Victoria Vesna


Just before the outbreak of one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history of Europe, a popular magazine in Serbia came out with a cover graced by a young model dressed in a combat suit. The model was an image part Playboy cover, part Brooke Sheilds with her breasts, obviously shaped by silicone implants exposed. On the back page, we have a cover story:

It is not certain if Natasha B. is from Belgrade living in Manhattan or an American born in Belgrade. While visiting her old neighborhood, she stayed only for the afternoon. Then she went off with a foreign delegation to the war zone, as a translator. "Well Arkan (one of the most notorious war criminals) doesnÕt need any translating!', she disappointingly declared on her arrival back from Erdut when we grabbed her for two hours to take this cover photo. She added: "Serbs have become so sexy in their new uniforms! If I only knew...I would have never gone to America!" January 19th, 1991. The following week, Natasha B. made a statement denying this quote and denouncing it as a lie.

The artificiality of her story mirror the artificiality of her image, her breasts, adding to the war mystique. This is not what we would readily label as an advertisement, but in fact it serves the same purpose, utilizing the same techniques with the exception of war being sold as an idea, as the imaginary product. The message of war becomes seductive through the utilization of a female body. She becomes the camouflage of this bloody reality through the use of sex, sexual desire. Her denial of the statement is rendered impotent, placed in a non-visible spot a week later in a form of a sentence. Clearly no importance is given to her truth, it doesn't serve the system, the need which is to enlist and excite young men to fight.

Elisabeth Cowrie's essay "Woman as Sign" poses the question which seems appropriate in this case as well. She examines to the exchange of women in a signifying system in which woman is produced as a sign. Here, an additional element of the fictitious statement is added, wherein the language becomes part of the sign, feeding the image with the fantasy, the seduction. When a representation of a woman and her thought is placed within a inherently male arena of war, the question arises if she is positioned as a symbol or as a sign. I suspect that the signifying structure within the exchange system shifts dramatically when the situation of war arises.

Judith Butler in her introduction to Bodies that Matter talks about the seduction of grammar, and questions: "If gender is a construction, must there be an "I" or a "we" who enacts or performs the construction? How can there be an activity, a constructing without presupposing an agent who precedes and performs that activity?" The materiality of the body constructed juxtaposed with the materiality of language, it becomes clear that one is dependent on the other. The silicone in her breasts is a element which promises to add to this discourse of materiality and artificiality constructions. This same element is the driving force of the computer technology, which comes from the war production machine. She wears an army camouflage suit , although it is highly unlikely that she will participate in the direct warfare. "Rambo" could be placed as her male counterpart eroticizing the idea of war and violence. Similarly, during the Gulf War, we witnesses an immediate emergence of calendars with pin-ups, also dressed in fatigues. And if we go back to World War II, we can see the beginning of this system of representation of the female body for the seduction to war with Hollywood stars going to the war zones and pin-up mascots being painted on the noses of bomber planes. Once again, words are an inherent part of these signs, with names given to the images:

Beat Me Daddy, Careful Virgin, Double Busted, Dream Girl, Flyin' Fannie, Four-A-Breast, Gang Bang, Grin n'Bare it, Miss Carriage, ready 4 Duty, Sugar Puss, Target for Tonight, War Goddess...

Ironically, the aerospace industry is the developer of the current virtual reality systems. Now that we are in a "conversion stage", we are witnessing the same representations with a new technology, competing with reality. There is even talk of plastic surgeons developing a virtual reality system in which the woman can see her self reshaped and move around her body parts, a process of construction materialized.

Foucault writes in The History of Sexuality: "...in socialization of procreative behavior, "sex" was described as being caught between a law of reality (economic necessity being its most abrupt an immediate form) and an economy of pleasure which was always an attempt to circumvent the law - when, that is, it did not ignore it all together." (pg.154). What happens to the law of sexual conduct in a situation of war? Rape becomes part of warfare and all laws laid down for sexual conduct are annulled. Rape of women in Bosnia gets an incredible amount of media coverage in the West, which on a daily bases has the same crime committed during peace. Is the outrage due to the fact that it is not hidden, that the law is broken blatantly and there is no more pretense relating to the woman as a body of exchange?

Constructing signs of women who seduce young men to war by connecting the sexual desire to the blood letting becomes an announcement of a period of time when the law will not be followed, and any imaginary power women might have in the system of exchanged is relinquished during this time. All of the repressed desires, the taboos surface with an explosive force and the underlying hidden agenda becomes visible.

Focault makes a distinction of the society of blood and of sex: A society of blood - I was tempted to say, of "sanguinity" - where power spoke through blood: the honor of war, the fear of famine, the triumph of death, the sovereign with his sword, executioners, and tortures; the blood was a reality with a symbolic function. We, on the other hand, are in a society of "sex". or rather a society "with a sexuality": the mechanisms of power are addressed to the body, to life, to what causes it to proliferate, to what reinforces the species, its stamina, its ability to dominate, or its capacity for being used. But, here we have a situation of two worlds converging - that of the Hollywood production machine of the West and the old time warfare of the society of blood. The woman who bleeds without being cut or injured becomes the ultimate victim. Ancient realities surfaced and became part of the present. The West, so used to thinking of the future, is paralyzed, not knowing how to react to the past re-materializing., another reality colliding.

Andy and Heidi Toffler write: "Today, the lineup of world civilizations is different. We are speeding toward a totally different structure of power that will create not a world cut in two but sharply divided into three contrasting and competing civilizations--the first still symbolized by the hoe; the second by the assembly line; and the third by the computer."

The body represented in these clashing worlds still follows the same established rules, yet the technology used confuses the issue. The materiality of words and the body representation in a newly evolving arena of cyberspace brings up all the issues of JudithÕs Butler Bodies that Matter. Words are the materiality and the body is immaterial. An example of this is the incident of a rape on the network, all transpiring through the use of language, being just as shocking and damaging.

Virtual reality is better. Who creates it for you? Paul Virilio writes: "A war of pictures and sounds is replacing the war of objects (projectiles and missiles). In a technicians' version of an all-seeing Divinity, ever ruling out an accident and surprise, the drive is on for a general system of illumination that will allow everything to be seen and known, at every moment and in every place." Soldiers trained with virtual reality wars get seduced by images of girls dressed in combat suits. The girl, like a cyborg, seduces you with the idea of going to war. The young boys are going to fight for her body, unite with the hard bombs, explode inside her. The combat suit takes them back to the imaginary jungle where the animalistic instincts play out and the reality of life is perpetuated in the present by the ever-present threat of death. The orgasmic explosions into the space deny the existence of the nurturing space and the virtual reality past is no different from the war. It's better; the real world is warmer, colder, faster, more frightening and empowering. No more training goggles. The boys are free to really die and the training made them so prepared for that moment--from the Nintendo days to Guns 'n Roses to the virtual war games in the army camp. The picture of the girl is inviting you to the world where she has no power and no say.