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Stop me if you've heard this. There was a Marine of nuts and bolts, half robot--weird but true--whose every move was cut from pain as though from stone.
Gustav Hasford The Short-Timers
"The Marine Corps does not want robots. It wants killers." So, in a flat voice-over, declares "Private Joker" (Matthew Modine), one of the recruits in Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket (1987), after he and his fellows have been processed through the micromanaged control-technologies of discipline, drill, and regimentation that here figure Marine Corps boot camp. This disavowal of the machinic lasts, however, only as long as Joker's next utterance, which elaborates the kind of killers Marines are manufactured to be: "The Marine Corps does not want robots. It wants killers. The Marine Corps wants to build indestructible men, men without fear." Broken down and retooled inside as well as out, with rebuilt, hardened bodies to encase their radically reconfigured subjectivities, these newly minted "indestructible men" will leave Parris Island, then, not as individual, militarized automatons. Instead, as their drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Lee Ermey) informs them upon their completion of recruit training, they are members now of a distended, mechanical male family: "From now on, until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother." "Most of you," Hartman continues, "will go to Vietnam. Some of you will not come back. But always remember this: Marines die, that's what we're here for! But the Marine Corps lives forever. And that means you live forever!"
Full Metal Jacket renders fraternal initiation ("every Marine is your brother") in terms of technologization.(1) The Marine Corps can thus be seen to produce itself as a version of what Deleuze and Guattari have named "the body without organs," the anti-organic body.(2) This is to say that, in its intensively fashioned, self-regulating operations, the Corps is also a machine, a corporal killing machine, a fusion of biology and martial technology, no less than it is a conjoinment of one to the many in perpetuity ("you live forever").(3) Thus, while the Marine Corps is constituted as a brotherhood, each Marine is himself, as Hartman pronounces on the night he has his men bed down with their rifles, "married to this piece, this weapon of iron and wood!" "And," he orders, "you will be faithful." Semper fi.(4) Married to his weapon, the Marine becomes one: "You will be a weapon," the gunnery sergeant thus forecasts on the first day of boot camp. Conversion to the machine is thus the telos--even, let it be said from the outset, the pleasure--of the training here administered, with its expressly exaggerated, richly fetishistic regimens, its precision choreography of finely tuned bodies humming through their paces, marching and chanting in cadence:
Hartman: "I love working for Uncle Sam!" Recruits: "Let's me know just who I am!"
Who they are at the beginning of recruit training, however, is no more than "pukes," as Hartman reminds them at every turn. His virtuoso taunts and threats dominate the first act of Full Metal Jacket's two-act, diptych-like narrative structure: "You're the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human-fucking-beings! You are nothing but unorganized grabasstic [sic] pieces of amphibian shit!" This, then, is the work of boot camp, here a kind of bioengineering factory that receives raw recruits in their inchoate state as "unorganized ... amphibian shit" and makes them over into weapons, transforming this organic refuse into "Mother Green and her killing machine," as one of the Marines we encounter in Vietnam, the setting for the film's second act, proudly names the Corps.
Bodies and Machines, Mark Seltzer's provocative study of realist, naturalist, and industrialist writing from the 1850s to the 1920s, determines that "nothing typifies the American sense of identity more than the love of nature (nature's nation) except perhaps the love of technology (made in America)."(5) A related fascination with the libidinally energized, increasingly intimate interpenetrations of the organic and the technological in our own historical moment has propelled many cultural critics to the twenty-first-century frontiers broached in such forms as the fx-laden science fiction film, the cyberpunk novel, and the heavy metal comic book, with their bursting plethora of highly spectacularized posthuman body/machine amalgams. Yet as culturally and politically significant as these (ever less) hyperbolized futurist fantasies are, I want to suggest here, by way of Kubrick's rigorously mechanical treatment of the typically humanist and redemptive (even when critical) war movie genre, that technocultural critical inquiry need not always be so proleptically oriented as it has become. Rob Wilson's recent essay "Cyborg America," for instance, looks to the eponymous hero of the semi-futuristic Robocop films to come up with what he dubs "our everyday American cyborg."(6) Full Metal Jacket, released in the same year as the first Robocop movie (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1987), is as much about the physical and psychical technologies of manufacturing Marines as "indestructible" killers--terminators, we might call them--as it is about the Vietnam War. Looking back to the recent past instead of ahead to the near future, Kubrick's film discovers its own all-American cyborg, one that it locates much closer to home than Verhoeven's robotoid law enforcer of tomorrow. For the Marine prototypically derives from the boy next door--a cliche reiterated in Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which casts the young Tom Cruise as its small town, fresh-faced, gung-ho recruit. What is more, the terminators fashioned in Full Metal Jacket predate postindustrialism by at least a few decades. Let us think of this version of the Marine Corps, then, as a fordist cyborg.
