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Partnering in Peace, Documenting Occupation

If the mainstream media is paying much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict these days, its cameras are likely focused on the current round of negotiations brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Off camera, Ta’ayush, a grassroots Israeli-Palestinian group who work non-violently and in partnership to end occupation and civil rights for all, are keeping their own cameras on. The group works particularly to support the Palestinian residents of Area C of the West Bank, which remains under full Israeli military and civil rule. Early every Saturday morning a handful of Israeli and international activists leave Jerusalem to join with Palestinians in ploughing and planting fields, shepherding flocks, clearing wells and cave dwellings, in the face of frequently violent harassment by settlers and the coercive force of the Israeli military. A regular aspect of Ta’ayush’s work is to document the frequent harassment and obstruction – denial of access to land, dispersal of flocks, destruction of buildings and arrests, beatings, and so on – and the occasional success – a ploughed field, a lamb being born. Ta’ayush is a small organization, funded by its activists and supporters, and those taking video footage and photographs are not professionals, although adept at posting information from the field quickly. Most of what they post is raw footage, roughly cut into short clips. Nonetheless, in the several years that audio-visual recording has become part and parcel of its repertoire of actions, Ta’ayush has amassed a vast archive of evidence of the routine violence of Occupation. They are, of course, not the only grassroots anti-Occupation activists who collect such audio-visual evidence, whether Israeli, Palestinian, or international (or a blend of them), but Ta’ayush is a significant collator of this material.

The archive is not situated on a single social media site, but spread across several platforms, such that Web 1.0 complements Web 2.0. There is Ta’ayush’s Facebook page (created on October 31, 2009, and as of February 8th 2014, showing 3,289 “likes”), on which many reports and announcements of activities from similar anti-occupation grassroots groups are reposted. The Facebook page is linked to a Twitter account, which had 1763 followers and 1913 Tweets by the same date. Many of the photograph albums of Ta’ayush activities (often stills of video footage) are shared from the Facebook page of one of the group’s activists, Guy Butavia. The same activist also hosts a YouTube channel, as guybo111, which has 429 subscribers, 472 videos, and has attracted 595,646 views since November 28th, 2007. Ta’ayush also maintains a website with a Hebrew and English version, the latter of which holds a more organized archive of activities according to location and type of activity (agricultural, aid and solidarity, information, protests), each of which is further subdivided. It’s thus possible to track activities in some very specific locations, such as Umm el-Arayes, a small agricultural community in the troubled South Hebron Hills area, where the continued existence of some 30 Palestinian villages is threatened by the Israeli occupation. There are 19 items about Umm el-Arayes from November 17th 2012 until February 1st, 2014 on the English version of the website. I am focusing on Umm el-Arayes in this piece as I went there in December 2012 as a participant observer of Ta’ayush while conducting academic research (about which I wrote this blog piece, which has been included on Ta’ayush’s website). There is a mixture of 6 video postings with paragraph-long explanations, blogs or other written counts, 10 accompanied by photographs, and three without, including an article from Le Monde about Ta’ayush. The Hebrew version of the website is slightly different, as it doesn’t include the “information” category. On Umm al-Arayes, the Hebrew version has 12 items from 26th January 2013 until 1st February 2014, of which 7 are videos with explanations, 4 are texts with photographs, and 1 is text only (the article from Le Monde). The additional video clip in the Hebrew version is a report from Israeli Social TV about events at Umm el-Arayes, about which I’ll say more below.

It’s significant that the website includes textual explanations of the videos and photographs because the audio-visual material that appears on Ta’ayush’s Facebook page or the guybo111 You Tube channel sometimes has no contextualization, sometimes does not appear at all, and sometimes only as a photo album with the barest of captions. Of the 6 videos categorized under Umm el-Arayes, the one with the longest textual account is from November 23rd, 2013, on a page titled “An Organized Attack in Umm el Ara’is and More.” The video [#1 on the right] is only 47 seconds long, showing a melee of soldiers, activists and locals. Above the noise an activist can be heard shouting in Hebrew to one soldier, “You’re kicking a girl!”, to another who is grabbing a boy “Leave the boy alone!”, and to another who approaches him as he films “leave the camera alone and calm down.” The text explains that preceding the recorded incident, Palestinian children of families on whose land the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair have built hothouses, which are scheduled for demolition by order of the Israeli High Court, no less, had been attacked by the settlers when they approached the hothouses, along with the activists documenting the incident. The soldiers present did not intervene for about twenty minutes, after which they began enforcing a “closed military area” order, roughly arresting some of the Palestinians and Israeli activists – but not the settlers. The clip was posted to Ta’ayush’s Facebook page with captions in Hebrew and English about violence on the part of settlers and Israeli occupation forces, it’s source being on guybo111 (where it currently has 1851 views). A separate video [#2 on the right] lasting 42 seconds, embedded in the text, shows in slow motion a woman activist being attacked by a settler who grabs her camera and smashes it. That clip is also housed on guybo11, where it has attracted 1009 views. But without the longer textual explanation or a close familiarity with the situation and type of events, it’s hard to fathom what’s going, especially for those who understand neither Hebrew nor Arabic. These are short clips from a longer video record, but other than the slow motion of the second clip, there is no sign of editing other than the cut, and certainly no narrative framing, which instead is provided by the text on the website.

