Militainment and mechatronics: Occultatio and the veil of science fiction cool in United States Air Force advertisements
In 2009, the United States Air Force aired a series of science fiction-themed recruitment commercials on network television and their official YouTube channel. In these advertisements, the superimposition of science fiction imagery over depictions of Air Force operations frames these missions as near-future sci-fi adventure, ironically summarized by the tagline: “It’s not science fiction. It’s what we do every day.” Focusing on an early advertisement for the Air Force’s Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, this essay explores how themes essential to the science fiction genre play a role in influencing contemporary attitudes about autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic weapons, as well as the way in which the aesthetic and functional qualities of these advanced technologies are used to frame moral arguments about their use. As a reconfiguration of the near-future battleground in the guise of science fiction, the “Reaper” ad reveals the way in which science fiction has come to serve as a functional-aesthetic benchmark and cultural sounding board, against which “every day” technologies can be measured and claims about their value, ethos, and social appeal are made. This essay explores the ethical entanglements between science fiction film and video games, and military technology, and the complex role science fiction plays in influencing public attitudes towards military technologies.
KeywordsUnited States Air Force Militainment Science fiction Robots Video games Rhetoric
- Aksoy, A., & Robins, K. (1992). Exterminating angels: Morality, violence and technology in the gulf war. In H. Mowlanda, G. Gerbner, & H. Schiller (Eds.), Triumph of the image: The media’s war in the persian gulf–a global Perspective (pp. 202–212). Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Asimov, I. (1978). The machine and the robot. In P. Warrick, M. H. Greenberg, & J. Olander (Eds.), Science fiction: Contemporary mythology (pp. 244–254). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
- Baudrillard, J. (1995). The gulf war did not take place (P. Patton, Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- Beasley, M. F. (1973). It’s what you don’t say: Omissio in cicero’s speeches. Southern Speech Communication Journal, 39.1: 11–20. Print.Google Scholar
- Bova, B. (1974). The role of science fiction. In R. Bretnor (Ed.), Science fiction today and tomorrow (pp. 3–16). New York, New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
- “Directors.” MJZ. MJZ, n.d. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://www.mjz.com/>.
- Halter, Ed. From sun Tzu to XBox: War and video games. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth, 2006. Print.Google Scholar
- Hoffman, M. (2008, June 10). Why general schwartz was chosen. Air force times. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2008/06/gates_whyschwartz_061008 w/.
- Hoffman, M. (2009, February 16). New reaper sensors offer a bigger picture. Air force times. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2009/02/airforce_WAAS_021609/.
- “IT’S NOT SCIENCE FICTION.” GSD&M. GSD&M, n.d. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://www.gsdm.com/#/work.aspx?subsection=3&project=1>.
- Kellner, D. (1992). The persian gulf TV war. Boulder: Westview. Print.Google Scholar
- Kellner, D. (2004) “The persian gulf TV war revisited.” Reporting war: Journalism in wartime. Ed. S. Allan and B. Zelizer. New York: Routledge. 136–54. Print.Google Scholar
- Lanham, R. A. (1991). A handlist of rhetorical terms: Second edition (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Lyle, A. (2010, July 15). Air Force’s ‘Technology Horizons’ makes science fiction a reality. Official site of the U.S. Air Force. Retrieved November 4, 2011, from http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123213717.
- McCloskey, M. (2009, October 27). The war room: Daily transition between battle, home takes a toll on drone operators. Stars and stripes. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://www.stripes.com/news/the-war-room-daily-transition-between-battle-home-takes-a-toll-on-drone-operators-1.95949.
- Mumford, L. (1963). Technics and civilization. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.Google Scholar
- Schodt, F. L. (1990). Inside the robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics, and the coming robotopia. Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International.Google Scholar
- Smicker, J. (2010). “Future combat, combating futures: Temporalities of war video games and the performance of proleptic histories. Joystick soldiers: The politics of play in military video games. Ed. B. H. Nina, and M. T. Payne. New York: Routledge. 106–21. Print.Google Scholar
- Springer, C. (1996). Electronic eros: Bodies and desire in the postindustrial age. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
- Stahl, R. (2009). Militainment, Inc: War, media, and popular culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Stahl, R. (Writer). (2007). Militainment, Inc.: Militarism & Pop Culture [DVD]. In R. Stahl (Producer): Media Education Foundation.Google Scholar
- Telotte, J. P. (1995). Replications: A robotic history of the science fiction film. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
- Toffler, A. (1970) Future shock. New York: Random House Print.Google Scholar
- Toffler, A., & Toffler, H. (1993). War and anti-war. New York: Warner. Print.Google Scholar
- United States Air Force. (2009, June 29). New air force Ad [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved November 8, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiB3vrhPDN.
- “USAF—”Plane”—GSD&M Idea City.” AdForum.com. MAYDREAM, INC., n.d. Web. 20 June 2012. <http://www.adforum.com/creative-work/ad/player/37296/sxi:1163649>.
- “US AIR FORCE: UAS.” MassMarket. MassMarket, n.d. Web. 12 June 2012. <http://www.massmarket.tv/work/all/us-air-force-campaign/uas/>.
- Warrick, P. (1978a). Introduction. In P. Warrick, M. H. Greenberg & J. Olander (Eds.), Science fiction: Contemporary mythology (pp. xv–xviii). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
- Warrick, P. (1978b). Science fiction myths and their ambiguity. In P. Warrick, M. H. Greenberg, & J. Olander (Eds.), Science fiction: Contemporary mythology (pp. 1–9). New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar