Star Spangled Death Strike is a powerful and emotionally evocative data visualization of the number of deaths caused by drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004-2012. Using 329 data points, which reflect the date, location and number of people killed in Pakistan by drone strikes, this project emphasizes the devastating impact of modern warfare. Stars and stripes are the beloved symbols of America, recognized internationally, and most frequently associated with freedom and democracy. By manipulating the stars and stripes in the context of the American flag in a way that conflicts with the ideology of America, the viewer is invited to make a different association. The sizes of the fifty stars are intentionally modified to reflect the extent of lives lost. Further, the superimposition of the Pakistan landscape on the stripes of the flag along with textual information about the individual strikes allows for the perception of a contradiction between the symbolic meaning of the stars and stripes and the stark reality of American military strength for non-American citizens.
In constructing this display, the 329 data points were first sorted by year. As the American flag has fifty stars, this resulted in 7 flags. The actual stars in each flag display were modified in a way such that the diameter of the star represented the number of people killed in each strike location. The audio was compilation of sound effects with melancholic instrumentals sounds along with the sound of drone propellers and land explosions to enhance a multisensory experience.
The Star Spangled Death Strike is a data driven portrayal of the effects of technological warfare through the transformation of iconic symbols.
Using Processing, I was able to successfully import the data file, which was provided by the instructor, into a sketch file. I decided to use a formula which took the sum of the total number of deaths (adults + children) in each strike location, and separate the data points by groups of 50. From that point, I wrote my own code which asked for Processing to print 50 stars which used a graphic that I created. The most significant part of the code was that the size of each star corresponded to the number of deaths that occurred. Specifically, the diameter of the star was the numerical value that was in the respective position within the .csv and .txt file.
The second part of developing this project involved displaying the dates and locations that corresponded to each star/strike. Processing helped to parse the large numbers of data and textual information. Due to some technical challenges, step one and step two were created in separate sketch files. In order to bind and bring the data together, I used Photoshop to create the final graphic of the American flag. In retrospect, this part was the most time consuming, but was necessary in order to provide the means for those to experience and understand the data visualization.
The third part required the creation of an audio track, one which had dark and upsetting music paired with significant and relevant sound effects. The audio feature of the project adds an additional element of the experience which truly strikes a chord within the viewer.
Star Spangled Death Strike successfully and uniquely represents and utilizes mundane numerical and facts & figures which could easily be ignored or overlooked. Instead, a multisensory experience is created which allows new associations and understandings to be established.
Drone Strike Data Set – click here.
Processing Sketches – available here.