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Excavating the FutureArchaeology and Geopolitics in Contemporary North American Science Fiction Film and Television$

Shawn Malley

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786941190

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781786941190.001.0001

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(p.31) Chapter 1 Manticore
Excavating the Future

Shawn Malley

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Predicated on the infamous looting of the Baghdad Museum during the first week of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Tripp Reed’s telefilm Manticore (2005) is a "Babylonian" text that reverses the events and politics upon which its scenario is based—the destruction of antiquities in wartime—into a liberation story. In the film, U.S. Marines save Iraq from a legendary beast unleashed from its own archaeological past by a megalomaniacal terrorist claiming Babylonian ancestry. Wedding the (neo)imperialist rhetoric of archaeological stewardship in the "cradle of civilization" with military adventure, Manticore exemplifies how SF as a symbolic medium frequently capitalizes on (and thereby exposes) archaeology's latent complicity with geopolitical activity. The notion of the "archaeology-military complex" in Iraq—the absorption of archaeologists into military structures—provides an important critical context for the investigation of the ways values like heritage and stewardship promote Western interventions in the Middle East, activities that in turn provide diegetic materials for SF narratives

Keywords:   science fiction film and television, archaeology, geopolitics, archaeology-military complex, Manticore, Second Gulf War, Baghdad Museum, Iraq

The triumph of globalization is in no way guaranteed. Against its homogenizing and destabilizing effects, hostile forces are emerging everywhere […] They are part of a painful revision that focuses on modernity and progress, processes that reject both the globalizing techno-structure and the ideology that seeks to make all cultures interchangeable.

Jean Baudrillard1

‘… an irreparable violence towards all secrets, the violence of a civilization without secrets.’ The desire to unmask Egypt’s secrets is a link to the ‘furious envy’ of a global power faced with the symbolic order of Iraqi (and world) heritage that do not easily fit into the New Global Order.

Stephen Smith2

If Mesopotamia is the birthplace of civilization, it is also the terrain upon which its twin myths of democracy and freedom continue to be contested. Mainstream cinema is an important theatre of this struggle. While blockbuster military action films predating the 2003 invasion of Iraq such as Black Hawk Down (2001), Collateral Damage (2002), Behind Enemy Lines (2001) and We Were Soldiers (2002) evidence a huge appetite for narratives of conflict (Dalby), in response to growing suspicion that the Bush administration misinformed the American people and the international community about weapons of mass destruction, and to the haunting sense that the invasion was a misplaced reprisal for the 9/11 attacks, the ‘military-entertainment complex’ has been challenged (p.32) to develop new strategies for representing conflict in the Middle East. In this regard Robert Maltby has identified a trend in post-9/11 cinema that he calls ‘allegory lite’ (268–308), which

supplies Hollywood’s principal narrative mode for films about controversial subjects [as] pure capitalist utilitarianism, performing the tricky commercial manoeuvre of appealing simultaneously to multiple audiences, alienating as few customers as possible, while transferring responsibility for any ‘politicising’ of films to viewers themselves. In Hollywood allegory lite, controversial issues can be safely addressed because they must be ‘read off’ other stories by the viewer; while the ‘allegory’ is sufficiently loose or ‘lite,’ and the other attractions on offer are sufficiently compelling or diverse, that viewers can enjoy the film without needing to engage at all with the risky ‘other story’ it tells. (Holloway, 83)3

Feature films tackling the war on terror are a case in point, for they typically direct audience attention away from politics by fostering sympathy with the travails and triumphs of the individual protagonists.4 For example, the cluster of Gulf War films released in 2007, including Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom, In the Valley of Elah and Rendition, are united in their ‘war is hell’ depictions of the conflict, and present serious issues of rendition, abuse and torture of prisoners, and the debilitating effects of PTSD on soldiers and their families. Yet each of these films evades direct geopolitical debate by privileging action-adventure, special effects, espionage narratives, melodramatic rendering of American values sabotaged by secret government agendas, and threats to masculine soldering in asymmetrical conflict.5

