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The Pleasure of Flinching
February 27, 2010 10:08 AM   Subscribe

The Pleasure of Flinching. "In the viral video realm, amateur Iraq war footage ranks just behind pornography, celebrities’ drunken exploits, and shark attacks. Do these videos represent what Sontag called our 'right to view,' or are they a porn medium made from leftovers of a world filming its self-destruction?" [Via]
posted by homunculus (40 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do these videos represent what Sontag called our 'right to view,' or are they a porn medium made from leftovers of a world filming its self-destruction?

False dichtomedia?
posted by defenestration at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sophist's choice.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:25 AM on February 27, 2010 [14 favorites]


Also, Metafilter: 90 minutes of carnage and irony.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:27 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er, sorry for that threadshit. That was actually a really interesting read. Thanks.
posted by defenestration at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't be so poetic about viral war footage. Like porn, like shark attacks, like celebrities making fools of themselves, we just watch it because it's there, and we can.
posted by sunnichka at 10:37 AM on February 27, 2010


That's all there is to it, sunnichka?
posted by defenestration at 10:43 AM on February 27, 2010


sunnichka: "we just watch it because it's there, and we can"

There are all sorts of things that are there, and watchable. Most of them are not sordid or revolting to watch. There is something to be gained in figuring out the appeal.
posted by idiopath at 10:44 AM on February 27, 2010


On the few occasions I've sought out that kind of content, it's been in reaction to the increasingly sanitized coverage offered in the mainstream (US) press.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:46 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The double standard is fascinating - the fact that footage with a US victim is more likely to get pulled from youtube footage than footage with an Iraqi victim seems to implicitly say that this is violence porn rather than a cautionary documentation of atrocities.
posted by idiopath at 10:48 AM on February 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wouldn't be so poetic about viral war footage.

Go back and watch some of the coverage of Vietnam. Then contrast it to the work of embedded journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Viral footage is the only way your average American civilian has of having an accurate picture of what's going on on the ground, day to day, in these war zones.

Maybe having an accurate picture of what is occurring because of the actions of the United States government isn't important to you. It is to some people.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:48 AM on February 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Or, what werkzeuger said.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There isn't a single Roman who would find any of our tastes shocking.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:51 AM on February 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm sure the Pope might object to a few.
posted by empath at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you don't want to watch these videos, why are you paying to have these people killed? This is all you're getting out of the war. You're not any safer, and you're not going to see any of that oil revenue. Snuff films may not be the most edifying genre in cinema, but if I spent $2000 over seven years for one I'd feel obligated to watch. It's like when you rent a movie and it sucks, but you're paying rent on it so you sit through the whole thing even though you know that Kate Hudson isn't going to marry the boring rich jerk who takes her for granted.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 11:11 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


After the september 11 2001 attacks I was in a T group with this therapy professional guy and he theorized that the endless loop of the burning then collapsing World Trade Center towers would induce an epidemic of post traumatic stress disorders. We don't have to look. The article seemed well intentioned, but I couldn't even read past about three paragraphs before my stomach urged me to move on to something else.

If there is something vital in the article past the first three paragraphs I hope somebody will post that.
posted by bukvich at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was thinking classical Rome, empath, but yeah.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2010


Perhaps these videos are our "girl in the broom closet." (pdf warning)
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I watch to see where and how my tax bucks get spent.
posted by Postroad at 11:33 AM on February 27, 2010


I already know war is hell. I don't need to see war porn. It's hard enough having people I care about over there in harm's way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:45 AM on February 27, 2010


In the context of this article, I like the irony of the "readers like you make Guernica possible" note at the bottom.
posted by crazylegs at 12:21 PM on February 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with enjoying some pornography now and then.
posted by planet at 12:43 PM on February 27, 2010


So I just finished reading "Band of Brothers" with its graphic prose footage, and came away filled with thought and sorrow, and now I'm watching contemporary Americans getting blown up (bodies flying through the air) by IEDs, and wondering if we'd had digital video on both sides during WWII it would have seemed like the same kind of sordid blood feast as Iraq. Sort of a "Band of Assholes". Or is it as George Orwell wrote, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. "
posted by Faze at 12:49 PM on February 27, 2010


What's interesting about this is how it undermines traditional Vietnam-era anti-war tactics. Normally we hear something like "Behind all the propaganda about celebrating our victory and valorizing the heroes, a dark truth is suppressed about the violence and trauma of war. This is how the government creates consent for war, if the people knew the truth, they would reject it, we must speak truth to power, etc."

A similar idea is behind gonzo journalism, that the traditional journalistic rules of objectivity are a kind of censorship that deprive us of the unfiltered reality which would truly threaten those in power.

