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||| Fingering the Trigger |||
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Already involved with domestic border security and the War on Drugs, the military has recently been given powers to shoot down planes suspected of being hijacked; it has been working to secure American ports with the Coast Guard; and it has been involved in the patrolling of airports. The Pentagon will soon announce plans for a new unit – a kind of “homeland command” – that will be involved in shaping the military’s domestic missions. (Perhaps it will be connected to the Office of Homeland Fear.) In spite of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which bars the military from having any role in domestic affairs, it is increasingly believed that there are no legal barriers to the use of American armed forces against the populace. It has already happened during the LA riots of 1992 and the Seattle protests of two years ago, and it is on the increase in the light of new terrorist threats and suspicions.
The military has already been collaborating with Hollywood and academia – witness the Institute for Creative Technologies at USC, a joint venture with the Pentagon, which focuses upon the development of advanced military simulations, not only for the defense industry but for film studios and videogame designers who want to make more compelling games, theme park rides, and special effects in film. The Pentagon is now collaborating with the television industry on several military-themed shows. CBS is premiering a new series called “AFP: American Fighter Pilot” and its series “JAG” will offer the first and perhaps only visual version of the military tribunals that the public will ever see (since they will not be televised). On the cable music network VH1, “Military Diaries” will explore the life of soldiers, 60 of whom were given video cameras to tape their daily activities. ABC is planning a reality-type show called “Profiles from the Front Line.” All have been produced with the support and cooperation of the Pentagon, who collaborates on scripts as well as loans equipment and sites. News and entertainment are already intertwined. With the Pentagon’s new strategies of withholding and managing information, it can now give the “scoop” to the entertainment realm to get its message across.
But I’m not talking about “militainment” so much as I’m talking about the militarizing of the civilian realm. Not necessarily in terms of a populace itself endowed with the ability to shoot laser-guided weapons, of course, but in terms of its ability use force – it is only a matter of what kind of force we are speaking of, and of how it is backed with an apparatus of war or work, fueled by the technical capacity of a time. Embedded of course, in a calculus of rights. But I’m speaking of something more than this – a kind of conditioning, an orientation of the sensorium, and the establishing of a civic vigilance allied to the needs of the institution. I’m talking about a human made adequate for combat, whether in the sense of fighting on the battlefield or in the sense of becoming conditioned to its logics. The modulations of this “civilian soldier” provide a glimpse of the everyday shaping of corporeality, as well as the shaping of the terms and means of battle itself.
We align eye, viewfinder, and trigger in an act of aiming – a conditioning of sight, an organization of perception and attention within conditions of combat. Think about these modulations in terms of the history of perspective technology. It is about the relays between perception, technology, and the pacings of the body.
But we are aimed at, we are constituted, in other acts of looking. These are analysis and control systems in which the body is situated, where visual networks and observing agencies displace the primacy of an originary, embodied seer. It sees us as a nexus of data, materiality, and behavior and uses a language of tracking, profiling, identifying, positioning, and targeting. (eye-viewfinder-trigger, agent-database-accounter.) Within the circuitous visualization networks that arise, one never knows which “side” one is truly on, as seer switches to that who is seen; targeter switches to that which is targeted.
So to reposition the anthropocentrism of the civilian-solider within these networks is to think models which are not only about aligning target and viewfinder, or system and subject, but which are about establishing relays between individual or public patterns of behavior and systems of accounting or management. In other words, an apparatus of not only detecting patterns and generating alignments, but of binding patterns or routines into technologies of registration and control. Following this are the issues of division, sedimentation, and ownership that are involved in the ensuing processes of “capture,” compartmentalization, and friend/enemy distinction – along with ideologies of protection, violation, and preventivity.
