“That drone cool, but I hate that drone
Chocolate chip cookie dough in a sugar cone
Drones in the morning, drones in the night
I’m trying to find a pretty drone to take home tonight”
-- Heems, Soup Boys (Pretty Drones)
On November 1, 2012, Punjabi-American rapper Himanshu Suri, better known by his stage name Heems, released his first single “Soup Boys (Pretty Drones).” Described as “post-9/11 dystopian brown man rap,” Heems’ music unveils and subverts the logics of American racial and military imperialism using absurdist lyrics and imagery. “Soup Boys” is no exception–Heems’ challenges the dronification of U.S. national security–what Ian Shaw calls America’s “Predator Empire”–by romancing the drone (Gregory 2011, Shaw 2013 and Wilcox 2015).
Resisting the War on Terror has also been an arduous task for South Asian Americans. Sunaina Maira explains that as “the crisis of 9/11 unified minority groups behind a renewed American nationalism… in some cases, sharpening the divide between citizens and immigrants who are Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim, and weakening the possibilities for dissenting alliances” (Maira 2009). I argue that the emergence of a ‘rad South Asian American youth culture’ emerged in the early 2010s as a new locality for politically-engaged South Asian American diasporic youth to to vocalize and circulate their dissatisfaction with and alienation from the American body politic. With over 300,000 hits on the YouTube video, the music video is the most widely-circulated critique of the drone warfare coming out of rad South Asian American youth culture. In this article, I will look at the visual tools that Heems uses to critique drone warfare in his music video for “Soup Boys” through three critical frameworks–politicizing the drone, embodying the drone and romancing the drone. Illuminating the body politics of the drone, Heems presents the drone as a white, masculine American body–one that is constitutive of American biopower. Romancing of the drone serves to challenge the asymmetrical intimacies of American drone warfare, as the soup boy–tamil for heartbroken young man–embodied by Heems articulates a desire for queer intimacy with the drone. This queer brown dystopic political imaginary is the product of the diasporic subjectivity that Heems himself occupies.
Faced with the existential realization that their bodies, homes and histories are split between “life zones” and “death zones” authorized by US imperialism, rad South Asian American youth can not perform the heroic march toward modernity (Campbell and Sitze 2013). For these diasporic subjects, dystopia fantasies such as the one presented by Heems emerge as the only viable possibilities for liberation from the insidious necro-ethics of drone warfare (Chamayou and Lloyd 2015). In contrast to conventional framework that problematize drone warfare for its violences, the aesthetic practices of artists such as Heems provide a chance to foreground the body politics of drone warfare and elucidate the queer brown dystopic political futurities imagined by those subjects for whom drone strikes both come from home and hit home.
Campbell, Timothy C., and Adam Sitze. Biopolitics: A Reader. Durham: Duke UP, 2013. Print.
Gregory, Derek. "From a View to a Kill: Drones and Late Modern War." Theory, Culture & Society 28, no. 7-8 (2011): 188-215.
Chamayou, Grégoire, and Janet Lloyd. A Theory of the Drone. New York, NY: The New Press, 2015. Print.
Maira, Sunaina. Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.
Shaw, Ian. "Predator Empire: The Geopolitics of US Drone Warfare." Geopolitics 18, no. 3 (2013): 536-59.
Wilcox, Lauren. "Drone Warfare and the Making of Bodies out of Place." Critical Studies on Security 3, no. 1 (2015): 127-31.