Militainment and mechatronics: Occultatio and the veil of science fiction cool in United States Air Force advertisements
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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
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