The 'Reality' Video Game of War: Loose Reflections on the Invasion of Hope
Issue #63, April 2003
Shocked and Awed
What follows are series of feelings, questions, and observations in response to yet another US-led invasion with the hopes of breaking the sense of isolation, cynicism and futility that has been imposed on me — and I imagine others — who resist the onslaught of real, virtual, and media war. In doing so I want to look at the attempts by the state and by corporate-driven media to manipulate and coerce its body politic into becoming docile entertainment consumers of US military hegemony. I witness, I act, I write, and I feel outraged, sad, disgusted as I resist being bludgeoned by the mainstream media's marketing of the invasion of Irak (Spanish spelling). I stand in a dumbfounded and overwhelmed state of awe at how the "shock and awe" campaign was announced and hyped with its military-esque sound track, catchy sound-bites, and a general feeling of "hurry back from the break to witness the largest, most exciting bombing campaign ever."
Now, on April 3, it is "hurry up and get ready for the prime-time viewing of the siege of Baghdad." This conversion of a "real time" full-scale military invasion into live action blockbuster entertainment to grab the lion's share of the viewing audience, improve Nielsen ratings, and charge more advertising dollars to companies who want to feature their products in between live bombing segments is a heinous example of how market capitalism makes a buck when and wherever it can.
The advent of the 1990s smart bombs during the first invasion of Irak probably began the tendency to use a video game platform to market, entertain, and worship the US military's strategies for bombing and troop/tank movement as a digital complement to well-paid military consultants. The current bombing campaign attempts to re-state video games' visual representation of night-vision green bomb paths that follow the vectors of launch, seek and destroy, and the trope that the bombs' precision will only demolish the target with a minimum of collateral damage. In the current invasion, however, the bombs are marketed as smarter, larger, and more precise in their surgical ability to remove the cancerous target without damage. What happens when you juxtapose the images of digital reproduction of a smart bomb, and those of a child whose face is burned, and scarred for life? The military claims that these wounded and dead children are the result of Iraqi bombs, suicide bombers, and the Republican Guard using human shields, avoiding their own responsibility.
This media spin continues the schizophrenia of American exceptionalism that drives state and military policy. American bullets don't kill, they liberate; American bombs don't destroy, they remove obstacles to freedom. America does not have to abide by any rules of diplomacy and engagement because it holds the higher moral ground. America condemns torture, yet the School of the Americas continues to offer courses on how to electrocute suspects in the field with car batteries.
In the current invasion, there is an implied disappointment that the light and fireworks show of the full scale bombing sorties and drops are sub par in their drama and intensity, and are in need of good post-production digital effects. The reality of bombing campaigns, no matter that they are the largest and most unrelenting ever, falls short of the adrenaline-producing bombs and explosions demanded in action films. Both CNN and Fox, to "catch and hook" their audiences, now have brief introductory montages of animated images of tanks, missiles and hi-tech soldiers with a pounding military beat. At CNN.com, those who don't want to be bored with 'real' images of an assault on the Baghdad airport and tanks on the move can be entertained and educated by quick-time animation of urban warfare.
You can also learn more about the "bunker buster", "Predator," "Patriot," and "e-bomb" with Quick Time animations. I wonder who will get the site license to market the next hot game, Eliminate Baghdad, with thirty-six pulse pounding levels as you reach the "evil one's" nuclear-proof bunker and achieve the ultimate master ranger status? PS2, Nintendo, or the X-Box? Spin doctors are paid to continue the jingoism that has marked Bush's pseudo-populist presidency, especially post-9/11, to mitigate/justify/applaud/deny the violence of shrapnel-ripped skulls and buildings, groundwater poisoned for decades, the trauma of a bomb's noise and the anxiety of impending death that scar children's psyches as I write, death by friendly fire, the bombing of open markets and hospitals, and the use of scatter bombs. Sound-bites, repeatable by eight year-olds, are created, transmitted and popularized with a terrorism of dull-witted demagoguery using these words that, in reality, translate to their opposite: liberty, freedom and security.
So as we are told to sit with our popcorn, surround-sound system calibrated for maximum sound effects, high-definition images, and chant our patriotic slogans (Free Iraq, Defend our Homeland, and Operation Freedom). Then we get offended and feel it is in bad taste to see the brutality of war, children bleeding, women crying, scattered limbs, people hungry and fighting for water, and other visual tidbits of the carnage of war. Or wait, maybe the blood and gore are good for ratings? Has the screening of war entered into the reality television show craze as a digitally-enhanced streaming video and heavily-edited and orchestrated "live coverage" show to compete with Fear Factor, The Bachelorette, Blind Date, Cops, or Swag?
Stock Tips for the Prudent Investor
The other series of questions, concerns and issues relate to the supposed economic downturn with its huge layoffs, hiring freezes, cuts in education, arts, children's welfare, growing numbers of homelessness, complete erosion of civil rights, the further militarization of the US/Mexico border and an increase of addictions that alleviate despair and anxiety. To calm their nerves, people smoke more cigarettes and consume more alcohol. But what about the consortium of industries related to the military-industrial complex: arms, munitions, fuel, clothes, food, communications, pharmaceuticals, satellites, and — of course — the oil industry that can now charge over two dollars a gallon? Are these industries in a great period of boom, a resuscitation of Cold War economies with a global twist?
Every time CNN or Fox reports the financial news, the Iraq War takes center-stage through military music and a tendency by newscasters to tie market ups and downs to the ups and downs of the invasion. The big pay-off, markets going bull, becomes the siege of Baghdad. There is implied and overt commentary which, to paraphrase, states that investors support the troops as they circle Baghdad with an early market rally. So please call your stockbroker. War is good for the economy, and is good for well-capitalized businesses (at least some). My big tip for the smart investor is move your shares to Halliburton and other incestuous businesses that have received billion-dollar sweetheart deals in federal contracts to fight the 'holy' war.
Powerlessness as Malaise
Some of the largest (or largest on record, as in the case of Italy and New York) protests have brought a wide coalition of folks who refuse to support the invasion, yet mainstream media ignore them/us and we are made to feel that we are without power and without agency. This is precisely the way we are made to feel, when our protests, as large, as transnational, as democratic as they are, have not created a change of policy, and have not prevented the full-scale invasion.
One of the effects/aims of powerlessness, I realize, is that you/I/we are made to feel alone, isolated as if you are the problem, the odd one out. Your perceptions, feelings, sense of righteousness, accuracy, and agency are made to be/feel worthless. It is precisely this feeling/state of powerlessness that the 'real invasion' desires and enforces in its campaign to subjugate — in tandem with the corporate-driven media invasion — the thought, action, outrage, and desire to resist the despair of war.
Arturo J. Aldama is associate professor of Chicana/o Studies at Arizona State University and a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.
Credits: Reality TV poster from anotherposterforpeace.com. Tank and website captured from CNN.com.