By Phillip D. Collins
Replete with esoteric symbols, conspiracy research certainly warrants semiotic examination. Although fraught with historical flaws and theological distortions, The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown acknowledges the value of semiotics in studying the conspiratorial world. In fact, the novel’s central character is a semiotician specializing in symbology. Evidently, Brown recognized the potential of semiotics in analyzing the coded messages of cabals occupying history’s darker corners. September 11 is one such corner that is worth semiotic analysis.
It is this researcher’s contention that there is a supranational power elite positioned above the political machinations of national governments. It was this supranational elite that created bin Laden and, through strategically placed surrogates, de-activated portions of America’s national security apparatus that could have prevented 9-11. Commenting on this supranational elite, Suzanne Keller explains: “Like a secret society, those at the top rarely reveal the inner workings of their worlds.” (Keller 3)
Semiotics could provide the Rosetta Stone to decipher the esoteric language of the elite, particularly the subtle messages embedded within the events of 9-11. This article shall semiotically dismantle the early NBC media reports of September 11, 2001. It is this author’s contention that these early reports, working intertextually with sci-fi films of previous years, helped the power elite to impose a politically expedient narrative paradigm upon 9-11.
A Primer on Semiotics
With its origins in the 1960s, semiotics is a relatively young field of study. Its simplest definition is “the study of signs.” However, semiotics probes slightly deeper, examining the application of signs in the daily social interchanges of humanity. Moreover, signs are not merely images, like the proverbial STOP sign. They are also spoken and written words. These categories of signs have long been the providence of linguistics, a subsidiary of the larger field of semiotics. All of these signs are used to communicate messages, which semioticians refer to as “texts.” A text can inhabit any medium of communication; whether verbal or nonverbal, a text always has meaning.
Before proceeding, an overview of the basic terminology of semiotics might be helpful to the reader. Throughout the course of this examination these terms will continue to resurface.
There are three categories of signs:
1. Iconic: These signs normally resemble something else. They are approximations, facsimiles. Examples: statues, pictures.
2. Indexical: Like the index in the back of a book, these signs refer the percipient to something else. They are used to establish causal or physical relationships. Examples: Smoke is an indexical sign for fire. A shadow is an indexical sign for a physical body in front of some light source.
3. Symbolic: These signs express some convention and hold a shared meaning for those in the culture. These signs must be learned. Examples: Words, numbers, flags.
Intertextual reference: This type of reference creates a correlation between more than one text; thus, augmenting a sign’s meaning; including, Denotation: a sign’s literal meaning, and Connotation: a sign’s implied meaning.
“Good” Americans vs. “Evil” Arabs
Few are not acquainted with the scene in Independence Day during which the White House is destroyed by a powerful energy beam from a hovering alien ship. In his semiotic analysis of this famous clip, Elliot Gaines discerns “the narrative qualities that embody the paradigmatic character of the situation and images” surrounding 9-11. (Gaines 123)
This researcher contends that such synchronicities were consciously engineered by the entertainment industrial complex. Intrinsic to the narrative characteristics of Independence Day was a paradigmatic template that the elite successfully imposed upon 9-11. Promoted vigorously by Establishment media organs, Independence Day was instrumental in creating a cultural milieu that would be hospitable to future media manipulations. By the time of the WTC attacks, the collective subconscious of America was fertile with memes – contagious ideas planted by the film Independence Day.
This memetic fertility is most effectively illustrated by the comments of MSNBC reporter Ron Insana. Insana witnessed the disintegration of the World Trade Center first hand (Gaines 125). In an interview with Matt Lauer, Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw, Insana vividly recounted his experience near the south tower: “As we were cutting across, a quarantine zone actually, the building began disintegrating. And we … looked up and started to see elements of the building come down and we ran, and honestly it was like a scene out of Independence Day. Everything began to rain down. It was pitch black around us as the wind was ripping through the corridors of lower Manhattan.” (Gaines 125)
Gaines identifies the Independence Day reference as semiotically significant. Given his distinction as a journalist before a global audience, Insana is thoroughly cognizant of the fact that his “intertextual reference to the film will be understood as a commonly known cultural text” (Gaines 125). At this point, the previously dormant seeds of virulent thought implanted by Independence Day have been activated. Insana’s invocation of this “commonly known text” has triggered the release of ideational spores within humanity’s collective consciousness identifying it with 9-11. As Gaines relays, “The violence in Independence Day, coded as fiction, constructs a narrative binary opposition that clearly identifies good against evil. The available images representing the events of September 11, using inferences drawn from Independence Day’s sign/object relations, construct a narrative paradigm based upon the same themes, but coded as reality.” (Gaines 126)
Indeed, Insana’s intertextual reference (i.e. correlation) helped establish the paradigm of “good against evil” upon which the “War on Terrorism” would be premised. Suddenly, Arabs became analogous to the “alien invaders” of Independence Day. Simultaneously, the United States became analogous to the beleaguered “home world.” Semiotically, Insana’s correlation prompted America’s collective subconscious to reconceptualize the relational dynamic between the West and the Arab world. “Good” humans against “evil” aliens, a narrative paradigm coded as fiction in Independence Day, suddenly recoded itself in the guise of reality. However, according to the elite’s narrative paradigm for September 11, being neither “good” nor “human” is part of the Arab’s role.
