Dead Heads of State/Dead Presidents: Symbolic Death, Social Death & Bone-Rotting Death
Arturo J. Aldama and Mike Mosher
This issue is dedicated to offering a contact zone of reflection, in order to consider the political impacts and legacies of dead heads of state. Death, in our understanding, can take many different forms. It can be the natural demise of a former head of state, or a planned and bloody political execution. It can be a coup d'etat, as a result of direct intervention because that head of state is seen as a threat to the ideological/politcal/econonic interests of a nation state. It can be a direct result of empire, and it can be the imposed isolationism by western social orders; a type of social death where a democratically elected head of state is vilified by global campaign of disinformation and dis-accreditation. It can also mean the death of a dictator, the birth of particaptory democracy. Finally, it can mean ideologies and practices of death by living heads of state: the ways in which genocide is condoned and actively pursued, and the ways that anyone perceived as a dissident is surveilled, punished, imprisoned and even executed.
One event that inspired the genesis of this issue was the memorialization of the late head of state, Ronald Reagan, known affectionately as "the Gipper" for his role as footballer George Gipp in a movie better forgotten. Part of what concerned us as Issue Editors is the ways in which Reagan was eulogized and literally canonized into the Pantheon of deceased leaders of Western "democracy", with few spaces to reflect on his policies, ideologies and nation-state practices. In the rubric of "War on Drugs" and "War on Communism" there was an intensification of US backed Death Squads in Central America, and through the use of mandatory minimum prison sentences and unequal drug sentencing patterns, a huge warehousing of America's poor and communities of color. This fell especially upon men of color.
These essays which are textual, analytic and literally semiotic (images and collages) are qualified by an ethical commitment to interrogate the impacts of death on the social body in images that Roland Barthes would have considered punctic. They wake up the viewer to think about how machinations of nation state power result in violence on populations and subjects that become (or are now designated) "bad" in the Althusserian sense, as they resist/disrupt/question the macro-physics of power enacted in a top down way, from Heads of State.
In this issue, Monti Narayan Datta grants George W. Bush a decidedly mixed legacy, one that contains the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Devin Razavi-Shearer demonstrates how any impending US plans to topple Iran may serve as a precusor to similar actions in Latin America.
Several essays investigate the legacy of the late "Gipper", the fortieth President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. Brian Klocke traces a lineage of state terror running from Reagan through both Presidents named George Bush and J. C. Myers looks for "the Rest of Him", hard to find in a diminished, unfinished leader.
Mike Mosher exhibits 1980s graphics that endeavored to resist the era's Reaganism. Mike also eulogizes Michigan's favorite son, the late President Gerald Ford. Other artists exhibit portfolios of inspiring visuals, with graphics of Latin American rebels by Armando Somoza, Aaron Smith and Devin Razavi-Shearer in Colorado. Myrrh, in California's Silicon Valley, provides a grim panoply of "Talking Heads", those dead-headed US political rationalizers that still hold power in the US as we sink ("surge") deeper into war and degradation.
Outside of this issue's Presidential theme,Zack Furness' experiences as an Editor, a Jew, and a leftist have taught him that his Anti-Zionism is not a form of Anti-Semitism.
So, as this issue reflects and expands ideas and discussion of death and its impacts and implications in the collective memory, official memory, and the collective will of subjects affected by heads of state, we also reflect on an optimism. We believe that the memory of those killed, deposed, imprisoned, exiled, and de-legitmated (as seen the cases of Arbenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, Pahlavi in Iran, etcetera) confirms the democratic commitment to pursue intellectual and social rights. These rights are to question the strictures of the empowered dead heads of the corporate state, to live humanely, and to celebrate a life of political consciousness and commitment to social justice.