(p.33) SF cinema affords an unlikely but illuminating example of this phenomenon in Tripp Reed’s SF horror/military action telefilm Manticore, which aired on the SyFy channel in 2005. The fabula or ‘allegory’ is simplicity itself. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, soldiers from the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division are sent on a mission to search for two missing journalists, who, under the guise of investigating a story on artefact looting, were secretly acting on intelligence that they would find a WMD at a small town in northern Iraq. The unit arrives to discover its residents massacred by the titular manticore, a ‘living, breathing weapon of mass destruction’ activated from an ancient statue by an insurgent leader and self-appointed descendant of Babylonian royalty who wants to deploy it against the Americans. The film ends predictably enough with the field littered with corpses, the beast vanquished and the heroes walking into the sunset.

Fabricating a metonymic substitute for the ‘real’ threat of Iraqi insurgency and WMDs in the figure of the artefact-cum-monster, the archaeological thematics upon which the surface allegory is constructed invite careful excavation of the film’s ‘other story,’ the relationship between archaeological stewardship and the invasion of Iraq. Manticore takes as its premise the looting of the Baghdad Museum in April 2003 and the ensuing efforts by the occupation forces to arrest looters and recover stolen artefacts. The telefilm reconfigures events that were especially troubling for the international archaeological community, which had dispatched envoys to the U.S. Department of Defense prior to the war in an effort to persuade the invasion force to protect major museums and archaeological sites (Bernhardsson, 3). The military quickly mobilized to address the oversight: a tank was parked at the entrance of the museum and a military task force was struck to track down stolen artefacts and bring looters to justice. Its leader, Col. Matthew Bogdanos, even wrote a popular book about his experiences. Entitled The Thieves of Baghdad: One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures (2005), the memoir is an action-packed, detective-style account of treasure hunting and meting out justice to untrustworthy Arabs selling off world heritage on the black market. In the absence of weapons of mass destruction and with serious questions being raised about the legality of the invasion, Bogdanos authored an ‘allegory lite’ victory for the military-archaeology complex.

But the ‘other story’ has also been ‘read off’ Bogdanos’s compelling tale of military stewardship. Journalist Stephen Smith claims that the failure to safeguard the Baghdad Museum and other archaeological sites amounts to a political campaign as strategic as the bombing of military installations. Filtering the events of April 2003 through (p.34) Jean Baudrillard’s meditation on the 9/11 attacks, ‘Our Society’s Judgment and Punishment,’ Smith wonders ‘to what extent did deliberate oversight by the US, as a possible manifestation of the ‘furious envy’ Baudrillard speaks of, typify the conduct of the war?’ (3). By ‘furious envy’ Baudrillard means the ‘envy’ of the West as a ‘low-definition mono-culture, confronted by high-definition cultures’ (i.e. the capitalist West, which ‘lost its own values long ago,’ and Arab factions that resist its homogenizing influence [Baudrillard, 2006, 3]). For Smith, the bombing of Baghdad and the looting that ensued serve the same strategic goal. There is, he says,

a strong suspicion that the American failure to protect Iraqi heritage sites was more than mere negligence, but a deliberate oversight—perhaps a kind of cultural ‘shock and awe’—designed to devastate a sense of shared culture among Iraqis, leaving a blank page for the imprint of the US occupying forces and the reconstruction to follow. (1)

As a repository for Ba’ath nationalism, the archaeological record of Iraq, which had been cordoned off from Western archaeologists since Operation Desert Storm (Baram), manifested a potentially dangerous cultural and political ‘singularity.’ But under Bogdanos, destruction and reconstruction exchanged places. Putting antiquity back together again under the rubric of world heritage, the military-archaeology complex liberated ancient Mesopotamia from the machinations of the mad dictator and in the process fabricated a powerful alternative to figment WMDs.

