"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 6 April 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Nothing But Bombs



The trendiest way of

communicating in the twilight of

the second millennium isn't

digital at all. It's the

rocket's red glare that is

giving word, through the Serbian

night of television censorship

and destroyed communications,

that civilized nations are still

there. Bombs are taking center

stage in the European theater as

Commodore 64s and Minitel

terminals cavort clunkily in the



The primary purpose of every

recent aerial attack is not to

destroy but to "send a

message," a phrase heard often

when bombastic invectives were

being unleashed against Iraq. As

Clinton described in the current

war's the-bombing-begins-in-

five-minutes speech, the goal of

this latest barrage is to pound

home NATO's ultimatum. The

bombing could also damage the

military power of Milosevic's

Serbian army, he mentioned - "if



Although once thought to be

different kinds of things, a

reading of a United Nations

ordinance and a successfully

delivered Allied ordnance are

both simply media of

communication. A missile is a

missive. The true qualities of

these weapons can't be found

listed on the spec sheet

alongside range and lethality

figures. The only way to get a

good exploded view of bombs is

to examine them under the

magnifying lens of media

criticism - away from the heat

of direct sunlight, of course.



Not only are bombs a medium of

communication, they're a far

hipper means than digital media.

Think about it: You wouldn't say

"da Web" to refer to the coolest

shit in the world. Bombs are so

chic that if missile cachet

keeps growing the way it has

been, NATO gray might be this

season's black. The same

certainly can't be said for RGB

192,192,192. The Darpa-funded

Internet might be able to resist

devastation by bombs, but that

won't save it from becoming

unfashionable in the contrail of

a more spectacular medium.


The movies bear this out as

well. For every film that

prominently features the

Internet (You've Got Mail, The

Net), there are several in which

bombs play the lead (Chain

Reaction, Blown Away, Broken

Arrow, The X-Files). If the plot

dictates the averting of an

Earth-destroying explosion,

à la Deep Impact, the

only way to do it right is with

Armageddon's kamikaze

thermonuclear blast. Film has

finally learned to stop worrying

and love the bomb.


Recent books practice

missile-worship as well. In

Underworld, which opens and

closes with nuclear explosions,

Don DeLillo portrays a youth of

the '50s, stealthily jacking off

while dreaming of the United

States' sleek Honest John

missile. Nearly passé

media outlets, like magazines,

the movies, and the Internet

certainly facilitate onanism,

but these communication channels

don't have the all-around erotic

charge of the missile, which is

present in any orientation and

at every stage of deployment.



The communicative aspects of

bombing must have been

well-known to the MPs gathered

in London. The deputy prime

minister, with apparent

innocence, mispronounced the

Serbian despot's name as

"Missile-o-vec" twice when he

read a night-of-the-bombing

communiqué. This gaffe

drew some tittering from the

crowd of commoners, but the

punning reference highlighted

the evening's more important

event of discourse - the one

that wasn't being conducted with

language. He did apologize for

the mispronunciation, but it

couldn't contain the scattered

blasts of laughter. Once spoken,

words, like bombs, cannot be



As the professor said, media are

extensions of our minds or

bodies, and specifically of some

parts of our bodies or mental

capabilities. The wheel is an

extension of the foot, for

example. As the penetrating,

explosive power of the

cigar-shaped missile suggests,

bombs are in some ways

extensions of our fists. Yet in

a certain way, the bomb,

although inarticulate, has a

pre-vocal quality about it as

well, extending the mouth,

expressing what can be read as

the world's worst knock-knock



Just as television leaves room

for its viewers to engage,

bombardment invites the

participation of those bombed.

They can flee or mill around

sightless and mutilated. In the

case of a cruise missile, they

can even fire back at the

incoming message before it is

fully received. The claim that

bombing induces passivity and

results in a "couch potato"

attitude is parroted in such

phrases as "bombed into

submission." But this claim,

like a building at ground zero,

doesn't stand up.



Even a carpet-bombing doesn't

provide a uniform, wall-to-wall

message, leaving everything

ponderable. The part of that

single onslaught that takes out

the munitions factory may be

interpreted one way, because of

its military purpose. The part

that takes out the children's

hospital (partially taken over

for military use, no doubt) will

probably be seen to have another

meaning. And the part that lands

harmlessly in the swimming pool

between the two may suggest a

flyover by an air force of

surrealists, helmeted with

urinals and bearing water

pistols that squirt milk from

the breast of Gaia.


Being bombed is actually a

highly interactive and

fulfilling experience. The

recipients of the explosives

have the opportunity to add

their own meaning, where the

bombs provide none, and

sometimes live to rebuild those

areas where the devastation has

resulted in similar urban gaps.

There's no pot of gold at the

end of gravity's rainbow, to be

sure. But the missile's blast

might make way for the golden

arches and Western prosperity.

The bombed, if very lucky and

very severely bombed, sometimes

can themselves be shaped into a

model consumer society, as our

friends and favorite automakers

on the Pacific Rim have done.

Per McLuhan, the medium is the

message. And bombs are just the

thing to provide a high-impact

message to some of the most

tense areas of affected

continents. No doubt they will

succeed in loosening up those

knotty problems that the

fusillade of more conventional

media hasn't been able to


courtesy of The Internick

[Purchase the Suck Book here]