Beyond videogames, simulacrum, shady politics, and even the best watch-dog journalism, independent filmmaker Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) wants us to realize drones as the synecdoche of present civilization. In a recent interview with the senior editor of New Inquiry, Rivera waxes polemic about how this machine epitomizes our great, severed civilization.
The drone is the most visceral and intense expression of the transnational/telepresent world we inhabit. In almost every facet of our lives, from the products we use, to the food we consume, from the customer service representatives around the planet who work in the U.S. via the telephone, to the workers who leave their families and travel from all corners of the world to care for children in the U.S., in every aspect of our lives we live in a trans-geographic reality. The nonplace, the transnational vortex, is everywhere, ever present.
A lot of the first round of critique was that they make killing antiseptic or like a video game, or that it’s hyper-alienating for the pilots. But what I tried to depict in my film and what I believe is happening is something not that simple. The drone has produced a third type of military sight. Drone vision is not like the infantry’s vision that sees the opposing forces with their eyes, and it’s not the sight system of the airforce pilots that never really saw what was below while dropping bombs from thousands of feet up, often at night. The drone pilot has a type of vision that no military actor has had before, that of lingering, of observing over extended periods of time, and doing so with absolutely no threat to oneself.
The interview stands tall on the frontline of the cultural debate surrounding drones, and Rivera pushes hard that the artistic response to this reality is a crucial component in how the machines will change the world. It also includes a very unsettling story about the Pentagon contacting Rivera and revealing to him their hand in Jerry Bruckheimer productions like Transformers.