We call it the double muffle, and it is rare. It only shows up in medialand when a story is too big to outrightly squelch a la Noriega, and the problems of spin-doctoring are too complicated to be worked out in enough detail for quick electronic distribution. The story is the capture of Ted Kaczynski, "the prime suspect in the Unabomber attacks," and the twin mufflings are, in the order of their obviousness, the tragic death of Jessica Dubroff, the seven-year-old who crashed an overloaded airplane in a rainstorm for the sake of setting some bogus record, and the torrent of "where did Ted go wrong" stories about Kaczynski, making him out to be one of our best and brightest who somehow strayed from the true path of technotopian grandeur in favor of some satanic darkness.
The first story is pure and unadulterated National Inquirer material, a glaring sucker punch directed at exploiting America's national obsession with "the children," the kind of human interest story that can be counted on to nullify any conversation or contest about any issueÑa true national tragedy that we can all rally around.
The second muffle job is more artistic and slippery, for it depends on our interest in the Unabomber story to exert the initial gravity toward the news of Kaczynski's capture, only to use that gravity in whiplash effect to catapult media junkies away from what is really represented by the story in favor of lengthy sermons about the relationship of Ted to his younger brother David, the later being responsible for leading the FBI to Ted's Montana cabin, as well as the early childhood of both boys growing up in a household dominated by a cold mother and a passive and emotionally withdrawn father.
Sure the question of "Ted, where did you go wrong?" can and should be asked, but when that question is asked again and again and again, we begin to think that somebody is working overtime to make sure that other questions are avoided in an elaborate conspiracy of silence.
Of course, by looking into this issue, we by no means seek to legitimize the 15 bombings that are associated with the Unabomber's 18-year campaign of ecoterroristic mayhem, but there does remain that darned manifesto, and for the inquiring minds who have read the whole thing, this much needs to be asked: Does the guy have anything to say about the way we live? After careful analysis, the Media and Media-ocracy team have come to the conclusion that the document looms large, not simply as an "anti-technology" rant as the official opinion molders would have it, but as a statement that cuts to the heart of the most basic contradictions of this current chapter of American history, the time when public administration (mostly corporate, but also governmental, delivering constituencies to the corporate) seems to be on the verge of devouring the individual liberty that so pragmatically enamored the Jeffersonian era's yeoman farmers.
In "Industrial Society and Its Future," (the real name of the Unabomber manifesto, typed under the nom de plume "FC"), technology and its effect on society is repeatedly attacked, but what is even more vigorously attacked is the infantilizing dynamics of "the psychology of leftism" which, with technology and the media driving it, seeks to remove all prerogative (except administrative prerogative) from virtually all human exchange and interaction. In short, the whole spectacle of contemporary society is viewed as a set of arrangements where a cabal of pathologically inadequate whineybutts have slowly set up a labyrinth of regulating codes to keep any and all manifestations of psychological autonomy from claiming their socioeconomic birthright, thus the call to an undefined revolution in the name of nature.
If one allows oneself to be seduced into the paranoid logic of the document, the effect becomes chilling, for it suggests that an Orwellian 1984 is afoot in our own world where nameless authority and the exercise of irrational collective power are endemic, with the spectacle of the media deployed as a technology for the distraction and pacification of large populations of urban worker bees.
Yet, as provocative as the manifesto might be, the story has another layer. Much of the zeal toward muffling the case stems from the calculated alarmism that was encoded into the way that the media staged the manhunt for the Unabomber during the past couple of years. We are all familiar with the little black and white drawing of a sneering man in a hood with aviator sunglasses that popped up behind newscasters when the Unabomber story spilled forth from the nightly news. This was our cue that the story was important, that it was time that we should stop cleaning our cuticles and pay attention! This drawing popped up in 1994, but it was based on a description given in 1987. Based loosely, we might add.
The year 1994 saw the start of the Unabomber making demands to have his manuscript published. In other words, it was the date when a common criminal threatened to become a serious revolutionary. Thus the anonymous drawing, wrapping a clutch of terrorist cliches together. These include: ridiculously oversized aviator glasses ("I am watching you, but you cannot see me. I am not sympathetic because I have no eyes.") and an Arabic kaffyiah visible under the trademark hood, as well as facial features that seem calculated to encompass African, Latin and Arabic traits.
In short, it is a brilliantly conceived icon of one-stop shopping in the market of terrorist cliches, a way of getting people involved, so that this dastardly criminal might be brought to justice. Surely, the investigators must have known that the man they sought was a disaffected academic and not a bad guy from a Steven Segal movie (the obsession with getting published should have been enough to clue them on that score), but the visage of a rumpled ex-professor would have scared nobody, hence the famous drawing. Now that everybody is all worked up, the story cannot just go away. But the fact that the story and impending trial has so many threatening nuances will mean that it will have to be spin-doctored to relative safe shores of human interest reporting, and never given nearly the limelight that the OJ trail received. Stay tuned for a real object lesson in how the media does it work.