Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Raw War Footage

Read a very interesting article "The Pleasure Of Flinching" by Nicholas Sautin in Guernica Magazine's online site.

Ostensibly a review of Argentine Mauro Andrizzi's documentary "Iraqi Short Films" which is an unending diet of war and soldier R&R footage from Iraq. All culled off the internet and none of it shot by the film-maker himself. The footage is bloody, unmitigated shots of death and dying. War porn. Combat snuff.

To my mind such images raise an unsolved dialectic of questions, both pro and con.

Firstly, I would far rather these images existed than the surgical strike videos the army fed us from the Desert Storm Campaigns. Here at least you can see what death actually entails, rather than what amount to little more than video game sequences offered up by the military. These images redress the balance of those who would want to sanitise war.

Or do they? While I favour any global citizen being able to post their own eye witness report on a warzone, to get around the editorial control of TV stations and newspaper proprietors and the restrictions placed on journalists embedded with military units "no operational details for security purposes", one has to also ask the question of whether the citizen eye witness is any more reliable? By this I don't mean that they may lack any grounding in editing. More that how do you know you're not being fed a line, that the footage isn't in fact raw and unedited, but crafted for propaganda purposes? By either side in the conflict.

Which begs the question who is watching these videos at home on their computer. On one side it is pretty clear. Those prosecuting the resistance in Iraq or Afghanistan view images of 'glorious' operations such as IED explosions, and atrocity images of their own dead and dying brothers and sisters in villages and at weddings, as recruiting tools pure and simple. Your Faith needs You, the modern day recruitment poster child of death. To me this ties in with the psychology of those fighting the war against the 'invaders'. This is war and snuff porn and it works on the psychology of disaffected youth, who feel stakeless and unfulfilled in the modern world. Who feel the weight of the history of humiliation and servitude of their people on the global map. Who have no outlet for their male fantasies of strength, honour and dignity in a conventional way. But here they can connect to being warriors somehow. The equivalent Oriental Grand Tour, kill an infidel in every one of Iraq's holy cities... This is what it means to be male in the 21st century for this cohort of young men. This is the fuel of their fantasy life and is not too hard a task to attach some basic propellant of ideology to it. Death porn is pitched just right, to young men who feel they have nothing to lose in a no win society anyway. Death is the everyday currency of exchange. Tit for tat. Escalation. Revenge and reparation. It's how you can behead a human being live on YouTube...

But what of the non-combatants tuning in? Notionally those non-Muslims who watch death and torture porn? I am on less sure footing here as I neither know how many are return customers rather than once only purveyors and also why war footage porn appeals to them where say sexual torture porn does or doesn't. Presumably there is this constituency I alluded to above, those who opt to get their 'news' from these unofficial and alternative sources, but again I raise the question of how they know they're not being hoodwinked? I can recognise a video that's looping the same explosion over and over, but these are the most basic of examples. There are bound to be some far more sophisticated and lovingly crafted. Is the viewer at home really able to penetrate such artifice? At what point does a reasonably regular diet of such images inure and desensitise the viewer? To reach the same point of dehumanisation as the Jihadi watching the same images in order to stoke his fire and gird his loins? I guess I'm saying, what is the point of watching endless videos of death and carnage, if you're not a combatant? Or at least what is the endpoint? Will it make you march harder on a demonstration? Write with more frothingly outraged vocabulary in that letter to your MP? Are you maintaining some sort of spreadsheet collating the bodycount there in your study?

So there are few definitive conclusions to be drawn. We need alternative sources of data from warzones, but can we trust them any more than official versions? Their logic is crystal clear as far as combatants go, but what exactly are non-combatants deriving from repeated trips to the YouTube well? Maybe we should start inquiring as to what hunger for such images tells us about the psyches of both direct combatants and non-combatants and then maybe, just maybe, we the people will figure out how we come to get into such entanglements of war in the first place; why young men pick up rocket propelled grenade launchers and why the soldiers who go in after them are led by men with no understanding of what's involved.

It's the new Catch-22. You have to watch suffering endlessly in order to bring about an end to the suffering. Don't think this one's gonna fly though somehow. Do you?


PDAllen said...

This is the problem when the so-called responsible journalists become 'embedded' to the point that they are nothing but spin doctors for the military.

For myself, I don't question these images when I see them. Maybe I should. But they are clearly atrocities and we are clearly the aggressors. Of course, we don't see that. In the US, the dialogue is so well-framed hardly anyone ever questions the necessity, efficacy or ulterior motives of a 'war on terror.'

What I wonder more than anything, is how gratuitously these images are viewed by young adults. Desensitized by violence in movies, tv, and video games and well-indoctrinated through school, church and community, too many have a tendency to laugh it off.

And thus they become complicit in the war crimes committed by the US and the coalition. Don't these kids know anything about Nuremberg? Of course they don't. After all, they get their news from Fox.

Sulci Collective said...

Interesting that you use the word 'dialogue' (even if controlled by State/Corporate apparatus). At least that implies there is some naysayers, some people prepared to argue the contra and find a public platform. Here in the UK there simply doesn't seem to be any such public debate. We seem far more ready to delegate decision making to our elected representatives and then leave them to get on with it, with little public scrutiny. Our equivalent to Watergate or The Pentagon Papers - when you had whistle blowers that brought down government, seems to be the report into Parliamentary abuses of the Expenses system...

PDAllen said...

I used dialogue because in the US there are some minor discussions on the mass media about how best to conduct the war. But nobody (other than Chomsky & the late Zinn) ever questions the validity of declaring war on terrorists.

That is the frame, the 'war on terror', and the dialogue is conducted within it. In the end, it is a false dialogue, limited in scope.

I remember Watergate & The Pentagon Papers. The offenses of the past decade have far exceeded them in scope, and they are buried in the corporate media. At least you folks questioned Blair, though it didn't amount to much. We aren't doing that with Bush & Cheney.

Sulci Collective said...

There are elements of your newspapers that still seem to retain some notional editorial independence & pursue investigative political journalism? - possibly because they are not National enterprises (and owned by multi-national Conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch as here).

Don't be misled by the Blair inquiry. It was window dressing, Labour pulled the teeth from it long before.

Oh for a Chomsky or a Zinn here - I'd do it, but I'm interested in fiction!

jenn to the t said...

so funny that i've been contemplating the concept of self-gratuitous art/writing/dance/fashion design, etc...but failed completely to discuss journalism. maybe it's just out of my league; and maybe i thought at first that self-gratuitous reporting is incomparable to its arts counterpart.

but really it's not. journalistic ethics should be at the forefront of our public discourse now, in light of Fox, war crimes, embedding, advertising in journalism. i watched bill moyers interview the dude who created a documentary about nicolas kristoff, the NY Times columnist who goes to all corners of the earth to cover the worst abuses of mankind and the filmmaker raised questions about the conduct of kristoff while on the ground in Congo; but basically recused himself because he himself isn't a journalist.

i have some very strong feelings about it all and will spare you here.

but indeed, the issue of "showing it all" isn't really showing it all, the blood and guts of war. nothing is unedited. nothing it without an agenda--even unconsciously. an eye is an eye; and that's the beauty of fiction.


PDAllen said...

It is very difficult to find alternative viewpoints even in the newspapers. And newspapers on this side of the ocean are a dying enterprise. Investigative journalism all but died out a decade ago. None of the newspapers do it. That's why Greg Palast had to go to England to do investigative journalism on US issues.

Don't get me wrong, investigative journalism can be found, but you have to actively look for it.

The Blair inquiry was obviously a sham, but hey at least it happened. It is sad to see what has become of the labor party over there.

jenn to the t said...

bill moyers and david brancaccio

Anonymous said...

I'd like to suggest a book, Slavoj Zizek's "Violence." It delves into our fetish for the destruction of "the other," our paranoia about "the other" and our language and psyche of violence.

Sulci Collective said...

Thank you Anonymous. That book sounds exactly what I need to read.

Many thanks again

TF said...

You ask some important questions, Marc, as does the article itself.

I don't there is a fine line between journalism and amateur 'death' footage. I am aware enough of the horrors of war to never support or enlist to fight in a war - and I have never gone out of my way to view any war video as "obscene spectacle". Perhaps, perversely, this is justification for good writing to communicate this experience, and ones like it. There is some amazing writing on war (Killer Elite, an article by Evan Wright, is one of them) which, at least to me, says much more about war than a two minute video of Michael Bay-esque explosions and limbs in flight.

One of the examples the author uses is how the video of an Iraqi girl getting hit by a car has only half the views a video of a helicopter destroying a suicide bomber does. I could quote Twain quoting Disraeli here, but more to the point is the fact that I don't believe the average viewer (irony intended) at home distingushes between death. I just don't have that kind of faith in him or her to sit there and think the implications of death A are more and larger than those of death B. The reason war wins is because the horrors of war are just that, horrors - which leads onto a psychological discussion touched on by you and other commentors.

If television rots your brain, what does on-demand internet video do? YouTube's motto is 'Broadcast yourself', after all.

Sulci Collective said...

TF I've forgotten the exact terminology, but it's something like non-linear or lopsided or something, to describe the contest between a modern, industrially equipped army against basically guys with guns and grenades. Clearly the latter cannot defeat the former, but can win the battle for hearts and minds by turning the viewer at home in the country prosecuting the war against it through an unceasing visual litany of death and horror against innocents and successes to send soldiers home in body bags. A version of it turned the war in Vietnam after all. The Weathermen called it bringing the war home. So again, absolutely I can see the point of combatants flooding our screens with such iconography. It's non-combatants I just can't fathom their predilections. I agree with you, I can't see them distinguishing between the victims, if all they are seeking is the turn on factor anyway.

Real Virtuality said...

The non-combatant viewing of these images is a result of the Thanatos drive. Just as the internet has unveiled pornography to a greater audience, so to the death drive has been serviced. Perhaps it is the availability of anything at all on the internet that makes people want to watch such scenes, an urge for a harder core. The nightly television news teases the modern viewer; it peddles soft-war-porn. Sanctioned shots of soldiers firing at an unknown enemy. The video-game footage, as you put it, of bombing raids. We’ve all seen the Vietnam footage. Where is our version of the little girl running down the street from the napalm? Too sensitive for prime time, the modern viewer must seek it out online where, shorn of the commentator’s compassionate tones, it becomes just another fifteen seconds of distraction.

I remember hearing of a video back in the 90s, Faces of Death, which was comprised of deaths caught on camera. I cannot fathom the desire to see this. As I cannot comprehend the modern version.

Humans never cease to disgust.

Sulci Collective said...

I think you've definitely got something there with the thanatos drive. I've written about it underlying modern day hedonists' binge activities, or dangerous sports, seeing as now most people do not believe in an afterlife, but that existence is a one shot deal. These videos may just be the vicarious pleasure version for people who are too chicken to put their own bodies on the line.