The Insta-Aesthetics of War

by Alicia Eler on July 10, 2013

adirlaybo Out in the sun, in the dust of the war, one nation standing stronger than before #sabaton #primovictoria #israel #idf #warrior #kill #colt #m16 #tweegram #instalove #sexy #bomb #rockstar #fire #5.56 #nevergiveup #sleaze #instagood #happy #sleep via Instagram

“Out in the sun, in the dust of the war, one nation standing stronger than before #sabaton #primovictoria #israel #idf #warrior #kill #colt #m16 #tweegram #instalove #sexy #bomb #rockstar #fire #5.56 #nevergiveup #sleaze #instagood #happy #sleep” (image and caption via Instagram)

CHICAGO — Explosives blow up skies the world over. From our smartphone-enhanced filter bubbles, we learn to consume these explosive images on social sites like Instagram, where the Insta-aesthetics of war know no global boundaries. Instagram offers a space for mediating the chemical explosions, corporeal and ideological worlds, blending them into a scrolling stream on smartphones. Fireworks from America’s 4th of July meshed with images of young Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers flashing a weaponized lifestyle brand create an electric current, a ripple in the system, a convergence of images of fireworks and individual “freedom” — a visual affirmation of nations, an indulgence in the insta-aesthetics of war.

On the 4th of July, I found myself on a beach waiting for the black sky to get lit up. Not 20 feet away, a group of teenage girls were glued to their smartphones, pausing only to take group selfies before again quickly busying their fingers, rapidly firing those images to Instagram. Their fanatic, fast-moving taps on glass screens were only quelled by the eruption of fireworks in the sky — pre-timed bombastic colorful explosions, a reminder of America’s ability to set off explosions whenever, wherever. As the fireworks neared their end, the teenage girls’ fingers sped up. More selfies erupted into Instagram feeds. Images fired off as explosions in the sky faded.

Yet through the scrollable global Instagram aesthetic, these square images blend into one long stream, removing them from their original contexts — whether they were shot in the Gaza Strip, a beach in the suburbs of Chicago, or an airport somewhere in the world. 

Fireworks via Webstagram

Fireworks via Webstagram

In an essay by Huw Lemmey on The New Inquiry, he considers the IDF’s glut of Instagram images to be akin to an advanced lifestyle brand, complete with sexy young-girl selfies, buff soldier dudes posing like pin-up boys, and “romantic” images of soldiers lying around, napping with their guns:

“Like many of the more advanced lifestyle brands, the IDF are shifting the focus of image production from their own staff and creative team toward their consumers: in this case, the troops, reservists, and supporters of the IDF. Content is aggregated from individuals and fed back into the social networks of the target audience.”

Rather than portray these soldiers through the fictionalized frames of film, the IDF is self-producing romanticized images of war, an “advanced lifestyle” brand. In the process, the line between fiction, fantasy and reality is blurring and fading into a blurry stream, an Instawar aesthetic.

Image via JTA/ Facebook

Israeli soldiers pose nude with weapons (image via JTA/ Facebook)

Similarly, a recent story on JTA discussed a group of female IDF soldiers posting nearly nudie selfies to Facebook, engaging in a sort of Girls Gone Wild aesthetic. Though they were reprimanded for their actions, this sort of action is typical of the Israeli military; in 2010, a Golani Brigade soldier posted photos to Instagram of himself mishandling weapons. He was in full uniform too — not street clothes.

In another InstaWar image, a young soldier girl holds a designer purse while sneaking a selfie from inside a silver elevator. Stylish like a model showing off her “military-inspired” fashion, this sort of image is at times difficult to distinguish from the glut of selfies posted showcasing fashion options modeled by young women. Engaged with her own image, she concentrates on how the final image looks on her iPhone screen until it’s perfect, hashtags it with the simple “#me #army #צבא” and posts it to Instagram. How this young solider sees herself will soon be reflected back by her friends and strangers alike, affirming that she, too, is a part of this — not only does the IDF own her body and the brand that she participates in, but her image too has become part of an Instawar aesthetic. She offers her reflection for consumption and is, in turn, consumed, blown up, exploded and hashtagged — another casualty of the Instawar aesthetic.

“#me #army #צבא Image via Instagram

“#me #army #צבא” (image and caption via Instagram)

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  • I really disliked the biased so called “article”…. its solely and exclusively focused on IDF and hardly succeeds on disguise a deep anti-Israel feeling, I wonder why the author didn’t cited the extremely long list of pictures and “romantic” media of the USA??? , or the ULTRA ROMANTIC views of the so called arab “freedom fighters”???? … that would have been an inclusive and unpartial article… this “article” is just propaganda in a shit disguise

    • In this article, I am using the IDF as an example. I thought I alluded to the idea of explosion as not focused solely on Israel through the use of a recent American 4th of July fireworks display. This article is discussing the dissemination of an instawar aesthetic through INSTAGRAM: “Instagram offers a space for mediating the chemical explosions, corporeal and ideological worlds.” Of course all images of propaganda, whether seen through social media (IDF is an example here) or films (e.g. Leni Riefenstahl) are all romanticizing war and a nation. What is fascinating to me in the case of the IDF, however, is that the soldiers themselves are posting these images, creating an Insta-war aesthetic that looks shockingly like something anyone could post; in the social media space, the images you consume could be produced by YOUR FRIENDS or a solider. In reality, all become part of a single stream. Every image becomes part of the user’s or the organization’s brand. Indeed you are right- the Insta-war aesthetic IS a version of propaganda. That is what my article is pointing out.

      • ok so I guess you didn’t found pictures on Instagram about any other army than IDF….. sure!

  • Anuradha Vikram

    Can you please stop perpetuating this idea that anonymous young white women carry all of culture on their bodies? You’re citing New Inquiry so you must have seen this:

    • Yup, that’s where the convo is headed next . . . stay tuned.

  • tangen

    Seems strange that neither you nor Lemmey make use of the infamous IDF instagram photos that Ali Abunimah drew attention to over at the Electronic Intifada earlier this year. I think they could provide a much needed counterpoint to this romanticized, sanitized aesthetic. Still a very nice piece, though.

  • Ian Pollock

    great and poignant article – thanks

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