1 Balloon, 2 Balloons, 3 Balloons*

One balloon. Over the blue skies of North Carolina, a Chinese balloon—a spy balloon, according to the Americans, a weather balloon, according to the Asian country’s government—hovers over a large swath of land on the East Coast, a region peppered with tobacco, soy and cotton fields, the pride of American agriculture. The balloon was probably activated over Montana, in the country’s west. During the five days it wandered on a solitary voyage through the airspace of the state that was home to Ava Gardner, the device had ample time to briefly surveil the daily life of American citizens. What is worrisome, much to the embarrassment of Joe Biden’s administration, is not that the contraption could spy on sensitive facilities from the perspective of U.S. intelligence, but that it obtained aerial corroboration of the sort of country the mecca of capitalism has become.

We do not know which kind of information the balloon transmitted to the Beijing authorities, although it is quite easy to imagine the surprise—turned to disappointment—of the officer in charge of receiving the images when he viewed the reality of the country seen from above. Police officers attacking detainees, beating them to death in the street; migrants who are doomed to turn back at the border; shootings at the entrance of a grocery store; a teenager bursting into a high school with an AK-47; the poverty in ghettos, where life expectancy is similar to that of Guizhou, one of the most underdeveloped provinces in China; the usual psychological American drama; rampant Trumpism, etc.. Scenes that show how a nation really is do not need to be verified through the use of aerostatic inventions. It is enough to peer into social media. The U.S. shot the balloon down after a five-day incursion, however hard it is to believe that no military leader thought to capture it for analysis and to check what images the gadget captured in its zenithal venture.

Two balloons. While the Chinese balloon soared across United States skies, Colombian officials reported a similar device flying at 55,000 feet over the cities of Valledupar and Cartagena. In contrast to the United States, Colombia dismissed the incident more quickly than the length of the device’s surveillance of any conceivable secret hidden in the tropical jungle, saying the object “does not pose a threat to national security and defense and aviation security.” Case closed, lest it demand an explanation.

Three balloons. This has nothing to do with the wistful innocence of a children’s show from the 1970s. The latest techniques of audiovisual narration have made us accustomed to anticipating a scene that will follow immediately after an overhead shot. These are sometimes used as a transition between scenes that are crucial to the plot. Following an overhead shot, a catastrophe ensues, or else there is a tough moment, depending on whether one wishes to capture the spectator’s attention or make the viewer look forward to what happens next. Note, for example, the technique used while shooting “The Handmaid’s Tale” -— an overhead shot followed by a low-angle shot in front of Elisabeth Moss’ menacing expression. When that happens, it means that something unexpected and remarkable is about to make an impression on the viewer.

Chinese balloons are but a metaphor of the world depicted in Margaret Atwood’s novels: a Gilead spying on other Gileads disguised as alleged champions of democracy. It is highly likely that the surveillance mechanism was meant to inspect United States military installations, but along the way, it must have recorded everyday scenes from the country that cannot brag about the social and cultural developments that made it the planet’s sociological leader. A balloon spying on a bubble. What a disappointment for those in charge of watching. The American war machine destroyed it before China could explain, before the overhead shot unveiled some other plot twist in this very strange country that acts as the planet’s watchdog. What is still surprising is that a good portion of the rest of the world still believes in the so-called American dream.

*Editor’s note: The original Spanish-language article is available through a paid subscription.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply