My first response to these Instagram photos was the shock and disgust which was the intended effect I was supposed to feel as pre-scripted by the good people over at Electronic Intifadah. I really didn’t have much to say, so I just posted it. What was there really to say? “Here’s the moral face of the Occupation,” “the truth of Zionism,” etc. etc. True, but not deep, such statements only go so far. One could guss it up with theoretical constructs like “precarity,” “bare life,” “states of exception,” and “homo sacer,” with constructs that are just a tad bit overblown in relation to the evidentiary points at hand. So I said nothing, having nothing to say, only wanting to share the pictures.
In the first posting, I shied away from showing the picture of the semi naked soldier. So I posted a picture posted at Instagram of a remote control joystick-like device, which included a stupid inscription about God and the power to choose life and death. But that picture didn’t really jibe with the blog title, “Naked, Armed, and Dangerous” which I lifted from Electronic Intifadah. Commenting here at JPP, my brother Palmsundae suggested that the semi naked pictures were in fact better pictures. He thought that “Seeing the wasted and armed soldier, in his Instagram pix, humanizes the debacle which is a 65 year old war with no end.” This observation makes sense of the skinny hairy legs and black socks, the soldier’s privates covered by his gun, and the stupid expression. Because my brother is subtle, what he could possibly have meant by “humanizing” this “debacle” are many all at once, including a low-grade and distinctly trashy kind of homoerotic hotness.
The problem I see in the more easy first initial response is the tendency towards hyperventilation. This tends to be the affect that goes along with what Susan Sontag, in her “Notes on Camp,” called “Jewish moral seriousness.” Perhaps indeed, what these Instragram pictures call for is a little “homosexual irony,” a little “camp,” identified by Sontag in the same essay as the second leg of the modern tradition. Because if all you can see is through the prism of “moral seriousness,” well, you end up stuck in the first initial register.
I asked an ex-student and friend about these pictures. “AJ” is a young’ish U.S. Army vet, and I figured he’d be familiar with this type of soldier stuff. In my stupid first innocence, I wanted to know if he thought the pictures were more sinister than banal or more banal than sinister. Without missing a beat, he replied “so banal, those images could be military baseball cards.”
So there you go. It’s not even Hannah Arendt and “the banality of evil,” because here “the bad-ass” behavior is only simulated and then performed in public as some odd display of Jewish masculinity. Another example of the modern Jewish schlemiel, as my friend Matthew Menachem Feuer, the Schlemiel Theorist, will understand better than I, the only difference being that this one is, in fact, armed, disturbed, and, indeed, most likely dangerous, the figure of a profound political and moral failure of a country to secure its place in an unstable environment.
I would like to hope that a higher level political cynicism looks beyond the first immediate effects of moral repugnance and ethical outrage. After the first impression of vicious cruelty fades into the mental background, what stands out is an individual social actor’s “over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intellegence, behaving ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears.” This is an online definition of “douchebag.” He is the part that now, in the age of new media, stands in for the whole: the command under which he serves, the Golani Brigade of the IDF, his adopted homeland, Israel, and the land of his birth, the United States, in this case, the state of Florida, even better.
As explained to me by AJ, “There are several of him in every Army unit I have ever been in. One of my friends used to do cocaine on the top of the artillery cannon and then shoot rounds.” I think that pretty much sums it up. I’m just not quite clear what it all adds up to. This is Golani, this is the Occupation, this is the State of Israel in the age of Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, and Naftali Bennet: a jerk from Florida with a gun.
For the full story and many more images go to: http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/stoned-naked-armed-and-dangerous-more-disturbing-images-israeli-soldiers