US: Lockheed Martin's Promotional Film

Publisher Name: 
Guardian (London)

You are deep inside enemy territory. It's night. Lush, computer-generated clouds float across your screen. The target, a tank, is down below in the valley, just over the brow of the sand dune on which you are perched, Andy McNab-style. The tracking locks on, making a high-pitched whirring sound reminiscent of Predator or Blade Runner - except this isn't a feature film. "Supper's ready," someone says.

Take aim. The desert is silent. Fire. A huge mushroom goes up - purple and silver and deep, oily black, beautiful against the Arabian sky. The towel-heads got it good tonight. But you don't see them, because you never see the enemy in person (at least not alive).

The explosion lasts a cinematically long time. The glow is reflected in the greased faces of your comrades: chiselled warriors who, as Lockheed Martin, producer of the promotional film Sure Strike 2 puts it, have "freedom, integrity and courage" in their hearts. As the explosion fades, the words "Mission Success" bounce round like a screen saver.

Sure Strike 2 looks to all intents and purposes like a video game. In fact, it's a simulated taste of modern warfare, courtesy of one of the world's largest arms manufacturers. In the past, if you wanted to buy a missile system, you had to go to an arms fair. Nowadays, you can see the hardware in action, thanks to promotional films such as Sure Strike 2, many of which are available on the internet for the price of a phone call.

These mini-Top Gun epics, made by multinational companies selling "integrated defence systems", are certainly gung-ho - flying the US flag against footage of exploding rockets to a mid-80s rock soundtrack - but appear as much bizarre as in bad taste.

In Lockheed Martin's filmed mission statement, What We Believe, a little boy throws a paper plane into the sky, transformed seamlessly into a fighter jetting into the sunset, corporate fanfare blazing. "We embrace our dream, our future," says the voice-over, the LM logo exploding orgasmically into a firing jet engine.
The pornography of the arms industry is never slicker or weirder than at this glossy end of the market. Boeing - which has an online Boeing Store, where you can buy T-shirts and mugs as well as a book about the developmental journey of the Seattle-based company from timber-logging to 747s - also produces some of the best 16mm slow-mo arms porn on the market. Boeing is king of the sexy wipe-out: the smooth sheath of the missile dispatched from its snug pocket on the side of the ship, arching perfectly over the sea before taking out a helicopter.

Boeing's promotions are the antithesis of Lockheed's moody video-game. It mesmerises the viewer with wave upon wave of pyrotechnic destruction: missiles dropping vertically on to tanks (ooph!) and thumping into the sides of destroyers (wham!); helicopters ducking through clusters of enemy fire to incinerate their prey (cool!).

As with all forms of pornography, the viewer becomes desensitised after a while. You get sucked into the aesthetic of the genre, demanding ever better, bigger explosions; you want more phallic rockets, closer and cleverer camera angles, allowing more furtive glimpses of the object of desire.

Quickly, one switches off from the endless repetition and marvels instead at the euphemisms used to pussyfoot around the fact that this particular machine can kill thousands of people: "The Low Cost Autonomous Attack System is an autonomous long-range conventional air-to-ground precision stand-off missile designed to destroy high- value, well-defended, fixed or relocatable targets."

Yes, but what if I bought one? What would it do? "The Low Cost Autonomous Attack System can be detonated with long rod penetration, or as an aerostable slug, or fragments, depending on the hardness of the target."

Ah, choices, choices.

One would have thought that arms manufacturers could have employed psychologists to erase all Freudian language from the scripts. Echoing business-speak, weapons have "lethality", "high survivability" or a "wide coverage area" (which makes them sound like a garden sprinkler).

The bland, shopping-catalogue clichés are delivered by a voice-over in the sort of tone and delivery used in television shaver commercials. The cosy familiarity of the voice, and its strange dissociation from the footage, heightens the creepy ambiguity of the viewing experience.

Is this, for instance, an arms video or an ad for the Gillette Mach 3? There is only a subtle difference in the ratio of shaving to fighter-plane shots. Otherwise, they are the same.

It's no surprise, given the inherently surreal nature of selling weapons in this way, that spoofs exist on the internet, one including a "sponsored by McDonald's" caption next to news footage of US troops liberating Kuwait. It's proof of the fine line between the two that you have to watch for several minutes before realising you've been had.

For laser-guided accuracy in parodying the arms porn video, however, nothing comes closer than Samuel L Jackson's Chicks Who Love Guns scene from Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown.

Lying back, watching his own video for the TEC-9 automatic sub-machine gun, fired by girls in bikinis against a desert backdrop, Jackson provides the shaver ad-style voice-over: "When you absolutely, positively have to kill every mutha-fucker in the room, accept no substitutes."

The Chicks Who Love Guns scene looks far-fetched, but it is actually nearly identical to a cult video called Sexy Girls, Sexy Guns, part of a series called Rock'n'Roll: More Guns More Fun.

The film features, according to the manufacturers, "14 Californian beau ties, scantily clad in string bikinis and high heels, firing the sexiest full auto machine guns ever produced. They're all here: Uzi; Mac-10; MP-5; AK-47; M-16; MP-K; Thompson and several others handled by the cutest, sexiest, wildest bunch of babes ever. If you like girls, you'll like this tape. If you like sub-machine guns ... you'll love it."

If Lockheed Martin and Boeing's promotional films equal quality arms porn, Sexy Girls, Sexy Guns are something dodgy from under the counter - but it is part of a huge gun video market. Nestling alongside those AK-toting Californian beauties, there are Heavy Machine Guns in Attack; Shooting the Uzi - The Israeli Way; and - one for the ladies - Handgun Workout.

Special interest videos, largely directed at the US gun-owning market, are given the same no-frills marketing and packaging as their porn industry equivalents. Both are produced in dingy backrooms and worth billions of dollars. Like the porn industry, the how-to genre has its unlikely heroes - craggy-faced men in aviator sunglasses and baseball caps such as Tony Riley, Lenny Magill and Jim Hill, who is the National High-Power Rifle champion.

Worshipped by real-life versions of Dale, the conspiracy theorist from the television cartoon King of the Hill, these are ordinary men who believe that Nato is a Zionist plot and Washington an anti-National Rifle Association conspiracy by aliens against gun-owning America.

The slick, multimillion dollar productions of Lockheed and Boeing are in a different class. After watching hours of these corporate arms videos, one is struck not by the weaponry or the technology but the absence of human beings.
The few faces that do appear, fleetingly, are partially hidden behind visors and clad in fireproof space suits, pressing buttons. The complete invisibility of the victims of war that first became apparent to the world during the Gulf war has reached its logical conclusion in the arms video. The average 15-year-old boy would see more bloodshed playing Doom in his bedroom.

Arms videos are adverts in which the devastation that weapons actually cause is not portrayed. Instead, the viewer takes pure, unadulterated enjoyment from endlessly looped simulated death: the endless multiple orgasm of fast-edited impacts, stretching out for ever on to the horizon.

It certainly serves an audience, but I doubt they have any interest in buying weapons.

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering