Mile 22

Above: Mile 22 movie-poster (detail), 2018. Credit: Huayi Brothers.

Photo Special Forces

The special forces movie has become, for me, the terminal film-genre. One could easily imagine that, at some point, all filmed drama will relate a tale of a ghost-like assassination squad--a more-or-less independent army fighting-unit whose missions are covert and ongoing. (There is no longer any concept of peacetime in present-day military doctrine; the war on terror will be fought for all time.) The members of such special forces units are elite (super-intelligent and super-fit) soldiers who select their own weapons and materiel, and have access to detailed real-time intel--which can be fed to them continuously during a mission. These state-actors fight against threats from terrorist cells (or hostile special forces of a rogue state), whose warcraft and covert strategies typically mirror those of the special ops: unpredictable, near-untraceable, ghost-like, ruthless. In the movies, infiltration and exfiltration is often via a C17 Globemaster III, a plane which is immediately recognisable by its massive rear freight-deck door that can be opened mid-flight for unloading parachutists, etc.--this jet has become the de rigueur aircraft for all such films.

If we take Peter Berg's movie Mile 22 as indicative of the genre, then we might ask: what is to be the fate of photo and video in an age when daily life telescopes down to nothing but crisis-after-crisis solved only by covert post-democratic special forces? The object-of-scrutiny is very clear-cut on this. Video has two terminal functionalities: first, it is the primary medium for the dissemination of disinformation--via, above all, the rolling-live cable news channel. Second it is a primary format for surveillance intelligence--both aerial (the shot from above) and also traditional CCTV-cameras. CCTV-cameras can be sending back signal from anywhere at all--no camera placement whatsoever is implausible or impossible (if they want to watch you they will do it and they will know everything about you and you will have no idea you are even under surveillance).

And the fate of photography? Again, two terminal selections. First, the photo-I.D.--front-on and unsmiling, as per passport and driving-license. Such a photo-likeness has one main use: it can be uploaded to a facial-recognition software which will seek a match from a vast database of known subversive operatives and suspects. The trawl will often get a positive in a couple of minutes (data held on-file about the suspect is often copious and will typically include their current whereabouts--often somewhere incongruous like, say, Vienna, Austria). And second? It's obvious isn't it? The special forces operative is sure to carry about their person at least one photo of their spouse, or infant child (sometimes both). Such a photo is a tear-jerker, a sort of plug-in for affect. The assassin looks at the photo and it all comes flooding back--in other words, the photo is a carrier of the sentimental, the bitter-sweet of nostalgia, of what might-have-been in a less cynical world than this one.

(28 September 2018)