Us Soldiers Imaging the Iraq War

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Popular Communication, 7: 17–27, 2009 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1540-5702 print / 1540-5710 online DOI: 10.1080/15405700802584304

Popular Communication, 1540-5710 1540-5702 HPPC Communication Vol. 7, No. 1, Nov 2008: pp. 0–0

US Soldiers Imaging the Iraq War on YouTube
Kari Andén-Papadopoulos
Stockholm University

Andén-Papadopoulos US Soldiers Imaging the Iraq War on YouTube

This article examines the homemade videos uploaded to YouTube by coalition soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I interrogate how perceptions of war, and the conventions of war reporting, change as new media technologies allow soldiers to log on to the Web and upload personal views from the frontlines. The Iraqi conflict is emerging as the first YouTube war, where homemade soldiers’ videos throw into sharp relief the reportorial conventions of the mainstream news coverage. I take into consideration the format, meanings and communicative functions of these amateur videos, and the distinctive ways in which they reconfigure professional standards of ethics and authenticity. The firsthand testimonials by soldiers offer the public uncensored insights into the experience of warfare and may provide the basis for a questioning of the authority and activity of U.S. foreign policy.

INTRODUCTION This article considers the specific challenges that the online proliferation of alternative imagery of violent international conflict raises for traditional journalism and its standards of ethics and credibility. I examine how modern communication technologies that allow active duty soldiers to log on to the Web from Afghanistan and Iraq, and upload personal and at times shockingly brutal views from the frontlines, can alter our perception of war and the conventions of war reporting. The most graphic images show the gruesome aftermath of suicide bombings and fierce gunfights between coalition forces and insurgents. Sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Google Video, LiveLeak, and military.com abound with violent videos and stills from combat soldiers, some set to heavy metal or rap music, and include troops using obscene language. My article examines the homemade videos uploaded to YouTube by coalition soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. These personal, poignant and sometimes shockingly brutal video testimonies clearly diverge from, and subvert traditional forms and standards for war reporting. I take into consideration the format, meanings, and communicative functions of these amateur videos, and the distinctive ways in which they reconfigure professional standards of ethics and authenticity. The soldiers’ firsthand accounts of the war have introduced new and sometimes highly controversial perspectives into the documentation of warfare that military and media elites are struggling to contain. The most contentious imagery uploaded to YouTube is undoubtedly

Correspondence should be addressed to Kari Andén-Papadopoulos, Department of Journalism, Media, and Communication, Stockholm University, Karlavägen 104, P.O. Box 27 861, 115 93 Stockholm. E-mail: anden@ jmk.su.se

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the live recordings of violent confrontations, in which U.S. troops can be seen taking part in aggressive and seemingly indiscriminate killings of Iraqi citizens. However, some of the soldier videos that have caused most public outrage are shot behind the scenes of combat, showing troops entertaining themselves by demeaning Iraqi children or abusing pet animals. Also, the recurrent video tributes to fallen soldiers foreground a controversial and highly emotional subject: the premature and violent deaths of young U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. My analysis suggests that these audiovisual productions by active duty soldiers can provide us with the kind of critical perspectives needed for a more open democratic questioning of U.S. foreign policy and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

IMAGE WARS IN THE...
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