Manticore displaces the paradox of military stewardship into an SF tale about saving Iraq from the triple threat of insurgents, looters and a legendary beast excavated from the very archaeological record soldiers are charged with protecting. In the film, hunting down the WMD is a symbolic response to the symbolic attack on the World Trade Center, but in the absence of any real WMDs a replacement is furnished from the material past in the form of the manticore, a monster that inhabits the Baghdad Museum, lingers in the anarchic psyche of the insurgents, and is unleashed against forces bringing democracy, freedom and order to Iraq. In ‘allegory lite’ fashion, then, the telefilm performs a ‘Babylonian’ inversion by coupling artefact destruction and the failure to find WMDs into a story in which the military and archaeological communities conspire to reconstruct global monoculture from the beleaguered cradle of civilization.6

(p.35) The news media plays an important role in situating the telefilm’s action within real world geopolitical contestation. Manticore’s title sequence comprises a montage of images and voices culled from CNN’s coverage of the invasion. Reports of bombing, street fighting, rooting out terrorists and the tireless hunt for WMDs overlay images of military machinery, burning buildings and looting. The iconic shell-hole in the façade of the Baghdad Museum fades to a tumultuous interior scene of distraught museum officials roaming amongst broken artefacts and empty display cases.7 Assyriologist John Russell declares, ‘This is probably the single event from the current Gulf War that will be remembered in the future. Long after all the other details are forgotten, the Iraqi people will remember this as the moment that their past disappeared’ (ABC Good Morning America, 18 April 2003). Dismaying as this incident was for the archaeological community, Russell’s response conflates the experiences of the anonymous Iraqi people with those of his profession. Broken statues stand in for actual violence to Arab bodies. The material past functions like simulacral flesh, whose destruction is lamented by a global order victimized by forces antagonistic to culture. Manticore thus creates verisimilitude for its SF horror scenario by performing a selective media archaeology of the invasion coverage and in the process raises an alternative monster for the military-archaeology-entertainment complex to combat.

The looting montage concludes with a lingering shot of a broken alabaster head—the haunting eyes of antiquity look deeply into our own—which dissolves into the opening sequence of two Iraqi men breaking into the basement of the Baghdad Museum. The continuity editing with CNN iterates the central theme of The Thieves of Baghdad, the conflation of terrorism and artefact destruction. Picking their way through a dark chamber crowded with packing cases and mummified remains, the robbers search for an amulet, the ancient key that will activate the manticore. Succumbing to the spooky atmosphere, one of the men baulks, begging his accomplice to turn back lest they fall victim to ‘the curse of the sacred twins’ (we later learn that there are two manticores, but one is destroyed during the bungled activation procedure). Overcoming their nerves, they find the amulet and seek their reward.

The stage is now set for the narrative of military salvation. In an homage to Apocalypse Now, the camera cuts to helicopters gliding over the twilight Baghdad skyline before settling on a group of soldiers arresting Iraqi civilians caught with looted artefacts bound for the black (p.36) market. Tied and kneeling before the soldiers, families are interrogated and humiliated. A soldier passes through the crowd with an interesting artefact from the occupation: a special deck of cards issued in 2003 by the Department of Defense featuring head-shots of the ‘most wanted’ Iraqi regime officials. Predictably, Saddam Hussein is the ace of spades. The soldier compares the queen of diamonds (Air Defense Forces Commander Muzahim S’ab Hasan) to one of the prisoners, who happens to be a thief from the previous scene (Joro Zlatarev), convinced that he is ‘big time.’ By raising the issue of crimes against humanity in the context of artefact looting, the gesture is apropos of another archaeological initiative conducted during the war. In 2007, the Department of Defense’s Legacy Resource Management Program issued its own deck of cards, this time representing archaeological sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wedding images with instructive slogans about the archaeologically rich terrain upon which soldiers are fighting and to which they should feel historically and culturally connected, the purpose of the deck is, ‘to balance stewardship responsibility with mission support’ (cf. Zeidler and Rush).8 The queen of hearts is the patron of this message: ‘Ancient sites matter to the local community. Showing respect wins hearts and minds.’ The appearance of the playing cards in the interrogation scene thus conflates the mission objectives of the 2003 and 2007 decks: hunting down two kinds of war criminals, Iraqi regime officials/terrorists and looters.9

