Why is that image so instantly unsettling?
It’s just a picture of a Fourth of July celebration being set up. Pretty ordinary, really. There are flags, chairs, screens, a stage… it’s all common fare for any outdoor venue. Something about it, though, calls to our collective memory and screams foul.
It’s not the tanks. It should be the tanks, but it’s not, somehow.
It’s the symmetry.
That composition of an elevated and separated stage surrounded by flags in perfect symmetry, all with hard angles and single point perspective is the language of fascist rallies.
That structure is intentional at those rallies. Fascism’s biggest draw is a call to order. The uniformity, and symmetry speak to that. Note the lack of trees and natural features. That celebrates an imposed order and claims an orderly society’s superiority over the messiness of the natural world, and therefor validates its destruction and subjugation.
Surrounding the speakers with national symbols is also a critical component. It reinforces the speaker’s position as being patriotic. Placing them directly in front of a national idol, in this case Lincoln, claims an association with that idol, and implies a right of succession to them.
Have a couple examples from history:
Note that the speaker stands in front of George Washington in the American Nazi Rally, and in the British Union of Fascists slogan above the flag was “Britain First.”
Now I want to be clear. I am not saying that the organizers of the Fourth of July “Salute to America” are actual fascists and are attempting to create a fascist rally. All we can say is that the photographer, Jacquelyn Martin, saw that scene, and took that photo. She composed the shot, and the event team (probably inadvertently) provided the opportunity.
What I will say is that they organizers have failed to avoid that imagery. Since WWII most politicians have actively avoided these kinds of scenes. They’re too well associated with villains. Those that construct these events soften the edges, make the leaders look more common and approachable, include opponents on the same level as them, and limit the appearance of military uniformity.
You’re supposed to avoid these sorts of scenes for the same reason people don’t wear toothbrush mustaches or arm bands anymore.
So let’s talk about the tanks. Honestly, I’m less unsettled by them than the military drum core. Highly choreographed uniformed military displays are, again, the language of order, the language of fascism. The tanks, well they’re just expensive things to show off, unless they actually do something.
Ironically, those tanks might be the best form of resistance in this whole distopian horror movie.
They’re parked on plywood to protect the pavement. They couldn’t be driven in, they had to be delicately placed by cranes. They can’t parade around because they’ll damage the monument grounds, and they have a little metal fence around them to keep them safe from tourists. They’re not being presented as weapons, they’re museum pieces. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to make machines of war look like pathetic petting zoo animals.
Also, as our fellow author, Jim, pointed out, they’re “Bradley Fighting Vehicles.” Bradley’s are a legendary boondoggle: decades in development, falsified tests, budget overruns beyond mortal comprehension… Those are what are flanking the President of the United States of America: two expensive symbols of bureaucratic incompetence, doing nothing to no purpose.
Someone in the military is doing some next-level trolling with those tanks.