The Nuclear Outcome(s)

Friedrich Kittler begins Gramophone, Film, Typewriter by pointing out that what we have referred to here as the military-industrial-entertainment complex is currently in the process of laying millions of feet of fibre optic cable, for it is the communication technology best capable of withstanding (unlike copper wire) the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear bomb.

Optical fiber networks. People will be hooked to an information channel that can be used for any medium — for the first time in history, or for its end. Once movies and music, phone calls and texts reach households via optical fiber cables, the formerly distinct media of television, radio, telephone, and mail converge, standardized by transmission frequencies and bit format. The optoelectronic channel in particular will be immune to disturbances that might randomize the pretty bit patterns behind the images and sounds. Immune, that is, to the bomb. As is well known, nuclear blasts send an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) through the usual copper cables, which would infect all connected computers.

The Pentagon is engaged in farsighted planning: only the substitution of optical fibers for metal cables can accommodate the enormous rates and volumes of bits required, spent, and celebrated by electronic warfare. All early warning systems, radar installations, missile bases, and army staffs in Europe, the opposite coast, finally will be connected to computers safe from EMP and thus will remain operational in wartime. In the meantime, pleasure is produced as a by-product: people are free to channel-surf among entertainment media. After all, fiber optics transmit all messages imaginable save for the one that counts — the bomb (p. 1).

Meanwhile, the threat of nuclear escalation and the resultant doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction also ensured that real warfare would morph into a cultural parallel. Numerous sports scholars (for example, Rob Beamish and Ian Ritchie) have detailed an overall Cold War conflict by sporting proxy and the concomitant rise of state-sponsored doping programs to technologize these warrior-athletes. The Olympic Games provided the operational theatre for this proxy war: capitalism versus communism, live on television.

We might locate the symbolic climax of the modern sport project in the two Summer Olympic Games that took place in Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984). Not only did these games augur the eventual dissolution of the superpower binary with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but they also marked the introduction of the truly corporate Olympics, with the Los Angeles Organizing Committee fully showcasing the spectacular potential of the Olympics as a cultural property sponsored by transnational capital. And from this backdrop of Cold War sport and state-sponsored doping programs emerged Ben Johnson in 1988 and the subsequent formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

We are reminded of Deleuze and Guattari's formula for the State capturing the nomadic war machine for its own purposes: "The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems" (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 355). But then as the athletic bodies deterritorialize post-Cold War to seek the newfound Olympic riches, and the nation-state formation yields to Empire, the stakes change and restricting speed or circulation of movement becomes of central importance.

It is ironic that the nuclear bomb, in its undetonated form, yields the technological lineage most responsible for the dematerialization of the human body as well as the lineage most responsible for its material recombination in the name of speed (which may be one and the same thing when viewed as a problem of semiotics). Further still, we should note that these (binary) strategies of nuclear deterrence are ultimately reduced to a universal system of security and control over the interior and exterior spaces of said bodies.


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