.

You hate that, because if that caught on, your position in the world would be diminished. No one would need you to interpret everything, to decode and complicate everything, and to ask all your well-considered questions.

Your work, the tasks and skills that define you, would be obsolete. How do you think that would feel, to be obsolete? To have everything you know devalued and diminished and denigrated? What do you think you’d do then?

Reuse This Content

Photo: David Levi Strauss, Police line outside the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016.

Don’t think of me as one of the wealthiest people in the world, or as the CEO of one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world that owns most of your data, and knows more about you than your mother ever will. Think of me as a friend, trying to help. Look, it should be clear by now, even to those of you who weren’t smart enough as a teenager to build a company that now earns $8.8 billion in one quarter and has 1.86 billion customers, that the whole “government” thing is not working. The world is too important a place (Elon!) to leave its governance to whatever old-timer can convince enough people to vote for them in a democratic election. If we’re going to build a global community that works for all of us—that prevents harm, helps during crises, and rebuilds afterward—it’s going to have to be run by someone who knows how to control masses of people—who knows, for instance, how to get masses of people to freely give up their personal privacy to a totally unaccountable corporation and then to pay for the privilege. In the magic of money- and change-making, Trump is Old News compared to me. Just look at the numbers. He has good attitudes about some things, but he’s still old. Old People—sorry, I mean older people, I’m trying to change that—have experience, but unfortunately their experience is mostly obsolete, because it’s from analog time. It’s not their fault, exactly: the world has just passed them by. But they shouldn’t worry, because we’re going to include them in the New World we’re building. We actually like having them around, for “diversity” and color. And they can use the same infrastructure as we do, if they can figure out how to use it. They’ll need to change some of their attitudes, of course. We can do without all that self-defeating talk about the “surveillance state,” and “personal privacy,” and “critical thinking.” But they’re welcome to participate, and communicate with the rest of us through Facebook, as we make further leaps from tribes to cities to nations to a global community built around our platform. It’s going to be so good.

Priming the Pump II

Photo: David Levi Strauss, Blind singer Mariana VanHoose from Kentucky sings the National Anthem at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

If the day I just spent laughing it up with my good friends Sergeys Lavrov and Kislyak and Henry Kissinger about our takeover of the White House doesn’t make it clear to you, listen up. I am not a mistake. I am not a fluke, or a bug in the system. I am the System.

You continue to cling to the fairytales you’ve been told from birth about “democracy” and “freedom” and America as the greatest country in the world, blah, blah, blah. But all that did was set you up for my “Make America Great Again” campaign play. I kept my slogan to four words, and most of my words to one or two syllables because I know that’s about all you can understand. Keeping you stupid has been the Business of America for a very long time.

In fact, it hasn’t been about “America” for a long time. It’s about money and power, and money and power don’t care what you call where you’re from. It’s a market. What’s changed in the last few decades is that it's now much more about who controls the images, because you believe in images more than anything else. If someone gives you the right image, they can get you to do almost anything.

I just fired the Director of the FBI. Why did I fire him? Because he forgot who he was. He forgot that he was my employee. I love that look in their eyes when they suddenly remember who they are, right after I say “You’re fired.” It’s a beautiful thing. It’s like killing someone, but not as messy. Bingo, you’re gone, go away, disappear.

A Blunt Instrument for Us

Photo: David Levi Strauss, Blind singer Mariana VanHoose from Kentucky sings the National Anthem at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

The People are great, but they are there to be manipulated by us. I mean, they have lives; they don’t have much time to think. The Elites on the Left think the People spend all their time thinking about liberty and justice and minorities, but mostly they only have time to think about how to pay the bills, and why that’s so hard to do, since they’re working all the time. If you can connect with them on that, and really commiserate, everything else becomes possible.

The Blunt Instrument did that, big league. He was a born millionaire, and now he might be a billionaire, but he thinks like someone on the bottom of the heap. He always thinks he’s getting a raw deal. He always thinks somebody’s trying to screw him, on everything, and that they’re lying about everything. It’s very charming. Especially to the people on the bottom, because it looks like a way out for them, or at least: a way to strike back. It looks like the Blunt Instrument has a lot of Fuck You Money. It looks like a way for them to say Fuck You to everyone who’s not on the bottom, and who has looked down on them all their lives. It’s a tremendous reversal of fortunes; a real revolution, in emotional terms.

The Elites hate him because he doesn’t buy their shit. He’s got everything they say he should have—money, fame, a hot wife—but it’s never been enough for them. They think he’s vulgar. They think he’s stupid. They think he’s base. But now he’s got a Base, and that Base just helped make him the most powerful man in the world. It’s a Base to rival the Base (Al-Qaeda) and ISIS.

Which is why I got into this. To me, this is all prologue. I have my eyes on the End, and the End is a lot closer than you all think. I’m not talking about your penny ante political games or your whining about a constitutional crisis. I’m talking about the ultimate conflict between Judeo-Christian civilization and Radical Islam. The Pope doesn’t get it, but all the people around him in the Vatican do. The previous heads of the CIA and FBI might not get it, but many of the people who work for them do. I don’t know whether the Blunt Instrument really gets it, either, but it doesn’t matter, because we do. And none of that will matter when the fighting starts. Then, only the Torchbearer will matter.