On April 13, 2017, the United States military dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordinance Blast, or MOAB (also, Mother of All Bombs) on Afghanistan in an effort to attack Syrian militants and ISIS. The bomb is the largest non-nuclear device in the Air Force arsenal. The 20,000-pound weapon costs an estimated $170,000.
On April 14, 2017, at 4:54 am, US Central Command tweeted a 30-second video of the bomb drop and explosion. The black-and-white military recording begins with an aerial view of mountains, valleys, and bodies of water, their contours defined in a subtle range of grays. About four seconds in, an object falls rapidly from the sky, hitting the ground hard. A massive explosion racks the image on the screen, sucking all the grays out of the picture. Everything turns a bright white save the detonation and plume of giant smoke. The remaining part of the video tracks the black mass moving beautifully up out of the frame, becoming lighter in color the farther it rises.
Strangely, a few clumsy camera adjustments during this short masterwork make the viewer all too aware of the apparatus behind the image. After the explosion, the camera struggles to shift smoothly to accommodate MOAB’s enormous smoky remains. In its attempts to aestheticize mass destruction and memorialize the aftermath, Central Command delivers a clunky outtake of our near-nuclear demise.
In the movie of our own unraveling disintegration, one wonders why we can’t get a good gaffer or key grip. As we tweet into this swiftly shifting planet why can’t we at least have a great art director to set the stage for our disintegration?
As I watched and rewatched Central Command’s video, I kept thinking about one of the best opening lines from any English language novel, the first sentence of William Gibson’s 1984 cyberpunk science-fiction novel Neuromancer: “The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.”
What color will our last sky be?