Fitness in Wartime: Americans on the Move

Event Scenes

Fitness in Wartime

Americans on the Move

Not so very long ago in America, we were in danger of becoming embalmed by the image. The specter of the “couch potato,” propped up in front of the television set, haunted what seemed to be an increasingly sedentary culture. Fused with the image in a kind of mind-meld, the body became a fulfillment vehicle for the desire-creating machine that is television. But it very often just became fat. In the early days of cyberspace, this figure morphed into a meatself parked at the computer monitor — a viewer who, released from the restraints of the body, frolicked gleefully in the matrix. In both cases, we had a nearly inert lump of flesh whose only life signs were tiny eye and finger flickers. With television, the body was immobilized; with early cyberspace, there was the premonition of its abandonment — in a “lifestyled” culture increasingly at odds with the reality of its flesh. We wondered: what would become of the body rendered obsolete in the playgrounds of virtuality?

Those days, for better or worse, were soon over. The rallying cry became: Time to get in shape! Wrested from the chair and launched into circulation within new mobile communications landscapes, we were to get our asses in gear, outfitted with arrays of portable devices. Mobile phones that were Web-enabled. Palm PCs outfitted with modems. Wearable GPS systems. Internet-enhanced eyegoggles. Smart shoes. Personal satellites. Implants.

It made one long for the days when one could just sit there.

Once upon a time in America there was an immobilized viewer, a fixed screen, and a stream of visuals that seemed to course between them, pulling the arrested viewer along a landscape that increasingly ressembled “travel.” We went “to” the image — or rather traveled through it, to its offerings, whether by Web or television or by the Fulfillment Vehicle of the automobile. Lodged within a shelter outfitted with ports, we were fixated by the screen yet mobilized in terms of the places that could be accessed through its confines.

Through the image, the shelter was secured yet made portable. We carried it with us as a shield. It protected us from the elements and from danger, while with the remote control or the mouse we fired bullets at the screen in order to defend that for which it stood. Our house stands for something. We stood for something. Through this tapping of the finger and the mini-projectiles it launched, friend/enemy divisions coalesced, helping to determine the contours of shelter and self. Fueled by the disaster imaginary — Hollywood, videogames, CNN — combat dynamics were filtered through an easy logistics of Choice. To select a channel and to meld with the image-flow was to create a “for” and an “against” — a feeling that “I” stood here against “them” — and a means of eliminating that which did not fit within the barricades of the here-and-now. “We will have none of that in this house,” one’s parents would say, banishing opposition to the exterior. The automobile extended the im/mobile home: we steered through the image, cushioned occupants soothed within the travel-flow. The car allowed a shiny projectile to be launched across the commons, its immobile occupant sealed inside, as it raced en route toward the fulfillment of its duty: to gather resources from afar in order to fortify the home-in-mobility.

The home-shield and the transmission/transport-weapon. Both corporealizing, in whatever degree of inertia. The finger-taps on the remote control, the hands on the wheel, or the hand turning off the cathode-ray tube as the light fades and the womb of the shelter cradles its occupant in a soothing net of safety.

To Hunt, and to be Not Harmed

The vision of legions of Web-enabled citizens on the move in the name of commerce has morphed into that of a populace armed with communications appliances, taking to the streets with a warrior spirit, bunkering down in the name of protectionisms, or engaging in some combination of both. (We carry our shields with us.) We are assured of our right to hunt — to shop — and to be protected from danger, in a world that seems increasingly fraught with peril. Under the sign of danger — danger defined in terms of corporeality as well as transmissions assault — a hybrid body is generated to require new fortifications. The logic of protection intertwines with that of enhancement: to improve is to make safer; to bring the body up to par is to make it adequate to meet new production demands– to make it adequate to meet new threats. Inefficiency, the contouring agent of business, combines with danger, the contouring agent of militarization — though the distinctions erode as they outsource together. What does it mean to be a “fit” individual? What does it mean to be “safe”? What does its “outside” tell us?

Justified in the name of convenience and defense, we are promised a vast extension of the net, where appliances of all kinds are linked with one another and where new kinds of observing networks extend a deceptively soothing gaze of protection. It is an infrastructure where every movement — not only just mouse-clicks but street-level activity — is trackable and potentially contoured through the advent of location-based services and new ideologies of prevention. Through net-enabled devices, GPS-systems, and monitoring networks connected to shared databases, we are “locked onto” for the purpose of targeting information, creating a desire, steering us in a specific direction, finding us should Help be necessary, or containing us if we are suspected of a crime. Combined with the increasing precision of surveillance technology, the rise of proactive policing, the lowering of governmental restraints, and the increasing acquiescence of a public that has been numbed to the threats this might impose, we face a situation where the body has not been immobilized by the image, or caused to abandon itself in the face of the image, but is, in a very real sense, replaced by it. In turn, the image is replaced by something else. The mobile user is imaged, transformed into a calculus of patterns, habits, opinions, and functions by a cyber-observational system that ~compels~ movement — a movement very often called forth and enacted by those whom it hails.

Frozen in an image, or replaced by one. Detective strategies are always met with new means of deception. New agencies are spawned. The seemingly immobilized body at the television or monitor was the site of the production of new mobilities: a stepping stone toward the fracturing of mobility, toward the splintering of corporeality into layers of embodiment, and toward the multidimensional layering of the immediate. Forms and motions follow one another in an elaborate dance: bodily orientations and behaviors change in relationship to communications devices, as they revolve about the body and are intertwined with specific concepts of what it means to move and to move well. What does it means to move efficiently or to move safely? Different kinds of movements, technological interventions, combat conventions, and bodily faculties help to continually shape and constitute one another, interlacing a “here” and a “there,” resolving disparity by warping distance and space. And further: helping to determine an “us” and a “them,” filtering this binary into the very basis of the political.

Relays between movement and technologies of registration loop through a newly figurable viewer. Foes are produced; a shelter coalesces; and a subject appears. Install a projectile and a shield, and one can always count on a body to appear in the circuit. The projectile maps its vectors of movement and desire; the shield its bodily and subjective contours.

Exit couch potato and screen, meatself and monitor, at home and clicking away on command. We no longer have subjects and objects that simply sit. Now we have relays or clusters through which forms and movements coalesce. We have body/machine/movement clusters, into which a fitting (weapon-gadget) is introduced, and which is enmeshed in an incorporative/integrative dynamic. Its visual faculty is extended through the network. Its rhythms are linked with the demands and enhancements offered by communications and battle machines. Its body is lodged within a protective encasing or squeezed within an invasive projectile.

In this space of mobility, mutations are left in the aftermath, like a rush of air from a passing car that coalesces in a form.

The New Inertia

Fellow Americans: think about these things the next time you feel the pressure to move. Defend your right to sit still! There are too many people moving around already. With all this mobility, no one is going to be home any more.

And remember that it is war out there. Right in the palm of your hand.

Jordan Crandall is an artist and media theorist. His first solo museum show, curated by Peter Weibel, opened in February 2000 at the Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria. An anthology of his critical writings on technology and culture will be published shortly. Crandall is director of The X Art Foundation, New York, founding Editor of Blast, and was most recently Visiting Professor at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.