The Militarized Internet in Popular Cinema: Virtual Weaponry

The Militarized Internet in Popular Cinema: Virtual Weaponry is a forthcoming 2017 collection of scholarly essays to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. 

This project catalogues and analyzes representations of a militarized Internet in popular cinema in order to argue that such illustrations of Internet-enabled technology encourages a 2016 movie audience to view the civilian internet and its usage as potential weaponry. This encouragement promotes an unhealthy transhumanism that simplifies the relationships between the biological and technological aspects of that audience, while also hierarchically placing the “human” components at the top; such filmmaking and movie-watching should be replaced with a critical posthumanism that challenges the relationships between the audience and their technologies, as well as critiques problematic notions of modern warfare. The book interweaves a history of the Internet, specifically focused on its military use, with real world examples alongside analysis of the movies in order to track how the introduction of the Internet into the war film has changed the genre and how the movies often function as one part of the larger military entertainment complex and Total War.



Introduction: The War Film as Genre and How Technology and the Internet Fits

Chapter 1. The Hard Technological Body: The Exoskeletal Soldier (The Matrix Revolutions, Avatar, Edge of Tomorrow, Elysium)

Chapter 2. The Soldier Interfaces: The Man-in-the-Middle Working (the Iron Man films, Pacific Rim, Terminator films, Robocop films, Transcendence)

3. The Absent Virtual Soldier: Combat Video Games in Film (Gamer, Brainstorm, eXistenZ, Ghost Machine)

4. War Games: The Simulation Becomes Reality (Ender’s Game, Stealth, WarGames, Body of Lies, Goodkill)

5. The Civilian Soldier: Hackers and their Enemies (Blackhat, The Fifth Estate, Furious 7, Sneakers, The Core, Swordfish)

Conclusion: What Might a War Film Look like Going Forward?


The following are presentations given at conferences that will be reworked into larger chapters and/or journal papers.

vlcsnap-00001The Hard Technological Bodies of Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow (Paper given at 2015 SCMS Conference)

Susan Jefford’s work on Reagan-era action movies established the “hard body” as the over-muscled biological spectacle that functioned as a unifying force for both “a type of national character” and “the nation itself” (25). The “mastery” that the hard body represents is echoed the equally spectacular hard technological bodies of the exoskeleton-enhanced protagonists of Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow. While Jeffords argues that the 80s hard body was deeply suspicious of “technological innovation” as a possible polluter of the hard body’s “individualism” (40), the 2014 hard technological body arises in reaction to the increased globalization of the world and terrorist attacks that has made international borders and conflicts far murkier. Simultaneously, such a body also reflects the extreme interpenetration that computerized technology has had in both global-national militaries as well as the average Western moviegoer’s life.

Different than the all-encasing machine “suits” of the Iron Man and Robocop films or Pacific Rim, the exoskeleton, specifically as combat weapon, is one that deliberately melds the human and the machine so that both biological and technological are visible simultaneously. The literal “man-in-the-middle” soldier created by such an assemblage has roots in Norbert Weiner’s and Claude Shannon’s work at the Macy conferences post-WWII and is currently being developed for both military (formerly as the Future Combat System now as the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization) and commercial uses. While I will briefly trace the representations of the exoskeleton through Aliens, The Matrix Revolutions and Avatar, a focus on the recent use of exoskeleton combat in Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow shows that biological muscle combined with and augmented by a technological apparatus generates a spectacle reminiscent of the 80s hard body. In this, the hard technological body has morphed its focus of mastery from international and physical conflicts to virtual and borderless ones. Such a transition encourages the contemporary machinic movie audience to view themselves not as the healthy symbiotic posthuman N. Katherine Hayles promotes; instead, the hard technological body, in an attempt to heroically reassert human exceptionalism, treats his/her computerized technology, specifically the Internet, as, first, a tool to be conquered and then a weapon to conquer with.

vlcsnap-00018Ender’s War Games: The Simulation of War as Weapon and Tactic (Paper given at the 2015 PCA/ACA Conference)

The rising acceptance of game theory in combination with increasingly complex and sophisticated computer simulators has drastically changed the modern war machine. While such a shift was Popularly reflected in War Games (1983) and the publication of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985), simulated war, with the possible exception of the war movie, was kept largely from the public eye. Yet, as Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio have theorized, beginning with the Gulf War, recent warfare has pushed the depiction of real-life war into the realm of unreal model and constantly mediated simulation. Acknowledging Manuel De Landa’s work alongside the shifting genre of the war movie and the simulated roots of cinema itself, such a dangerous shift is reflected in the film version of Ender’s Game (2013) wherein the simulation itself becomes the war which then reveals the traumas caused, on both civilians and soldiers alike, by a distanced military over dependant on technologies, specifically the Internet.

The Absent Virtual Soldier: Combat Simulators in Film (Paper given at 2016 SCMS Conference)

The American military has long been invested in single soldier and networked simulation technology, such as early examples like SIMNET and The Battle of 73 Easting (to say nothing of flight and tank simulators), as a means to train its soldiers in an attempt to expose them to the speed and visceral nature of warfare. Yet, these simulators are almost completely absent from movies within the war film genre. Interesting then, the cinematic representations of the technology, when they do show up, come under the guise of civilian military-styled video games and virtual reality in movies like Brainstorm, eXistenZ and Gamer. Using these films and focusing on the civilian use of the technology, the chapter explores these films’ critiques about the use of popular combat simulators’ functions within a culture of Total War as well as raising concerns around the virtualizing of the modern military war machine as both dehumanizing and over-corporatized applications of military brainwashing. The movie present conflicts that further enhancing the theme of enemy-ally disintegration by turning civilians against other civilians in the role of soldier in militarized combat, generating a space, via the games themselves and the cinematic representations of these virtual spaces, wherein the dense networking capabilities of the Internet becomes a normalized facilitator of military violence. The end of the chapter will then further explore the reasons why, despite its normalized placement within a contemporary war machine, combat and warfare simulators do not show up in war films. While first touching on the obvious differences in the mediums of film and video games, the chapter then looks at the intertextual nature of movies like Jarhead, wherein soldiers watch other war movies within the film, to argue that cinema itself functions as a form of “virtual reality” training that potentially indoctrinates soldiers in much the same way a combat simulator does.