When I first saw the above advertisement for DJI, one of the world’s leading producers of drones, I balked. It seemed to me to be a picture that celebrated spying on the private and unaccessible mansions of the all-too-rich. So, given the unreliability of my American gut reactions in China, I asked the young women standing next to me, “What do you see in that advertisement?” She responded, “a pretty landscape.” I was like, “What about the dock? The big mansion? The coastline that resembles Newport’s?” She looked at the advert again, nodded, and then tentatively added, “We see things differently because of cultural difference.”

I asked another friend about what he saw. He responded that all drone technology is about what could not otherwise be seen. He went on to explain that drone technology creates perspectives that do not exist except through these technological interventions. “So, it’s not about spying?” I pressed. “Nope.” Hmmm. Seems like the pleasures of spying to moi.

Or rather, seems like an attempt to sell spyware as if it were a toy or an artistic medium. After all, drone technology began and continues to be primarily used by the military. Indeed, even high-end DJI drones sell at the low, throwaway end–say $US 500–of an industry where the flyaway cost of an MQ-9 Reaper was $US 16.9 million. Indeed, two of my favorite deployments of democratic drone-fare are the crowd sourced science of the Fukushima map project and views of the umbrella revolution (below).

That said, the pleasures of seeing what might otherwise might not be seen muddles the issues of drone-fare and counter-insurgency. The spying, the glimpses, the viewing–these pleasures are the ideological form that makes it “okay” to play with weapons. And when I get here, again, I balk. I hear Plato calling to kick the poets out of his Republic, and I get it. The poets make us fall in love with war and its heroes. And yet. Who’d really want to live in a world without Euripides?

Knowledge is not wisdom.

4 thoughts on “drone-fare

  1. Interesting. Technologies that make it possible to see what otherwise could not (or would not) be seen have long been important to poets (a tower that enables us to climb another story and see a little farther, for example?). With an eye on etymology, one might even say a poem is one such technology. But when Plato has a character in one of his better known dramas call for the eviction of poets, he seems to be doing something more than calling for a ban on a particular technology. It seems to me that he is a poet using poetry to call attention to the power of poetry. I think it’s a mistake to say poets make us fall in love with war and its heroes. Not even Homer does that in a straightforward way — and surely not Euripides. In fact, calling for a ban on poets might be Plato’s idea of a joke, don’t you think? We fall in love with war and its “heroes” (and I’m inclined to agree with ee cummings on what that word usually means) quite on our own. But a poet like Euripides might be seen as an enemy of the State because he wrote plays that enable us to see wars in ways that the State probably would prefer we not see them — as human tragedies with suffering, ugliness, senseless cruelty, and outright stupidity on all sides (which might just threaten the power of leaders who call their war du jour “necessary” and/or “smart”). The noblest figure in the Iliad is probably Hektor — who is, of course, on the “other” side. Seems to me that the drones we should be most concerned about are the ones who so readily fall in love with wars and rumors of wars time and time again no matter how much times and technologies change. The drones that brought us the picture on the billboard, I think, continue a human struggle to extend our senses. I can’t say whether that human struggle is good or bad, only that it seems to be part of who we are. And the question — no matter how far we see (or what corners we see into) at any given time — is what we do with what we see. The drones will drone on. Artists can make use of what they see and what they incline us not to see (nothing that is not there and nothing that is) to mourn (even victory) as a funeral.

    And, for what it’s worth, I’d be more than willing to take my chances with Euripides in a world that saw war (no matter what technologies it employs) as something to mourn and avoid rather than something to celebrate and desire.

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