Sci-fi Predictive Programming
Insana didn’t consciously design his intertextual reference to achieve such an end, but, rather, it is a product of a larger semiotic deception. This larger semiotic deception is part of a program for cultural subversion known as “sci-fi predictive programming,” a term coined by Michael Hoffman. Elaborating on this concept, he states: “Predictive programming works by means of the propagation of the illusion of an infallibly accurate vision of how the world is going to look in the future” (Hoffman 205).
Innocuous though the genre may seem, science fiction literature has had a history of presenting narrative paradigms that are oddly consistent with the plans of the elite. In Dope, Inc., associates of political dissident Lyndon LaRouche claim that the famous literary works of H.G. Wells and his apprentices, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, were really “‘mass appeal’ organizing documents on behalf of one-world order” (LaRouche 538). Such would seem to be the case with Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, which presents a socialist totalitarian world government under the appellation of the Federation. (Alexander 568).
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke presented a semiotic signpost for the next step in humanity’s chimerical evolutionary ascent. Hoffman explains, “2001, A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the writing of Arthur C. Clarke, is, with hindsight, a pompous, pretentious exercise. But when it debuted it sent shivers up the collective spine. It has a hallowed place in the Cryptosphere because it helped fashion what the Videodrome embodies today. At the heart of the film is the worship of the Darwinian hypothesis of evolution and the positioning of a mysterious monolith as the evolutionary battery or “sentinel” that transforms the ape into the space man (hence the “odyssey”).” Hoffman describes the film:[The movie] opens with a scene of the “Dawn of Man,” supposedly intended to take the viewer back to the origins of humanity on earth. This lengthy sequence is vintage Darwinism, portraying our genesis as bestial and featuring man-like apes as our ancestors. In the film, the evolution of these hominids is raised to the next rung on the evolutionary ladder by the sudden appearance of a mysterious monolith. Commensurate with the new presence of this enigmatic “sentinel,” our alleged simian progenitors learn to acquire a primitive form of technology; for the first time they use a bone as a weapon.
This bone is then tossed into the air by one of the ape-men. Kubrick photographs the bone in slow motion and by means of special effects, he shows it becoming an orbiting spacecraft, thus traversing “millions of years in evolutionary time.” The next evolutionary level occurs in “2(00)1” (21, i.e. the 21st century). In the year 2001, the cosmic sentinel that is the monolith reappears again, triggering an alert that man is on to the next stage of his “glorious evolution.” (Hoffman 11-12)
The monolith or “sentinel” semiotically gesticulates toward the next epoch of man’s “glorious evolution.” Like the tabula rasa of human consciousness, the barren canvas of the monolith awaits the next brushstrokes of unseen painters. A new portrait of man is scheduled to be painted and the “glorious evolution” of humanity continues. “Coincidently,” this semiotic signpost reappeared before the public eye in the actual year 2001. Hoffman recounts the moment of its reappearance, which was “in the first dark hours of New Year’s 2001,” when a “mystery monolith appeared on a grassy knoll in Magnuson Park in Seattle, Washington.” The monolith was an almost exact replica of the one featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nobody would say how the monolith got on the “grassy knoll,” but it stood for a few days “while the Seattle parks department debated its fate. Then it disappeared.” (Hoffman 14)
That same year, the World Trade Center attacks took place and the Bush Administration began to erect a garrison state under the auspices of “national security.” The chronically recapitulated theme of exchanging freedom for security is one of the most prevalent symptoms of this transformational period. Semiotic intimations of this emergent garrison state are discernible in the 1997 film Starship Troopers. Based on the sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers presents a socialist totalitarian world government that owes its very existence to a threat from “beyond.” In his synopsis, literary critic Geoffrey Whitehall observes:
Against, yet within, its clichéd ontological galaxy, Starship Troopers mobilizes the beyond to critique this dominant us/them narrative. It seeks to reveal how identity/difference, a relation of fear, founds a political galaxy… fear is the order word of a security discourse. Historically, a discourse of fear bridged what it meant to be human in the world under Christendom (seeking salvation) and the emergence of modernity (seeking security) as the dominant trope of political life in the sovereign state. The church relied on a discourse of fear to “establish its authority, discipline its followers and ward off its enemies,” in effect creating a Christian world politics. Under modern world politics, similarly, the sovereign state relies on the creation of an external threat to author its foreign policy [emphasis added] and establish the lofty category of citizenship as the only form of modern human qualification. (Whitehall 182)
In the same year of Starship Troopers’ release, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski published The Grand Chessboard. In this overtly imperialistic tract, Brzezinski delineated the geo-strategy by which America would attain global primacy. According to Brzezinski, this period of American hegemony would represent little more than a transitional period preceding her amalgamation into a one-world government. In one of the most damning portions of the text, Brzezinski reveals the catalyst for America’s imperialist mobilization. He asserts, “[A]s America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” [emphasis added] (Brzezinski 211)
A “truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat” did appear (or was fashioned). His name was Osama bin Laden. Starship Troopers was premised upon the same thesis that would underpin American foreign policy four years later … a consensus facilitated by an external threat. In the elite’s narrative paradigm for September 11, the necessity of the external threat was illustrated by the nationalistic fervor that followed the WTC attacks. Suddenly, the appellation of “patriot,” previously a stigma assigned to tax protesters and members of militias, regained its place in the cultural lexicon of referential labels.
Indeed, the removal of the pejorative connotations previously imposed upon the “patriot” facilitated the semiotic deception that was to follow with the introduction of the Patriot Act. The very title of the Patriot Act implied, connotatively, that those who opposed it constituted “unpatriotic” elements. Thus, acquiescence meant patriotism. This inference echoes the mantra of Starship Troopers: “Service guarantees citizenship.” In the post-911 cultural milieu where the term “patriot” was as elastic as the term “terrorist,” independent reasoning was subverted by a burgeoning epidemic of cognitive dissonance.
Starship Troopers also reiterated the narrative paradigm of “good” humans against “evil” aliens, a belief integral to the imperial mobilization of Brzezinski’s geo-strategy. The forces of “good,” embodied by America, were mobilized against the forces of “evil,” embodied by the Arab world. In keeping with the narrative paradigm of the elite, the media continued its standard practice of typecasting. Like the extraterrestrial “bugs” of Starship Troopers, Arabs were cast as hostile aliens. Meanwhile, Americans maintained their roles as humans.
Although perhaps not a conscious agent of this semiotic deception, Insana, as a part of the Establishment media, acted as the perfect transmission belt for memes emanating from the ruling class itself. As the old adage goes, “No one knows who invented water, but you can bet it wasn’t the fish.” Immersed within the sea of Establishment-controlled media, Insana could not identify the larger semiotic manipulation in which he unwittingly played an integral role. Science fiction has been called “the literature of ideas.” Insana’s reference suggests he had contracted an ideational contagion through exposure to sci-fi films like Independence Day and Starship Troopers.
Assembling the Picture
Ferdinand de Saussure observed that “normally we do not express ourselves by using single linguistic signs, but groups of signs, organised in complexes which themselves are signs.” (Saussure 1974, 128; Saussure 1983, 127) Indeed, isolated signs say very little, if anything at all. Communication and cogent thought are contingent upon the coalescence of signs. Such coalescence constitutes the complex social interchange called discourse. Likewise, the semiotic significance of a particular scene becomes evident only once the percipient has correlated all the signs comprising it. This is syntagmatic analysis, the study of a text’s structure and correlating signs.
