Reverbing : The "Red vs. Blue" machinima as anti-war film
Starrs, D. Bruno (2010) Reverbing : The "Red vs. Blue" machinima as anti-war film. Continuum : Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 24(2), pp. 267-279.
This essay considers the place of Red vs. Blue (Michael "Burnie" Burns and Matt Hullum 2003-07) in the context of the war film genre, given that machinima is a kind of cinema. The methodology of textual analysis (Alan McKee 2003: 1) is used to argue that the series is an example of "genrification" (Rick Altman 1999: 65), whereby the war film has evolved into the anti-war film, much like the Hollywood western gave rise to the anti-western. Unfettered by nationalistic censors or profit-hungry studio bosses, makers of anti-war machinima movies often depict a futuristic scenario in which combatants openly mock the purpose of their military leaders. Machinima such as We Choose Death (Susi Spicoli 2006), Deviation (Jon Griggs 2006), An Unfair War (Thuyen Nguyen 2006) and Red vs. Blue represent a sort of digital version of Bertolt Brecht's agitprop theater. The post-modern attributes of cultural referencing and inter-textual bricolage and the existentialist themes of questioning the soldier's life of self-sacrifice in Red vs. Blue are closely examined to support this argument. In addition, a certain technological stumbling block in the development of machinima - the poor to non-existent lip-synchronization and the limited repertoire of facial expressions of the virtual actors - has resulted in greater "vovocentrism" (Michel Chion 1994: 5) and this is of particular significance in understanding the series' ready adoption of a pacifist stance: a character's emotions are difficult to show thus narratives are largely dialog driven. Talk, not action, predominates and mediation becomes imaginable in the anti-war machinima. This essay also considers the place of Red vs. Blue in the context of the new media, given that it is a direct product of the online gaming phenomenon that many blame for the widely reported decline in Hollywood box office receipts. The technological determinism (as described by Jacques Elluls in 1980 and recalling the words of Walter Benjamin) lampooned in the series not only offers a critique of contemporary warfare, it self-reflexively parodies the first person shooter computer game through its re-imagining of the mask-like faces, over-the-top weaponry and hyperbolic armory of the player's typical avatar into a more positive vision in which these erstwhile killer cyborgs are significantly defamiliarized as they engage in life-affirming introspection. This is contrasted with the excessive gore of the "Make Love not Warcraft" episode of South Park (2006) which features machinima from the massive multi-player online role-player game The World of Warcraft. Furthermore, the very impermanence of death in the gamer's virtual universe is satirized by an ongoing joke about a soldier's unburied corpse in Red vs. Blue. The series thereby makes a cogent case for the pursuit of satisfying, meaningful human agency rather than jingoistic warfare, unrestrained arms racing and blind nationalistic fervor. While computer games are frequently co-opted in the armed forces recruitment drives of USA and its enemies alike, Red vs. Blue provides a contemporary counter-culture message akin to the flower power zeitgeist of the 1960s.
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