Two weeks ago the UK parliament voted to commence airstrikes over Syria.
Within hours of the vote media outlets were publishing pro- or anti-bombing articles, and ‘experts’ were debating the repercussions of this military action, both on the ordinary people of Syria and on domestic security.
During this period of media hyperactivity and gross political self-congratulation (the latter acknowledged and scorned by both Frankie Boyle and David Mitchell) something more sinister briefly appeared in print media. Media outlets such as the Daily Mail published pieces describing the Brimstone missile, one of several weapons to be deployed by the RAF in the UK bombing campaign. Superficially commenting on the relative cost of these weapons, these media outlets used graphics and illustrations to describe in detail the appearance, capability, and range of the missiles.
Over the last 15 years of Western military engagement, these illustrations have appeared repeatedly in the press; sometimes flashy, high-tech depictions of aircraft carriers or fighter jets; sometimes elaborating on the destructive capability of missile systems and bombs. On this occasion I asked myself: who needs these illustrations? How does a cartoon-like illustration of a Brimstone missile contribute to a report on our impending military action? And what type of psychopath needs to know the technical specifications of such weapons to sway their opinion on the choices of the UK government? Surely, a pretty picture describing the guidance system of an air-to-ground missile contributes little to the debate over the practical and moral outcomes of the strikes?
And yet, there has always been a weird interest in tools of destruction. You only have to look at the racks of magazines focused on guns and ammo to realise that there is a healthy interest in the design and use of weaponry. Who prepared these graphics and illustrations? Do art departments in major newspapers that have the ability and creative will to knock up these pictures of ‘bunker-buster’ missiles and SAS assaults on IS strongholds? This raises the worrying possibility that the media is being supplied with these technical specs by the government or weapons manufacturers themselves. How else could we know the dimensions, range and destructive power of the latest high-tech bomb? These illustrations are at best propaganda, at worst, a way of numbing us to the reality of these weapons by transforming them into cartoons.
It is, perhaps, a subtle way of gaining subconscious support (or at least acquiescence) from a gaming generation who respond to these kind of images. You can begin to make a connection between the increase in popularity and realism of these games, and how people might become receptive to information from the media, presented in a similar manner.
Perhaps, at least, we can be confident that in the case of weapons, form follows function. These illustrations assure us that our tax money has not been wasted on unnecessary frills or plush coverings. Paul Smith does not tailor our missiles with flashy silk lining. Vivienne Westwood does not encrust tracer bullets with precious stones.
Whilst I still cannot understand the purpose of these illustrations, nor the motivation of the agencies that create them, I’ll be sure to scrutinize them more carefully in the future and continue to question their existence.