Not only does uncensoring the war fail to undermine support for it, it probably functions as a recruiting tool. Why does the Pentagon not get these videos pulled or prohibit soldiers from carrying digital cameras? Aren't they tacitly endorsing these videos?

Of course, officially, they regret the violence and the deaths of civilians and seek a peaceful end to the conflict, but unofficially they allow these videos to leak to the public. The message they want to send is "We really are killing them, watch and enjoy! Join us and you too can be free of society's PC restrictions and censorship. You will be the star of your own action movie and indulge in unlimited sadistic revenge fantasies!"
posted by AlsoMike at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2010


Fantastic article and argument within.

This is a comment on the article page:

Julia | February 22, 2010 12:56 PM | Reply
I find the inclusion of videos here ironic, like an invitation to join in the societal voyeurism that is critiqued in the article. I could have justified watching them by saying to myself that they are there to help me understand the article better, but wouldn't that have been missing the point?


This contradiction, which may not truly be irony, was my first reaction to seeing the embedded video. However, after having read the article, I was not convinced that viewing it would be quite as irresponsible or contradictory. Regardless, I didn't watch them because I become physically ill at the sight of real carnage.

The theory by the author is remarkably complementary to that of Slavoj Zizek's "Welcome to the Desert of the Real". Both resonate strongly with me because I'm not convinced that the generally accepted purpose and reception of truth in media is fully understood. Knowing the full truth comes with a steep price, in my opinion (not that it shouldn't be allowed).

Once again, tremendously interesting post, many thanks, homunculus. I'm going to start reading guernica regularly now.
posted by hellslinger at 2:57 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or is it as George Orwell wrote, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. "

Pretty sure Orwell was talking about something slightly less morally compromised than the invasion of another country on false pretexts. Also, I lose no sleep at night being afraid of the Iraqi people. Grieving for them, perhaps.
posted by jokeefe at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that article is the artsy-fartsy counterpart to Bush-Cheney amorality. Maybe I'm a philistine, maybe this article is really just for BfA and journalism grads to consume.

I'm very average, but I believe I've looked into the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts a little more than the average North American. Would I have walked out of that film? If I didn't know beforehand about the graphic footage... probably, unless there was something specific I wanted to see and know about. I generally tune out of movie operating-room scenes for the same reason - although I have first-aid training, and I've had to use it occasionally, watching medical procedures isn't something I do for aesthetic pleasure.

Unless I'm hopelessly naive, I believe the percentage of people who would watch and enjoy this sort of onscreen bloodfest without context is small. So they can be ignored as just fringe consumers of wierd porn.

The article's comments are closer to how I feel.

I guess I wanted to see in the article something that specifically connects the on-screen deaths to decisions made by some fat white guys, and that maybe better explains on why this imagery hasn't been seen (or is deliberately avoided) by most people, particularly by people who blindly supported the wars.

Colour me dense, but I still feel that if you can convince someone about the actual numbers of deaths, trauma and injuries suffered by all sides in Iraq and Afghanistan, using real images if necessary, then that person would be far less likely to be OK with unilateral declarations of war against funny-looking people on the other side of the world.

Not something our governments want to do, I guess.

(disclaimer - I acknowledge that I refuse to consider the images as anything else than the visible evidence of the tragic pointlessness of these wars as they were conceived and executed)
posted by Artful Codger at 3:19 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There isn't a single Roman who would find any of our tastes shocking.

Perhaps not, but there were plenty who found the doings at the Colosseum distasteful at the time. Even among emperors.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:56 PM on February 27, 2010


I guess I wanted to see in the article something that specifically connects the on-screen deaths to decisions made by some fat white guys...

Wait for the Michael Moore version.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:06 PM on February 27, 2010


I wish I could get my head around what's actually happening in Iraq. My view of the situation is hopelessly incomplete and I know it.

These videos don't do much to help. I see young men driving around in Humvees; running with guns drawn, up nondescript stairs in nondescript houses; strolling aimlessly through devastated villages... it all seems meaningless to me. The concept of a "war" against an idea rather than a real organization, where the conditions for victory are unknown and unattainable, where enemy and civilian are impossible to discern, strikes me as unbelievably absurd. And the videos only reinforce that.

I see young American men who could easily be my friends or my brothers or me, shooting guns at targets who are always off-camera or so far away as to be unrecognizable, and it strikes me that the enemy is just as nebulous in the videos as he seems in news reports and press conferences. All I see through the frame on my screen is soldiers shooting big guns and blowing crap up. Acting macho and "being boys." And then I remember that those houses they are invading belong to actual people, and those crumbling buildings that line the streets probably got that way because of the soldiers' actions and I remember that the military is not, by definition, a constructive force in the world. It is destructive, and can never be anything but.

And then all the patriotic music fades away, and the video title screens about "courage" and "honor" evaporate, and I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have no respect for the Fox News pundits or the official government line; that's not new. What is new is that I've looked for meaning in the videos, for even the slightest semblance of sanity, and found none. The war is unjustifiable and more visibly so now than ever.

But I'm powerless. I can do nothing but weep for the world, for the soldiers and civilians and senseless politicians in America and Iraq alike. Would I feel differently if I had some context? If I could see the big picture beyond my TV screen and YouTube window? I don't know. The more I do see, the less likely that seems.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 5:24 PM on February 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm amazed at how much the American public has forgotten that we are still at war in Iraq.
posted by localhuman at 6:00 PM on February 27, 2010


I haven't done academic work with critical theory in a few years now, so reading this is strange..

It seems to me that shocking, horrific images coming out of disasters (Haiti, recently.. Katrina, once we saw on TV what was really happening) have often spurred people to take action, giving to relief efforts, raising money, volunteering.

As far as Iraq footage.. what can you do but watch, if you even choose to watch? Millions of people protested the war in the first place and continued to do what they could within the political system to push for an end to it, once it had started. Because they know what happens in war, and they knew we were lied to. If you could've shown reels of graphic violence to the architects and promoters of the war, Cheney and Bush and the neocons, would they have done anything differently?

Otherwise.. saying everything is a form of porn seems like a new thing, thanks Internets, but people gawking at horrific images isn't new at all is it? Well, before you could record horrific images and gawk at them, people attended public executions and the like..
posted by citron at 7:28 PM on February 27, 2010


I have no respect for the Fox News pundits or the official government line; that's not new.

I feel like I should point out.. sure there are and were plenty of Fox News pundits who were for the war. But the gung-ho, let's invade Iraq attitude was overwhelming in the media at the time; it was in the New York Times (esp Judith Miller, who does work for Fox now), the Washington Post op-ed pages, CNN/NBC/ABC/CBS/MSNBC with splashy graphics promoting the impending showdown as if war was inevitable and everyone should shut up and be all "rah rah USA." Plenty of liberal pundits and bloggers were for it - the blogosphere really got going in the first place due to the "warblogger" arguments between the two sides, and big names like Andrew Sullivan (a conservative, I know), Josh Marshall, and Matt Yglesias were in favor of the war at the time. Those of us who were against the war had to look pretty hard for blogs and media outlets that didn't regard this point of view as out of bounds, naive, and possibly unpatriotic. It was a crazy, crazy time, and I know the aftermath of 9/11 messed with a lot of people and made it possible for Cheney's allies to use scare tactics and do an end-run around the government bureaucracy and trump up intelligence to make it happen.

I wouldn't consider yourself powerless in all this. Remember, in the election of 2004 it was probably political suicide, most places and in the presidential contest above all, to speak out strongly against the war. I mean Edwards was a driving force in making the case in the Senate for crying out loud, and Dean's candidacy got torpedoed by fellow Democrats and the media alike for having spoken out strongly against it and saying it didn't make us safer. By 2008, Obama could build his candidacy on a speech against the Iraq war and continue to speak out loudly about how he'd opposed it. And we've elected a president who, though he's adopted too many Bush-era policies on terror, probably is not going to lie us into another preemptive, unjustified war in the Middle East or anywhere else. (Escalating the one in Afghanistan, now.. is open for debate, I don't pretend to know enough as to whether this is justified, but I want to know how and when they'll decide we've won and it's over.)
posted by citron at 7:53 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's an interesting divergence in how these videos are spread and consumed; a video of an Iraqi firefight ending with a "bring the rain" airstrike, is passed around via email as patriotic fodder, while Al-Jazeera constantly plays videos of Israeli tanks firing on rock throwers as part of their segues.

It makes me feel physically sick all the same.
posted by stratastar at 9:07 PM on February 27, 2010


It seems to me that shocking, horrific images coming out of disasters (Haiti, recently.. Katrina, once we saw on TV what was really happening) have often spurred people to take action, giving to relief efforts, raising money, volunteering.

200,000 citizens of an impoverished third-world nation died in an earthquake. Then a few weeks later, only 200 citizens of an OECD country die in a much stronger magnitude earthquake. These are both natural disasters, but the fact that one is 1000-fold more deadly that the other is the result of Western political and economic decisions.

