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When I was observing military trainings, I overheard a major in charge of the exercises describe the cultural role-players as “the apparatus” to one of his colleagues.I had already noticed how these individuals were maneuvered within particular parameters—what the military called “left and right limits,” as if there existed spatial coordinates that they were not permitted to transgress.In close quarters with the Peshmergas, these Kurdish fighters who show unfailing determination in their fight against obscurantism and jihadi fundamentalism, the film takes us from the heights of Mosul to the heart of the Sinjar Mountains passing on the way via the last Christian monasteries threatened with destruction.Over a tiny bodiless coffin in an isolated American wood, Iraqi role-players are wailing inconsolably. “I sound like a donkey,” one of the women laughs, mimicking a braying noise.These jobs were highly desirable for a population trying to get economically situated in a new country, and proved especially popular among those with prior U. The wartime intermediaries described herein form part of what has been called the U. military’s , that is, the use of culture (in the form of immersive trainings, rubrics, and local advisors) in a strategic attempt to understand, pin down, and make legible a post–Cold War adversary imagined as increasingly opaque. military hired anthropologists to embed within combat units to provide so-called conflict ethnographies for the Human Terrain System (HTS). As Stoler (2002, 8) asserts, such classification is “not a benign cultural act but a potent political one.” Many scholars, in particular, anthropologists, have focused on how such knowledge is used to manage populations in wartime, as well as in intelligence and adversary targeting (Gregory 2008; Price 2009; Kelly et al.
In recent decades, social theorists have shown affect’s role in subjectivity, action, and agency, emphasizing the autonomy of the body in its interface with the world (Massumi 1996) and how “people are quite literally charged up by the sheer surge of things in the making” (Stewart 2005, 1041).
I critique here the ways in which wartime intermediaries are militarized as tools, while seeking at all costs to avoid complicity in that reifying discourse.
Rather, these individuals are, like all others, both confined by structures and capable of making choices in the world.
I examine in this article how an ironic disjuncture between military prescriptions for authenticity and role-players’ experiences of inauthenticity generates moments of charged incongruency for those hired to embody constricted versions of their cultures.
I argue that a charged tension manifests itself in the training apparatus: on the epistemological level, even as they experience excess, role-players work to make the simulations “look good” to retain their jobs; meanwhile, that excess manifests affective overflow—in particular, one form that a role-player called “the laughscream.” I contend that such moments of affective excess create a momentary reprieve for role-players while typically not disturbing the military structure.
In this logic, as humans order, use, and exhaust the energies of nature, ultimately they are transformed into usable resources.