Fun Against Fear: The Islamic State Spectacle and Counter-Spectacle

By Marwan M. Kraidy
Submitted to Session P5021 (Analyzing the Islamic State: Strategies and Counter-strategies, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arab States;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Drawn from a larger project defining Islamic State as a war machine that operates through spectacle, this article explains Islamic State’s spectacle and analyses the counter-spectacle enacted by the group’s opponent opponents. I first analyze the media doctrine behind IS’s spectacle through a close reading of IS publications about media and propaganda, including The Management of Savagery, O’ Media Worker You are a Mujahid, and Why I Must Destroy the Satellite Dish. Second, I analyze selected IS visual artefacts and demonstrate how they reflect the IS media doctrine. Third, I translate insights from Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967/1992), written as a critique of bourgeois capitalism, to Islamic State, using Debord’s concept of spectacle—a tautological inversion of life— to analyze IS’s communicative and cultural production, referring to exemplars. The IS spectacle, I argue, is predicated on the global circulation and management of terror as an affect of fear. Fourth, I explore the counter-spectacle mounted by Arab activists, artists and media producers, focusing on satirical television skits from Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon. Using theories of affect (Deleuze, Massumi, Virilio), humor and subversion (Bakhtin, Rose, Scott) and fun (Bayat), I analyze the counter-spectacle as an archetypal manifestation of détournement, or disruption, an anti-spectacle technique Debord himself advocated, manifested in an affect of fun. Finally, I probe the ontological connections and tensions between “fear” and “fun,” and discuss the political potential of fun.