The media covers up this fact because the audience doesn't want to know that. We prefer to think of the recipients of our charity as helpless victims of a natural disaster that couldn't have been prevented. The issue is depoliticized and we feel good about our generosity.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:14 PM on February 27, 2010


What's this "we" thing? Speak for yourself.
posted by citron at 10:57 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I already know war is hell. I don't need to see war porn. It's hard enough having people I care about over there in harm's way."

I beg to differ - the people you know are causing the harm. There was no war in Iraq nor in Afghanistan before Americans came in to kill people; and neither Afghanis or Iraqis ever offered any harm to Americans. The people you care about went into other countries to kill other people who have never offered them any harm; they are infinitely better armed, better trained, and better supported than the hundreds of thousands of innocent people they have killed; they are the problem, they are the death, they are the cause of the terror, they are the war.

You've been very active here as a consistent supporter of these war; you and many other Americans are the very cause of these horrors; to then say that you don't need to see the horrors that your decisions have caused is extremely hard to defend.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:08 PM on February 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I might also add that I'm 47 years old and I've been watching heavily armed Americans killing various ethnics on the news for my entire life. In every case, the Americans have had vastly greater support, firepower, and technology, and have had kill ratios of greater than 10:1.

Decades of watching well-fed, well-armed Americans kill desperate peasants in own countries has changed me. I'm still a pacifist, even more than ever after watching years of failed American wars, and yet in my heart every time I see these I root for the pathetic underdog, in the same way that if you saw a video where three big guys beat up a midget, you'd cheer if the midget somehow won.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:26 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


""And we've elected a president who, though he's adopted too many Bush-era policies on terror, probably is not going to lie us into another preemptive, unjustified war in the Middle East or anywhere else."

That is, if you exclude Pakistan, Yemen, or the expanded war in Afghanistan and the brinksmanship in Iran.

Mr. Obama has shown an endless hunger for war, in the tradition of all US Presidents since Jimmy Carter. Both budgets he has presented allocate more money for war than the previous. If you wish to paint him as anything other than a warmonger, you really need to present some concrete evidence.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:43 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Winsome Parker Lewis said
I wish I could get my head around what's actually happening in Iraq. My view of the situation is hopelessly incomplete and I know it.

These videos don't do much to help.
Please, allow me to help.

Let's say, you see a piece of video shot by insurgents in which an IED blows up a vehicle, and one soldier dies, and a couple are injured, probably crippled for life, and maybe one or two others will have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.

The number of coalition soldiers killed since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq operations is a bit over 6,200 The number of coalition soldiers injured is in the tens of thousands, many permanently disabled. The number with PTSD... who knows.

So, to put that video into perspective, simply watch it about 7,000 to 10,000 times.

Similarly, the number of IraqI and Afghan citizens killed in hostilities since the invasions started is in the neighbourhood of 150,000. Of this, approximately 100,000 are from Iraq. The number of wounded, crippled or merely rendered homeless is um alot.

(To be fair, some think the total number of civilian casualties is more like a million But 100,000 is easier.)

Again, to get your head around this, simply select your favourite video of a coalition soldier putting a few rounds into an Iraqi car speeding past a checkpoint (average of 4 passengers) and view it 25,000 times. (It may be more efficient to select a picture of a coalition-bombed wedding party with 50 casualties, and view it 2000 times).

*fun fact* - Saddam once killed some 5000 of his citizens in one year. Since the invasion start the annual kill rate is (100000 / 9 years) or roughly 11,111 per year. Clearly our Western ways are more than twice as efficient as those of a backward, non-WMD-brandishing dictator.

*fun fact* - my favourite 'say-what?' statistic is that at present, coalition forces have directly killed almost twice as many Afghan civilians as the insurgents have (~ 7,000 vs ~4,800). Once again, we are bringing them the benefits of our way of life.

Please, don't thank me. Simply use your new perspective to help out someone else who has any doubts about the morality of making war on others.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2010


You've been very active here as a consistent supporter of these war; you and many other Americans are the very cause of these horrors; to then say that you don't need to see the horrors that your decisions have caused is extremely hard to defend

I have been a very consistent sayer that withdrawing would be worse than what we have now, and I thank you not to put opinions in my mouth when even I am not sure how I feel from week to week.

I'm not a president nor a congressperson nor do I play one on tv. IIRC just about everyone on both sides of the aisle supported this war when it started, based on what they were told at the time. While we are at it, Obama is quietly pretty much continuing on where Bush left off, and considering how much he blasted Bush before he took office, I would think it is because he is now in possession of facts which make his actions at least in his own mind reasonable and necessary.

All war is hell, I won't even watch a war MOVIE because they make me cry, and right now my daughter's friend is over there right now disarming bombs that the insurgents lay against our troops. So if your post was intended to piss me off, congratulations. It worked.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:40 PM on February 28, 2010


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