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Unmanned: Why Culture Is Suddenly Obsessed With Drones

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A sense of anxiety about drones becoming autonomous forces in the fight against terror—fertile and powerful organisms rather than worker bees—is present in Good Kill and Grounded, even if it’s secondary to the concerns about how drone wars are affecting the Americans being asked to fight them. But it’s fully explored in Muse’s Drones, which sees drones not as a reality so much as a metaphor.


The album tackles issues of agency and independence and coercion within relationships as much as it acknowledges warfare and an imagined totalitarian force that needs to be overcome, but the image of unmanned robots wielding power from the sky is always present. Muse’s Matt Bellamy told Rolling Stone that he came up with the idea for the album after reading Brian Glyn Williams’ Predators: The CIA’s Drone War on Al Qaeda. “I didn’t know how prolific drone usage has been,” Bellamy said. “I always perceived Obama as an all-around likable guy. But most mornings he wakes up, has breakfast, and then goes down to the war room and makes what they call ‘kill decisions.’”



The album sweeps between lyrics about killing and dictating orders and rejecting hope. “Your mind is just a program/ And I’m a virus, I’m changing the station,” Bellamy sings in “Psycho.” “And I’ll improve your thresholds, I’ll turn you into a super drone/ And you will kill, on my command/ And I won’t be responsible.” The song, a bass-heavy, soaring act of aggression, was released in March as a single, with an accompanying lyric video featuring a drill sergeant barking orders, and a recruit screaming, “Aye sir,” in response. “I’m gonna make you/ A fucking psycho,” the chorus goes. “Your ass belongs to me now.” Later, the song “Mercy” references a “puppeteer,” and “men in cloaks” who operate the “ghosts and shadows the world just disavows,” while “Reapers” disavows subtlety altogether to draw parallels between shady government forces and a cruel lover.


You rule with lies and deceit

And the world is on your side

You’ve got the CIA babe

And all you’ve done is brutalize


War, war just moved up a gear

I don’t think I can handle the truth

I’m just a pawn

And we’re all expendable

Incidentally, electronically erased, by your



Killed by



As a work of art, Drones is less about overtly exploring the consequences of drone warfare than it is about making heavy-handed use of drone imagery to express feelings of isolation and rage. But it does tap into the anxiety expressed in other works about the long-term consequences of giving so much power to machines.



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