Just a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the various forms of amateur war footage, specifically my initial curiosity about MTV’s Iraq Uploaded. I caught the MTV half-hour special report, Iraq Uploaded this morning primarily because I was curious to see how the show would frame the role of the soldiers’ video in documenting the war. The MTV report begins by citing the military policy of permitting soldiers to upload video footage of their war experiences in contrast to blogs and websites, which are monitored for “security content,” as this TPM Cafe review points out. The implication is that the soldiers’ videos offer “unfiltered” access to the soldiers’ experiences of the war. As MTV reporter Gideon Yago describes it, “from the hilarious, to the sublime, to the gruesome and the terrifying, these are anonymous, unspun visions of Iraq in their raw, stark reality.” But the MTV report doesn’t address the implications of this policy, what it means that the military is allowing this footage to appear online, and that is, by far, the more crucial question.
I think the answer to this question is hiding in plain sight in Yago’s interview with a 20-year old consumer of Iraq War videos. While the interviewee acknowledged that the violence in the videos deterred him from joining the Marines, it’s clear that the videos produced an explicit sense of identification with the soldiers and with the excitement and adrenaline of the war. It’s also worth noting that this “unfiltered” perspective on the war is consciously contrasted with the coverage of the war by the major TV networks. While it’s certainly fair to be critical of the networks’ decision not to show the coffins of dead soldiers, for example, the implication that the soldiers’ videos are providing access to a truth unavailable on the news needs to be interrogated more carefully.
At the same time, Iraq Uploaded is remarkably uncritical when it comes to comparing the US soldiers’ videos with similar videos produced by the insurgents. There’s a strange transition in which Yago interviews a wounded Iraq veteran who was hit in the chest by gunfire. The soldier was wearing a bulletproof vest and along with members of his unit managed to capture the insurgents who shot him. We then learn from a Homeland Security worker that the footage was taken by insurgents who ostensibly intended to use the video for “propaganda purposes,” with the implication being that US soldiers’ video footage serves a more complicated purpose, whether that’s to depict the war to others back home or to help the sodleirs recover from the trauma of war. I’m not suggesting that the soldiers’ videos don’t serve those functions, of course, but the report failed to consider how Iraqi audiences might have more complicated uses for video footage of the war.
I didn’t intend to spend so much time writing about this MTV report, but these discussions of amateur war footage have been on my mind quite a bit this week, in part because of the number of videos that have been posted to YouTube documenting the effects of the rockets and bombs falling on Israel and Lebanon, most recently in this Washington Post article by Sara Kehaulani Goo, which offers a nice overview of the debate about the issues at stake regarding the “citizen journalism” being practiced by YouTube users.