Because they are narratives, films largely depend upon sequential configurations that produce the illusion of causal relationships. Likewise, the narrative paradigm that the power elite wished to impose upon 9-11 was sequenced to create a false causal connection between the WTC attacks and the Arab world. During the interview with Insana on September 11, 2001, Couric abruptly announced an “upsetting wire that just came across the wire from the West Bank.” (Gaines 126) Couric proceeded to paint a disturbing portrait of militant Muslims celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers, stating, “Thousands of Palestinians celebrated Tuesday’s terror attacks in the United States chanting ‘God is great’ and distributing candy to passers-by even as their leader, Yasir Arafat, said he was horrified.”
As the report continued, Couric read the same “upsetting wire” again, this time as a voice-over narrative to video footage of Palestinian demonstrators. The footage was accompanied by a title card claiming the event had occurred earlier this morning. This researcher contends that the juxtaposition of this image with Insana’s intertextual reference was intentional. It was designed to reinforce the paradigmatic template of “good” Americans against “evil” Arabs. In the mind of the percipient, causal connections were already being made. “Behold, the face of the enemy,” the subconscious declared.
Upon closer examination, the semiotic deception grows even more sinister. Gaines elaborates on the unfolding sham, when “NBC later acknowledged that it had committed a breach of ethics by using archive footage with an unverified wire report.” He concludes, “The image was not actually acquired September 11 as an authentic Palestinian celebration of the attack against the US. The image was selected from an archive as a global sign to imply Islamic extremism as the enemy.” (Gaines 126)
Was this an accident or a consciously engineered psychocognitive assault? Gaines states: “The stereotypical images of Arab, mid-eastern-looking people celebrating on a street could be falsely anchored to a specific people from a designated time and place” (Gaines 127). With the eyes of the world firmly fixed upon Islamic extremism as the enemy, the true of criminals remained hidden behind a semiotic veil.
The Magic of Electronic Media
Citing Richard L. Lanigan, Gaines asserts: “Fiction and nonfiction are both mediated popular texts—the convergence of human experience expressed through technology.” That the chief means of deception is technological in nature is intentional. The word “technology” is derived from the Greek word techne, which means “craft.” Moreover, the term “craft” is also associated with witchcraft or Wicca. From the term Wicca, one derives the word wicker (Hoffman 63).
Examining this word a little closer, Hoffman explains the denotations and connotations of the word wicker, one of which is “‘to bend,’ as in the ‘bending’ of reality.” This is especially interesting when considering the words of Mark Pesce, co-inventor of Virtual Reality Modeling Language. Pesce writes: “The enduring archetype of techne within the pre-Modern era is magic, of an environment that conforms entirely to the will of being.” Through the magic of electronic media, the post-9-11 environment seemed to conform entirely to the will of the elite.
The Druid magicians of antiquity carried wands made out of “holly wood.” The famous Hollywood sign is but an enormous semiotic marker for an industry that specializes in illusion. Independence Day could be considered just one more of its spells. Given public compliance to the illusion of the so-called “War on Terror,” it would seem that the spell is working. Through the alchemical sorcery of electronic media, America’s consciousness remains immersed within the semiotic mirage of post-9-11 culture.
Alexander, David. Star Trek Creator. New York: Dutton Signet, 1994.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Geostrategic Objectives. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Routledge, 1987.
Gaines, Elliot. “The Semiotics of Media Images From Independence Day and September 11 2001.” The American Journal of Semiotics 17 (2001): 117-131.
Hoffman, Michael. Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Independent History & Research, 2001.
Keller, Suzanne. Beyond The Ruling Class: Strategic Elites In Modern Society. New York: Random House, 1963.
LaRouche, Lyndon. Dope, Inc. Washington, D.C.: Executive Intelligence, Inc., 1992.
Pesce, Mark, “Ontos and Techne,” Computer-Medicated Magazine, www.december.com/cmc/mag/1997/apr/pesce.html, April 1997.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. 1916. Trans. Wade Baskin. London: Fontana/Collins, 1974.
—. Course in General Linguistics. 1916. Trans. Roy Harris. London: Duckworth, 1983.
Whitehall, Geoffrey. “The Problem of the ‘World and Beyond’: Encountering ‘the Other’ in Science Fiction.” To Seek Out New Worlds: Science Fiction and World Politics, Jutta Weldes, ed. NY: Palgrave, 2003, 169-193.
©2004 Phillip D. Collins is co-author of The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship: An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st Century published by iUniverse. A free chapter may be downloaded at www.iuniverse.com. Phillip is the editor of Paul D. Collins’ book The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He is a frequent contributor to Paranoia.