Inspecting my own little role in the consent manufacturing machine

Sometime between 2012 and 2013, I wrote a short story called Random Access. This was a Black Mirror-a-like drama in which a person attached to an EEG could ‘re-live’ their memories, rendered in a video game.

The other day, I removed the story from public view on this web site. It won’t be coming back in its current form. This is why.

The ‘frame’ story I used featured a veteran of the Iraq War who was wounded in action, trying to find out what happened to his comrade (and illicit lover) who went missing during a firefight that left a civilian family dead.

The story was heavily influenced by various pieces of media I was consuming at the time, including (as mentioned) Black Mirror, along with Forbrydelsen/The Killing II, and the video game Spec Ops: The Line. This is, in essence, the problem. Particularly with the latter two of these, while I enjoyed them at the time and interpreted them as ‘anti-war’ narratives, they are only truly ‘anti-war’ in that they say ‘sometimes soldiers feel sad and do bad things.’ The narratives still centre white, Western, culturally Christian voices, all the time using a real-world situation where Western countries have invaded and destabilised sovereign nations as a backdrop. The fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan takes a back seat.

This is still a problem in 2021. Even my favourite film from last year, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s and Greg Rucka’s The Old Guard, while ‘sceptical’ in some sense of the US military, never follows through to openly challenge the military-industrial complex and the machine of imperialism. Nile, the audience insert character, is a Marine in Afghanistan. We’re encouraged to empathise with Nile because she shot a military target she was supposed to capture (who then slashed her throat with his dying breath); we’re never invited to empathise with any Afghan characters, none of whom I believe even have names. While you can never expect a piece of media to be ideologically ‘pure,’ this just left a particularly bad taste in my mouth given how many other commendable things The Old Guard does.

The recentdiscourse about Six Days in Fallujah, a video game in such shockingly bad taste that it was cancelled in 2009 but still somehow got made, made me think back to that little story I wrote in 2012 again. While I often cringe at things I wrote in the past, using the Iraq War as a backstory for a sci-fi ‘love story’ (after a fashion) between two (implied white) American men—one of whom is implied to have committed a war crime, in the context of an entire war that was likely illegal and lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents—seems a bit wrong.

I’m not going to pretend that people read Random Access in any great number (I’ve seen the hit counts, they haven’t) nor that this is likely to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. But I think it’s important to recognise when you’ve made yourself complicit in part of a wider pattern of oppression and violence—no matter how little, and no matter how unintentionally.