The humanitarian mission of the 2007 deck is embodied by the unit’s leader, Sgt. Baxter (Robert Beltran). A ‘good cop’ character, he recognizes the economic necessity behind the looting. In spite of his standing orders ‘to arrest looters on sight,’ he instructs his troops to hand out their rations and release the prisoners. The allegory of military liberation in Manticore backs the playing cards’ gambit to save both artefacts and civilians. But in the very moment the soldiers are bathed in the light of good deeds and mutual understanding, they are attacked by

(p.37) a mob of angry insurgents. Their kindness is rewarded with Iraqi hatred and violence (one soldier gripes, ‘they don’t appreciate all we’ve done for them’). Outnumbered, Baxter withdraws in defeat and the looters escape with the amulet. Stereotypically short-sighted with regard to the facts on the ground, the army brass exacerbates the unit’s humiliation. Their commanding officer, Maj. Spencer Kramer (Jeff Fahey), greets Baxter with a stiff dressing down, the terms of which are couched in the ambiguous mission objectives themselves:


  • ‘Sergeant, you were sent there to stop further looting of the National Museum.’
  • Baxter:

  • ‘Yeah, we did that.’
  • Kramer:

  • ‘Once you’d identified and detained the looters you decided to give them all your supplies and send them on their merry way?’
  • Baxter:

  • ‘There was a crowd of angry insurgents threatening our position. What the hell was I supposed to do?’
  • Kramer:

  • ‘Maybe if you’d done your job, Sergeant, instead of handing out party favours, you’d have been able to get out of there before the situation escalated and have your prisoners with you.’
  • Baxter:

  • ‘It was my understanding, Major, that we were here to liberate these people, and the only way this operation is going to succeed is if we show them that we’re here to help.’
  • Kramer:

  • ‘That’s exactly what we’re doing.’
  • Baxter:

  • ‘By arresting a bunch of people that are trying to find a way to feed their families?’
  • Kramer:

  • ‘By maintaining order.’
  • Baxter:

  • ‘Oh, come on, Spence, you know this is crap! […] Those people aren’t criminals. They’re living in a vacuum. No jobs, no electricity, no clean water. I did what I did because it was the right thing to do.’
  • Kramer:

  • ‘[…] If you wanted to save the world, why didn’t you join the Red Cross?’
  • Having established the ‘allegory lite’ narrative of military stewardship—and the conventional diegetic tension between real heroes and government bureaucrats—the fabula assumes its SF horror complexion, a horror rising from the ‘furious envy’ to which Baudrillard attributes terrorist reprisals on the West. We now rejoin the looters, who deliver the amulet to the insurgent leader, Sheik Umari (Faran Tahir). They enter the cave that holds the ‘sacred twins.’ For ‘two thousand years they have slept,’ intones Umari, ‘waiting patiently to be called upon to rid us of our enemies. And now we have the power to restore this great nation (p.38) to a land of believers.’ Umari embodies the multiple threats of Islamic fundamentalism: he is at once a Hussein, ayatollah, terrorist, insurgent and looter. ‘Never doubt,’ he explains, ‘that I am the rightful ruler of Babylon. With my sacred twins I will drive out the infidel and this will be our final victory for all to embrace.’10 Umari begins the animation procedure, but the unnamed looter grows frightened and smashes one of the statues. Without the balancing influence of its twin, the solitary manticore runs amok, ripping everyone to shreds, except Umari, who escapes to die another day.

    If in the context of the military fabula breaking down the balance of the twins is reminiscent of the fall of the Twin Towers and its reprisals, then pairing stewardship responsibility with mission support furnishes a compelling allegory for checking the destructive impulses of the Middle East. According to Baudrillard, however, the very architectural twinning of the WTC is iconic of the instability and unsustainability of such binary thinking. In a pre-9/11 essay, Baudrillard observes that whereas ‘the other skyscrapers are each the original moment of a system continually surpassing itself in […] crisis,’ the ‘two towers of the WTC are the visible signs of the closure of a system in the vertigo of redoubling’ (1993a, 70; cf. Genosko, 2). Read against the U.S. military investment in artefacts, Manticore reveals that the towers’ vertiginous collapse is also a visible sign of a world system desperate to find its own image in the cradle of civilization. In Manticore, the ultimate responsibility for artefact destruction—and thereby the ultimate justification for the invasion—is deflected onto a singular monstrous force upsetting the balance of global order.

