Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Advent of the Virtual State

Before I get to reporting on the MacArthur Foundation event in Second Life yesterday, I feel that I need to say something about the burgeoning virtual presence of the State Department. This flickr set shows the offices of the State Department in Second Life. (Thanks to Andy Sternberg for the pointer to these pics.)

The State Department also has its own YouTube channel. As the film about Daniel and Marianne Pearl, A Mighty Heart, begins its theatrical run, viewers are also tuning in to a much-watched three-part series about the case that shows U.S. regional security officer Randall Bennett who was based in Karachi, Pakistan and who explains his official warnings to the journalist shortly before he disappeared. The second video addresses the rhetorical appeal of the kidnappers' bait-and-switch techniques. Although it is also informed by personal touches, the final video is a much more conventional piece of institutional rhetoric about the investigation and capture of members of the terrorist cell. Note that the official admits to detaining a suspect's family in an attempt to flush him out. Strangely, this official seems to be giving a stamp of approval on the Hollywood product that represents the events that he narrates as a witness. The celebrity consciousness of the closing notes about looking forward to the premiere are particularly disquieting, given the governmental authority of the site.

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