This will be the first in a series of footnotes on visual culture. …Shorter than an editorial– just a single critical reference as a sidenote to the ongoing onslaught of all things peculiar that bombard us; ripe for comment, expansion, and forgetting.
I first noticed the change to digital bitmap camouflage in the pattern of military combat fatigues at an otherwise un-noteworthy exhibition of art & war at the Whitney (which at the time made me think how incapable post-modern art is of capturing anything like the spirit of revolution). Checking the tag, I saw it was a photo of deployed Canadian troops from the previous year– but now the bitmap camouflage is used by all major military. The purpose is obvious. Camouflage once functioned to blend the wearer in with the analogue information of light and dark of the human eye and its scopic enhancements. Now camouflage must mix the wearer in with other digital data, to avoid being recognized by computer algorithms, analyzing the streams of data from satellite and other surveillance, or to appear on the screen of the watching military as a possible bitmappy render error… to make the soldier look, not like debris, but literally like digital noise.
At first this seems another iteration of Baudrillard’s critique of Dessert Storm… a war of simulation like video games, where the soldiers and the public all experience the war as a mediated, flat phenomenon. But on second glance, this is something more sinister, more vital, and more true. We learn the truths of this new digital imaging age only as they force themselves upon us. This is no video game– it is the very real protection of life and blood of actual bodies competing in a video game. The bitmap patterns are there to trick the computer that holds the trigger. And it is a very real iteration of how our bodies and lives transformed through our growing efforts to extend them with machines become trapped within those devices we sought for empowerment. While seeking to reduce the world to readable code, our own bodies continue on in their vulnerable, binarily mortal coils, which we must wrap in a bitmap wrapper for their own survival.
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