    Representations of the news media in Manticore also raise difficult questions regarding the power of agencies like CNN to garner support for the war. In this regard, ‘GNN’ journalist Ashley Pierce (Chase Masterson) overhears soldiers speaking about a possible WMD in the northern border town of ‘Al Kumar’ and jumps at the opportunity to land the exclusive on the story. She must first convince her reluctant cameraman, Ryan (Ben Burdick), to accompany her. Ryan resists Pierce’s admonition ‘We could sit on our asses and do another puff (p.39) piece about stolen artefacts’ by aligning his duties as a journalist with the mission objectives:

    Ryan: ‘It’s not just about art, Ash, but about hearts and minds. It’s about convincing the Iraqi people and the world that we care about preserving their culture and that we’re not just some imperialist power bent on crushing their religion and controlling their oil.’ Pierce: ‘Well hearts and minds ain’t gonna put me on the anchor chair or get you a raise.’

    The journalists’ conflicted reactions to the war—Ryan’s lip service to the ethical dimensions of the occupation and Pierce’s blatant war-profiteering to advance her career—reflect a deep tension with the mission, which at the time of the film’s release was hopelessly bogged down in the search for phantom WMDs (Kodrich and Law). Manticore furnishes a substitute: just as Pierce begins narrating a piece on recovering lost items from the Baghdad Museum (presumably to validate the unauthorized trip to the village), the manticore races past in the background. In an instant, the hunt for artefacts and the hunt for WMDs become one and the same. The town is soon ravaged, but the journalists are rescued by a village boy, Hani (Ram Bambani). The main narrative of finding the journalists and hunting the manticore commences.

    The remainder of the telefilm is narrowly plotted and entirely predictable: carnage, American sacrifices, the death of the villain and the triumph of the heroes. The inevitable victory over the manticore/WMD/terrorist is a transparent allegory of the U.S. mission to free the Iraqi people from the Hussein regime, root out insurgents and institute a legitimate government. The American military machine, localized in the characters of Sgt. Baxter and his brave band of brothers, resolves the tensions of the invasion set out in the title sequence by destroying/preserving the archaeological past by defeating the manticore. Allegorizing the threatening regime as a world heritage crisis, the military-archaeology complex in Manticore erects a ‘New Babylon’ that is ever-vigilant against Islamic fanaticism and indifferent to its own moral values of forced democracy and free-market fanaticism (Baudrillard, 1997, 133). Portraying the U.S. military as the balance of power—the archetypal good twin checking his evil brother—the nature of power levied in the cause of transplanting and enforcing global monoculture through shared heritage claims is buried in the telefilm’s allegory lite portrayal of good versus evil.

    The manner in which the battle against the beast is fought, moreover, (p.40) invites consideration of the problematic nature of the ‘other’ battle to win hearts and minds introduced in the telefilm. Reminiscent of the Vietnamese orphan Ham Chuck (Craig Jue) in John Wayne’s The Green Berets (1968), the pidgin-English speaking Hani is central to the telefilm’s ethical resolution. An Americanophile with a penchant for shouting ‘USA,’ Hani is fascinated with American gear and technology, particularly a video camera belonging to one of the soldiers, Private Davis (Michael Cory Davis). Throughout the film Davis turns the camera onto himself, assuming the various personae of reporter, action hero, faithful husband and peace keeper. With his dying breath he entrusts Baxter with his camera, which contains his last message to his spouse. The soldier’s recording forms another documentary layer, one that reiterates the kinds of stories in which he as a consumer of media culture as well as a soldier is immersed and defined.

