I really enjoyed Phil Patiris’s The Iraq Campaign and somber yet humorous approach towards addressing the problems behind the pro-war mainstream media coverage of the Gulf War. This reminded me of several experiences I’ve had with how military contractors recruit students as engineers, from students at my high school to my engineering major peers at my current school.
I first saw the connection when the part of the film with GE’s advertisement of their engines created for military aircrafts came on. The representation of fighter jets as “cool” (or the recession of these aircrafts into part of Debord’s spectacle and a symbol of American exceptionalism) was exactly how I’ve seen military contractors sell their company to prospective job applicants. In high school, Northrop Grumman visited our campus to recruit for their internship program specifically for high school students, which would entail learning how to code from full-time engineers. The recruiter showed slide after slide of what Northrop Grumman makes: aircrafts, missiles, autonomous systems, navigation systems, and so on, emphasizing how “cool” the technology was and how prestigious Northrop Grumman was as an engineering company. Many of the other students were convinced: this was the extracurricular that would get them into the top engineering program at their dream university. However, I felt worse the longer I listened to the recruiter talk, because all I could do was imagine who was on the other end of those missiles. How else should I have felt? “Gee whiz, can’t wait to work on code that kills people”? The idea that having a prestigious internship eclipsed the understanding one’s moral responsibility is just one example of Debord’s ideas about how appearance degrades humanity in the concept of the spectacle.
[Image description: The banner of the Northrop Grumman web page for recruiting. A text box says, “reach new career heights,” over a large aircraft in flight, surrounded by various navigation system interfaces.]
I see this method more often since I’ve come to an engineering school, where military contractor recruiting is more aggressive than ever. My college gets lots of money from military contractors to network with engineering students, so they are especially incentivized to support recruiting efforts. The irony in this is that our school’s mission statement, created in 1955 after the technology of WWII set the world on fire, is to “educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians … so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society,” with the implication that the college founders wanted engineers that would know not to be the designer of such weapons. Since this part of our mission statement is pushed to the wayside, many students go to work for these companies without acknowledging what kind of impact their work may have. Without having faculty addressing moral questions like this in their courses, and instead just passively accepting the constant commodification of military weapons in engineering circles, we are unable to achieve what Debord describes in The Society of the Spectacle as “the workers’ direct possession of every aspect of their activity.”
From Week 4: DADA and SITUATIONIST THEORY