Along, and often in tandem, with the factory, the military has remained a fundamental site for the coordination of body and machine--and body as machine--in American culture. Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and Manuel DeLanda, among others, have already treated this aspect of technoculture in various terms.(7) Their accounts are chiefly concerned with the increasing hyperreality of the war machine and its attendant virtual systems and simulations. My interest here, however, turns more on the production of fighting men, on the disassemblage of discrete selves and organic bodies into the mechanical reassemblage of a corporate body, on the romance of man and military machine that is the Marine Corps.(8)
Head Like a Hole
What, then, is Marine subjectivity? What is the ontology of these "jolly green giants, walking the earth with guns," as another of Full Metal Jacket's Marines dubs himself and his fellows? In order to be incorporated into the Corps, the man must be refunctioned. This process, and Kubrick's movie, commences with boot camp's first rite: to the country-and-western strains of Johnny Wright's "Hello Vietnam," with its wistful refrain of "Kiss me goodbye," the head of each recruit is perfunctorily shaved to the scalp, the clippings rapidly accumulating at the barbers' feet the detritus of individuated selfhood. "There is no racial bigotry here! I do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops, or greasers. Here you are all equally worthless!" Hartman thunders in the next scene in the barracks, as, in a sustained backwards tracking shot, he strides up and down two facing lines of identically dressed and posed young men--men whom he here derisively renames with the monikers they are to retain throughout the film: Joker, Cowboy, Snowball, Toejam, and so on. In turn, the recruits respond to him in a single voice of compliance. Difference is precisely what is not allowed. "You want to be different?" Hartman later accuses Leonard (Vincent D'Onofrio)--or Private Pyle, as this overweight, this "disgusting fat body" had been immediately renamed--after Pyle mishandles his rifle during a group drill. Upon Pyle's repeated missteps and his continued failings at physical training, Hartman charges the private's individual shortcomings to the platoon itself: "Private Pyle has dishonored himself and dishonored the platoon! I have tried to help him, but I have failed! I have failed because you have not helped me! You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation! So, from now on, whenever Private Pyle fucks up, I will not punish him. I will punish all of you!" In the scene that follows the corporate body learns this new work of self-regulation. Gagged and strapped to his bed with a sheet, the sleeping Pyle is given a "blanket party." Armed with de facto weapons made from bars of soap enfolded into towels, the other recruits silently stream by Pyle's bunk on both sides, each one serially tendering his blows: an efficient assembly line of discipline and punishment, all rendered by Kubrick in a disconcertingly beautiful cerulean light. Last in line is Joker, whom Hartman had assigned the task of personally coaching Pyle through his training, a charge Joker thus far had taken up with a measure of patient compassion. When he hesitates in front of Pyle's bed, Private Cowboy (Arliss Howard), a fellow recruit, insists that Joker "Do it! Do it!" The machine does not not function, that is, until every part has done its part. Joker pauses a moment longer, and then he lands repeated, especially savage blows on Pyle's convulsing body.
"What do we do for a living, ladies?" Hartman demands. "Kill, kill, kill!" comes back the reply in chorus. In Full Metal Jacket, the first casualty of the war machine, then, is the individual self, the subject as monad. The platoon's mechanically administered physical battery of Pyle effectively, and almost immediately, effectuates his technologization. Two scenes later, Pyle is shown speaking to and doting over the precision machinery of his rifle, to which (following Hartman's orders to the entire platoon) he has given a girl's name: "Everything is clean. Beautiful. So that it slides perfectly. Nice. Everything cleaned. Oiled. So that your action is beautiful. Smooth, Charlene." Pyle also suddenly emerges at this point in the narrative as an unexpectedly dexterous rifleman, a sharp shooter, thereby meriting for the first time his drill sergeant's praise: "Outstanding, Private Pyle! I think we've finally found something that you do well!" The shattering physical and psychological violations he has undergone thus finally …