    But soldiers’ filming habits during what has been termed the first ‘YouTube War’ (Andén-Papadopoulos, 25) have generated alternative perspectives to the Hollywood meta-narrative of liberation and sacrifice.11 The easily transmissible auto-documentary footage of the invasion and occupation presented the military with the problem of how to ‘reconfigure professional standards of ethics and authenticity’ (17; cf. Andén-Papadopoulos, 18) in an environment in which the kinds of tourist/peace-keeping activities featured on the Archaeological Awareness Playing Cards circulate alongside Abu Ghraib torture photography. In her commentary on Rory Kennedy’s documentary The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Susan Carruthers argues that it is significant that the MPs of Abu Ghraib were ‘reluctant to concede that photography may also be a form of abuse—a “force multiplier” of other degrading violations to which the camera bears witness’ (73). Sharing video recordings of prisoner humiliation, torture and sexual assault at the Abu Ghraib camp suggests that in modern warfare cameras are as fetishized as rifles (cf. Grajeda). Snapping photos of naked detainees forced into human pyramids is, moreover, a sadistic parody of Manticore’s archaeological paratext. Nicholas Mirzoeff remarks that ‘these human ziggurats’ complement the ‘many efforts by the occupying force to ensure that Saddam Hussein’s glorification of the ancient Assyro-Babylonian past was neglected’ (2006, 25).12 (p.41)


    Figure 5. Manticore (UFO International Productions, 2005).

    Through constant appeals to the viewers’ relationship with news, cinema and military media, Manticore encourages its audience to accept as entertainment its allegory lite version of the invasion. While the telefilm comically derides its GNN representatives for cynical news mongering, it celebrates the culture of Hollywood action cinema and its long-standing relation with military structures through the self-referential manner in which Baxter kills the manticore. In the legend of the manticore, control of the creature requires balance with its twin: the manticores will shut down when they regard each other. Baxter coaxes the beast to gaze upon its own image captured by Davis’s video camera. The manticore reverts to inert stone—is transformed back from weapon to artefact—and Corporal Kinks (Heather Donahue) shatters it with a sledgehammer. In a typical act of reversal, the film industry has created a monster out of the culture of a disenfranchised people, then saved them from it with the very technology that represents them as ignorant children and conniving terrorists in need of liberation, re-education and, in the broader documentary evidence of the war, even torture. The camera is itself the twin that mirrors and contains the symbolic destruction of the other. Hollywood is the balance of evil, whose inter-diegetic role in (p.42) destroying the artefact holds an ironic mirror to the CNN footage from which the telefilm garners authenticity for its resolution.

    Considering film technology’s power to create powerful and lasting images of others, what exactly is the camera mirroring? In Manticore, the soldier-filmmaker shoots enemies framed by his camera. While supplying a low-budget conclusion for the telefilm, the manner of victory nonetheless suggests that there is little room for alternative referents for the war on terror beyond those created by the military-entertainment complex itself. Baxter even rewards the orphaned Hani for his assistance and loyalty by making him a gift of Davis’s camera. His home and family are gone, but he is ready and eager to shoot. ‘I make picture! Spielberg!’ he exclaims. The mainstream movie industry that Manticore references affirms the central role of Western technology in bringing Iraq back within the fold of civilization by reaffirming their place in a nativity story framed by archaeologists. The Iraqi child and by extension all the ‘children’ of Iraq can find security in watching themselves in paternalistic narratives of salvation exported to them in feature films. The child embraces the very technology that will destroy his own symbolic relationship with the past, the potentially dangerous singularity whose bombed and looted fragments can be endlessly resurrected and reconfigured in entertainment and news media.13

