Warrior, Soldier, Noob: a short reflection on war porn and shark attacks
Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are a species of what zoologists refer to as carcharhiniformes, which comes from the Greek κάρχαρος (karcharos, sharp or jagged), and ῥί̄νη (rhinē, rasp). This is allegedly a reference to the rasp-like texture of their skin, which despite looking smooth is actually very rough.
Owing to a very specific microstructure, shark skin makes water glide along it in a way that greatly reduces drag. For a while, Michael Phelps used to wear swimming trunks advertised as mimicking its scale configuration, which is present in most shark species, and not just in carcharhiniforms.
While this was a marketing stunt, it’s truly a testament to these creature’s grasp over human collective imagination. The shark’s cold eyes speak of something primal: ancient, large, fast, and deadly. Like most things sublime, it’s inscrutable, dangerous and incorruptible.
Tiger shark populations are found in tropical and temperate waters all around the world, from the Pacific Islands to the Caribbean, and sometimes even off the coasts of Spain or Italy. They are powerful and fearsome beasts.
Females, which are usually larger, can reach up to 5 meters from nose to tail. Their mouth, as in many sharks, has rows of continuously replaced teeth, with a characteristic serrated edge that points backwards, to easily retain its prey. They feed on almost anything, and inedible objects are often found in the stomach of captured specimens: license plates, tires, oil cans.
Last week, a tiger shark specimen killed and partially ate some twenty-year-old at a beach resort in Hurghada, in the Egyptian Red Sea coast. The tragic event happened in the presence of the victim’s father and girlfriend, and since it happened to be caught on camera, it quickly became viral. Of course, you could say these attacks are statistically rare; for the unfortunate person’s perspective, however, the probability is 100%: a powerful argument for the meaninglessness of numbers regarding raw human experiences.
I swam in those same waters during my wedding trip, not too many years ago; since then, at least three more tiger shark attacks have been reported. I was nonchalant about it, and quite careless (although I did avoid the twilight feeding hours). My wife was, in contrast, rightly terrified of the wine-colored waters and their hidden dangers. She still partook, on my insistence, in the scuba-diving activities we had booked.
These are tightly-controlled immersions, mind you; never under five meters deep, and frankly disappointing for even as novice a diver as I was (and still am). I spotted a fair amount of fat, drunk cardiopaths among the herd of tourists pathetically splashing around us, while their smooth Egyptian instructors/handlers tried to teach them to breathe through the regulator. I found it puzzling how they had passed anything resembling a medical fitness test, even a really superficial one. The Israelites needed God’s hand to safely cross the Red Sea, but you can do it for a few bucks.
One could think that an unfortunate death such as last week’s should put the fear of God in the Tourist. An awesome irruption of the Real in the simulacrum of fake adventure and purchased life experiences. The utter lack of respect of Man for Nature, firmly punished by an apex predator in a random display of power. The Ocean taking a life for its transgression.
Internet news sites flocked to the video of the poor man’s last moments. As if the explicitness of the images was not enough, the events are described in lurid detail. Cinematographic precision is provided by the copywriter; in some articles, the text is not even written by a person, but computer-generated. The tragic occurrence is transformed, too, in entertainment for morbid consumption. Despite my best efforts, even this article will partly capitalize on the event; rest assured that at least the irony does not go lost in me (and besides, I’m not charging you for it).
Was the shark attack victim’s Russian nationality a factor in the video’s virality? In the current news climate, is there some sort of perverted Schadenfreude involved? Perhaps, but I doubt it. There’s something deeper at play.
A friend who is no suspect to Ukrainian sympathies sent the shark video to me along another, quite graphic document of modern warfare. A soldier wearing a body cam is clearing some trenches; he turns corners, taking cover and shooting down surprised enemies almost point blank. My friend wanted my opinion on the video’s veracity (it seemed legit).
The video has some Ukrainian special forces logo, but nothing apart from that provides information to the OSINT-uninitiated. The perspective is indistinguishable from a recording of Call of Duty gameplay, and the Twitter comments are on par with said tone: “big dick energy”, “pwnd lol”, etc.
Much has been written on how technological progress in war curbed Man’s opportunities for heroism: mass artillery, the machine gun, the drone. The Warrior, that quintessential manly archetype, became the Soldier: a more democratic figure, destined to random survival or an anonymous death, hopefully in a quick blast of glory and selfless sacrifice. His individuality erased, but deserving of enshrinement in monuments to the Unknown Soldier. Unreliable reporting provided everyone the benefit of the doubt with regards to gallantry in the face of death.
Every day we stray further away from God, and the immediacy and realism of TikTok wars lies in a deeper level of perversity. The Soldier has become the Noob, a sad shadow to be mocked or pitied, instrumentalized for the basest propaganda without even the pudic veil of uncertainty. Even the soldier with the body cam, who we’re supposed to admire in his martial prowess, is stripped of his dignity: his exploits cheapened by the sheer repetition of virality, and his face erased so we can be fused with him, like in a POV porn clip.
It’s not nationality what the swimmer in Hurghada and the soldiers in the trench have in common, but the terrible fate of becoming a commodity in the attention economy. Everyone will see you die a thousand times. They won’t do this while under fire, or while braving the waves, but from the comfort of their phone. You go to war to be eternally displayed to the undeserving.
If you can, please try not to watch the video of the shark attack (or any other war porn clip, for that matter). Those things happen again in the psychosphere every time you hit play. I watched, but you don’t have to. Allow the dead to rest in peace.