Return to Syllabus   Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378

Grindstaff, D. A., & DeLuca, K.M. (2004). The corpus of Daniel Pearl. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(4), 305-324.

Note: These comments are not designed to "summarize" the reading. Rather, they are available to highlight key ideas that will emerge in our classroom discussion. As always, it's best to read the original text to gain full value from the course.

Grindstaff and DeLuca discuss the videotaped decapitation of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl as a synecdoche for the larger intersection of terrorism, nationalist discourse, human bodies, and global media. The authors begin by discussing the rhetorical features of terrorism, emphasizing first the way in which terrorism is an interpretative term: “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, as the saying goes” (p. 307). In this section, the authors argue that terrorism -- despite passing the threshold of violence -- is rhetorical because of its staging of spectacles to generate publicity. Departing from the overview of this article, I propose that we think carefully about whether terrorism should be considered rhetorical and not simply symbolic. Either way, the killing of Daniel Pearl resulted in a spectacle whose reverberations continued long past his life.

Grindstaff and DeLuca then turn to an analysis of the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistan Sovereignty (NMRPS) whose members chose to murder Pearl after forcing him to “confess” to his Jewish ancestry. The authors write, “Pearl’s confession announces the transformation of his body from an agent to a signifier of power” (p. 308). At this point, Grindstaff and DeLuca shift their focus to Pakistani media responses to the murder of an American Jew on their soil, noting how some newspapers condemned the killing without necessarily condemning the cause by which Pearl died.

The authors change course once more to discuss how Pearl’s body became rearticulated in the United States. After all, “The agency that has been repeatedly stripped from the Pearl body must be re-invented and re-inscribed upon the body itself” (p. 312). Here, the authors cite articles and letters that defined Pearl as both an innocent in the vein of those who died in the 9/11 attacks and as a hero whose courage may be compared to that of firefighters or even soldiers. At once, Pearl -- who avoided polemics, according to Grindstaff and DeLuca -- becomes a symbol of American identity and a justification for vengeance.

The essay continues by noting how Pakistan also confronted challenges to its national identity in the wake of Pearl’s murder. This raised many questions, including whether Pakistan should try the killers upon their capture or extradite them to the United States. In a larger sense, the uproar raised anew the question of whether Pakistan should serve as an ally in the U.S.-led War on Terror. Of particular note is the fact that two Pakistani children were murdered in the United States within days of Pearl’s killing, with little apparent notice in our country: “The terrorizing of these Pakistani bodies . . . and their invisibility on the American and international public screens, exacerbates Pakistani anti-Americanism and complicates Pakistani national identity” (p. 316). Of course, Pakistan is not alone is seeking to define itself in light of tragic deaths.

Therefore, Grindstaff and DeLuca focus their last section on American nationalism following Pearl’s murder, focusing on depictions of the killing. Questions raised include: Should the U.S. media guard the “border” of American popular culture by choosing not to show the video? Or should the media broadcast the video as a symbol of the difference between us and them? With these questions -- and the full essay -- the authors reveal how the human body can become a complex and contested terrain of meaning when it becomes distilled into a video image.

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