Editors manipulate the tiniest elements of digital images to obscure combat atrocities. The U.S. Army invests deeply in a pixelated camouflage pattern that it expects will keep soldiers safely invisible. The NSA disaggregates human targets into miniscule bits of information. These seemingly disparate phenomena comprise a microscopic visual approach to militarization. It is here that Adelman considers the links between pixelized photos of violence committed by American military personnel, the Army’s failed multi-year, multi-billion dollar experiment with ‘digital’ camouflage, and the NSA’s approach to “identity intelligence,” built on the smallest pieces of data. All of these efforts at fragmentation promised to solve problems unique to contemporary war: soldiers’ unregulated use of digital cameras in the field, battles fought on multiplying fronts, and unconventional, undetectable threats. And in every instance, fragmentation failed: uncensored pictures are readily available, digital camouflage rendered soldiers more visible, and Edward Snowden leaked the documents detailing the NSA’s plans. These failures expose the limits of state power over the visual, dependent as it is on the smallest of things, while this new visual culture of fragmentation raises urgent questions about what it means to be a citizen, a spectator, and a subject.
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Sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities and the Media and Communication Studies Department.