    Covering a wide array of issues, from arresting looters and protecting archaeological remains to eliminating WMDs, Manticore supplies a happy ending to the tale of the Baghdad Museum by diverting attention away from the recent history upon which the telefilm constructs its allegory. The American military has purged Iraq of its bad element and secured the land for freedom-loving citizens eager to enjoy Spielberg blockbusters. Sanitizing the archaeological past of its association with dictatorship, the SF telefilm implicitly exonerates the destructive effects of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the West’s invention of WMDs. Like the Iraqi extras in this film, the material remains of Mesopotamia play bit parts in cultural spectacles of propriety and control. In its rendition of the U.S. occupation, Manticore affirms the kinds of political and cultural claims Fagan attaches to the history of Mesopotamian archaeology in Return to Babylon. But if the looting of the Baghdad Museum has taught us anything, it is that if the stories we tell ourselves allow us to forget our role in the erasure, humiliation and domination of Arab peoples (p.43) and their culture, they are as reversible and as unstable as the myth of world trade that collapsed on 11 September 2001.

    Bearing the aesthetic hallmarks of the SF telefilm genre—narrow plotting, wooden acting, two-dimensional characters, cheap sets and cheesy special effects—Manticore circulates in the very limited niche market of the most dedicated SyFy channel subscribers. But with its ten-year marriage of archaeology and military adventure, Stargate SG-1 offers its viewers a more dynamic experience of watching Babylon. It is with the multiple and often contradictory views of the show’s own premise that the next chapter is concerned.


    (3) Mark Lacy likewise contends that while audiences are confronted with the ‘moral anxiety’ of fighting wars, mainstream cinema generally submerges geopolitical issues into myths of national identity. He says cinema has become a ‘space where “commonsense” ideas about global politics and history are (re)produced and where stories about what is acceptable behavior from states and individuals are naturalized and legitimated. It is a space where myths about history and the origins of the state are told to a populist audience […] Cinema is a space involved in the process of actively forgetting and actively producing history’ (618).

    (4) The war has nonetheless furnished a plethora of direct responses by mostly independent documentary filmmakers. For filmographies see Quay and Damico, eds., and Prince. For a survey of SF responses to the war on terror see Charles.

    (5) See Dodds and Lacy for examinations of these themes.

    (6) For studies of archaeology and propaganda in the Gulf Wars see Pollock, 2005, and Pollock and Lutz.

    (7) The Baghdad Museum images are all excerpted from the Abu Dhabi TV broadcast of 16 April 2003, which were then rebroadcast on CNN.

    (8) For information on the deck see the Baghdad Museum site at www.baghdadmuseum.org. Wikipedia carries the images of the most-wanted deck and the Legacy Resource Management cards: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most-wanted_Iraqi_playing_cards and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_awareness_playing_cards. See also Rush 2010, 2011, 2015.

    (9) Incidentally, Fort Drum is also the 10th Mountain Division Military Installation in upstate New York. Their stewardship role in Manticore extrapolates heritage initiatives developed at the base in response to the invasion. Fort Drum Cultural Resources Program also maintains heritage relationships with the Six Nation Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederation of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations, whose ancestors inhabited the land (Scardera, 152; Rush and Wagner).

    (10) Saddam Hussein was himself obsessed with creating a version of Umari’s legacy. To the horror of archaeologists, he built a modern palace on the foundations of the royal palace at Babylon. Visitors were greeted at the annual Festival of Babylon with images of Saddam posing with Nebuchadnezzar. He even had a stamp commemorating his likeness to the ancient monarch. For a thorough discussion see Baram.

    (11) In the Valley of Elah typifies this trend through frequent reference to a soldier’s mobile phone footage. The film’s narrative simulates soldiers’ documentary practices (especially of gratuitous degradation of corpses).

    (12) Mirzoeff further argues that forcing prisoners to ‘enact same-sex erotic tableaux’ was not simply a means of humiliation but an animation or ‘embodied spectacle’ of the Orientalist trope of the sodomite. In ‘adopting this strategy the global empire has reverted to the rhetoric of imperialism proper and the colonial expansion that preceded it’ (2006, 25, 30). Cf. Hagopian.

    (13) Andén-Papadopoulos relates in her analysis of soldier-posted video material that a common motif is interaction with Iraqi children, both as images of liberation and victimhood (24–25). The Legacy Resource Management cards also employ images of children in their hearts and minds campaign.