Report any suspicious persons. Report any suspicious activity. Think about the contemporary analogues to the civilian duck-and-cover drills, the bomb shelter preparations, witnessed in the public’s behavior in response to the numerous terrorist alerts since 9/11. Stockpiles of fear, guaranteeing a steady demand for security. Patriotism and Panic have long been used as Management Tools to institute mass suspicion, alarm, and vigilance. (“It’s second nature for any system of power to try and inspire fear,” Chomsky reminds us.) Fear is used to push policy. It is everywhere exacerbated. Citizens are coerced into an extreme form of nationalism and “macho militancy” under a security and defense apparatus that becomes ever more deeply linked to (and an expression of) a cultural imaginary. It takes root in a climate hostile to internal dissent (where, in fact, dissent is equated with “aiding the enemy,” or a kind of terrorist act in and of itself). In a nation that has little first-hand experience of the horrors of war, is increasingly detached from the repercussions of its acts, and is still easily aroused by a sense of righteous entitlement, the displays of armaments paraded before us take on the resonance of religious statuary. The monitoring apparatus blanketing the skies becomes like the all-seeing eyes of God. We are no less defending ourselves against the “evildoers,” our President tells us, as the Catholic Church once did.
But I want another weapon. I am looking for another detail. It oscillates between benevolence and threat, attraction and repulsion, eros and mars. It is a weapon against another danger. It can’t be used to rail against the evildoers of oppression, becoming an oppressor in another way. It prompts one to dig deeper. Sophisticated technologies of control and submission are never as one-way as they seem. As they twist ever more deeply into psychosexual imaginaries, they spawn countless new kinds of groundlevel practices that slip under the radar. Artistic alternatives are needed that call for a recognition of the complexity of human relationships and impulses, which rarely fit neatly into our analytical categories. A mode of observation is always met with a strategy of display. Contemporary artistic or aesthetic practices need to move toward a deeper understanding of aspects of the human psyche and its acts of detection, deception, and exhibition, where observation networks fuel new power dynamics and new spaces of invention. We need to ventriloquize these dimensions, moving toward a revived politics of seeing. What is needed is not only a study of militarized dimensions of seeing, for example, but of all of the factors that join to give rise to a militant sensibility and its eroticisations of conquest, as played out in the realm of sensing and depiction systems.
At first, the unmanned drone was fiercely resisted by the Air Force. It felt it would pose a threat, causing it to lose some of its authority to other services. The capacity of pilot could be transferred elsewhere, for example to the CIA. But even more deeply, and not so often spoken about, is the fact that it threatens the macho warrior mystique of the pilot – the Top Gun status of the American man, who fights his enemy alone for God, family, and country and is poised to be Hero. The man brandishes his own weapon, he fingers it, he does not sit by at the keyboard while the machines fight.
America displays its intimidating arsenal. An armed colossus the likes of which you have never seen.
The gaze of power, one-way, unquestioned, absolute – a projectile that designates… “terrorist,” a category that serves to vanquish any standing, any gaze, any voice, rendering this object as something to be seen only, targeted. To be seen, not heard.
Symbols of the divinity, unrepresentable, unseen but ubiquitous. Omnipotent.
The Predator is cute, benevolent, even sexy. In stands in contrast to the masculine hardware of the military. Bulbous, sensitive, seemingly soft, it is an easy target itself (it is unguarded, easily shot down). It has no eyes. It does not seem to have a capacity for vision, and what’s more has no Top Gun at its helm. It seems to be empty. It was originally built only for seeing. (It is only recently that it has “packed a punch.”) It sees in a manner to which we have no access. We don’t know its codes of representation. It is a feminized body that has entirely appropriated the male right to look.
There is always eros in an act of watching.
Sgt. 1st Class Roger Lyon, a 10th Mountain Division intelligence specialist, says the Predator drone is a nice thing to have in combat. "It's a comforting sound on the battlefield, when you're going to sleep and you hear that sound of the Predator engine, somewhere between a propeller airplane and a lawn mower, knowing it is looking out for you."
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Thank you to Jordan Crandall for permission to use this piece.
Jordan Crandall is an artist and media theorist. His first solo museum show, curated by Peter Weibel, opened in February 2000 at the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria. Writings, projects, interviews and other information is collected at jordancrandall.com. Crandall is director of The X Art Foundation, New York, founding Editor of Blast, and was most recently Visiting Professor at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.