Sunday, March 25, 2007
The Art of War
How can I describe American Culture to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
The other day, I was in a friend’s living room, as their neighbor’s six year-old son sat in a trance in front of a 50-inch widescreen TV. His parents were nowhere to be seen. The child was completely oblivious to everything around him. His entire focus was dedicated to navigating his digital self through the mean-streets of the latest Grand Theft Auto videogame. The object of this game is to steal lots of cars and to commit as many acts of violence as possible. His character ran the streets beating people to the brink of death, robbing them of their possessions, and running over innocent pedestrians in stolen vehicles. He played for an hour or so until he became bored. He got up from his seat on the couch, he didn’t say any goodbyes, and he wondered out the door. Nobody seemed to notice him leave.
I thought of this boy, as I came across USF Art students working on a mural outside of Crossroads café last Wednesday. The piece was in its early stages, but its strong political themes were already becoming clear. What particularly brought the boy to my mind was a section of the mural where the artist painted a military tank in a harmless shade of pink. Using cut out photos from magazines, the artist has an ecstatic young boy driving the tank over the heads of babies, all of them smiling. The tank becomes a toy and its victims are happy. War is now a game.
The U.S. has fought a lot of wars in the mass media age, but none of them have been on U.S. soil. Instead they have been fought on our TV and computer screens and in the pages of newspapers and magazines. The average American comes into contact with war through images and words. We fight communists, Nazis, terrorists, enemy combatants, insurgents, or simply put “bad guys.” Thousands of Americans have died fighting these “bad guys” and they are recognized as heroes who died for their country. Many, many more “bad guys”, “bad guys” family members, and innocent bystanders who happened to be in the area of perceived “bad guys” have died as well. They remain nameless, and become statistics that are tallied during the nightly news in between commercials.
As technology improves, and our appetite for reality-based entertainment continues to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. I think of that little boy playing his videogame, and I wonder if he can still tell the difference between the digital people dying in his game and the real people dying on TV.