[VE] The Conflict in Question

Just a few thoughts on my panel at Visible Evidence. The panel was well-attended, and the discussion session afterwards was very productive, with the Q&A running well past the scheduled end of the panel. After I read the paper (which focused on Gunner Palace), my immediate reaction was how much the clips I showed–the long take of the Baghdad firefight and the soldier’s comedic monologue about using scrap metal as impovised armor for their Humvee–affected the audience’s reception of the film. Both scenes generated a lot of discomfort, and in retrospect, at least one clip of soldiers talking sadly about the unecessary deaths they’ve witnessed might have altered their reception of the film.

To some extent, I was surprsied at how few people had seen the documentary, although I learned after the fact that Gunner Palace had received a smaller international release. But the post-paper discussion of GP seemed to confirm my argument that the film is “politically ambivalent,” rather than politically neutral, in the sense that the film egenrates both strongly pro-war and anti-war readings. In fact, one commenter noted that the film could be read as a “recruitment video,” which might overstate slightly, but it does point to the way in which GP provides viewers with a sense of purpose and intensity that might not be available to the couch potato sitting at home.

At any rate, given some of the conversations I had at the conference, I now want to fold the questions I addressed, however broadly, in this paper into some larger questions about the role of the war documentary in shaping contemporary political discourse.

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