The pattern of settler violence and military and police coercion in relation to local Palestinians and activists runs through Ta’ayush’s archive, the coverage of Umm el-Arayes not showing the worst of it. Yet, in another longer clip lasting 8:34 minutes [#3 on the right], the heated exchanges between soldiers and Said Awad, the leading local Palestinian campaigner for his family’s land rights, the structural violence underlying the whole situation is articulated. The video starts with members of the Awad family making yet another attempt to reach their land that has been seized by the settlers of Mitzpe Yair, and being blocked by Israeli soldiers wielding a “closed military area” order (which in this case is invalid, as the camera shows it hasn’t been completed properly). There is some pushing and shouting, but it’s not really the physical and verbal violence that the web page title highlights that’s significant here, nor even the detention of the two activists that is mentioned in the paragraph of text that does provide useful, concise context for the local situation. Rather, what stands out is Said Awad’s determined dispute with the soldier whom he faces almost eyeball to eyeball. Said tells the soldier that he cannot claim to be a “man of the law” as he’s defending an illegal settlement. “Your weapon is your law,” he says.

The story is not always one of confrontation, though the context is. In one clip (from October 5th, 2013) that doesn’t appear on the group’s Facebook page, and is hosted on another activist YouTube channel, publicamir, we see the usual cat and mouse game between soldiers trying to enforce a “closed military area” and in this case a Palestinian boy who evades them and manages to reach a settler boy about his age who accepts his outstretched hand to shake it. The title of the Ta’ayush webpage on which it appears foretells the ending of the event, “You shook my hand? I’ll throw stones at you!”, as the settler boy throws a couple of rocks as the Palestinian boy heads back across the field to his family, while a nearby soldier does not even notice. The clip seems to have touched a few hearts, as it has attracted 11,000 views.

Yet, the most popular of the 6 clips is the most harrowing. On a tense day at Umm el-Arayes on January 19th 2013, in enforcing the routine closure order, the military and police arrested 15 local Palestinians and activists, among them a mother and her 18 month old baby. The 1:36 minute clip [#4 on the right] shows, among much shouting and shrieking, a man being forced to the floor as he’s arrested, and military policy surrounding the woman, gesturing and calling for her to be quiet and calm down as they seize her and lead her away as she carries her baby, while another activist holds a crying boy in his arms. The text on the web page adds some information about the release of the detainees, and on this occasion the video on guybo111 is accompanied by some explanatory text that names the mother as Reema and the baby as Quamar. This clip, credited to Nissim Mossek (who also has his own YouTube channel with material about Ta’ayush), has had 71,604 views. While in this case the video wasn’t posted to the Facebook page, there was a small album of 6 photos documenting Reema’s arrest as well as two postings in Hebrew about the event, and subsequently a link to a report in the quality Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz about it and other confrontations that same day between Palestinians and occupation authorities. On this occasion, Ta’ayush’s social media activism broke through to the mainstream press, though not its more popular channels.

Perhaps, though, it is not such occasional breakthroughs that measure the value of Ta’ayush’s archive of occupation, of Palestinian civil resistance and Israeli-Palestinian partnership. Although the Ta’ayush activists have neither the time nor resources to develop the archive beyond the web site, it can be a rich source for other professionals. Israel’s Social TV is an NGO that focuses on social justice and human rights issues and activism, broadcasting biweekly on a local channel and through the internet. In October 2013 the station compiled a report, mentioned above, on Umm el-Arayes that used a significant amount of Ta’ayush footage, including of Reema’s arrest in January, the boy who shook hands, an earlier clip [#5 on the right] of an armed settler from Mitzpe Yair chasing sheep, and another video by Nissim Mossek. (The report can be viewed with English subtitles here, the relevant segment being at 6:56 – 12:60 mins). For the Palestinians of Umm el-Arayes and the activists, the violence and coercion witnessed in this footage has become routine. There is, however, a bigger picture that cannot be told even with the combination of video clips and tests, but would require an ambitious editing and framing project to produce documentaries about the different local struggles and their place in the larger struggle against occupation.

Whether or not anyone should ever undertake such a project, the Ta’ayush archive, along with all the other social media activist projects about Israel-Palestine, places these multiple acts of civil partnership in a media space that the forces of occupation, and the forces that stand behind them, seek to occupy completely, but cannot. While the occupation forces aim towards dispossession and isolation, the documentation by the hand-held cameras of Ta’ayush shows a sharing of space, a dwelling in moments of partnership that will always be there, and so will always be here. Even if on the fields of Umm el-Arayes the coercion of occupation wins each round of the unevenly matched contest, the civil language of Ta’ayush’s “living together” perseveres and by doing so, sustains an “open civil area.”

Video #1: Palestinian Clashes with Settlers and IDF

Video #2: Activist Attacked and Camera Broken

Video #3: IDF Violently Blocks Palestinian Family from their Land

Video #4: IDF Arrests Palestinian Mother and 18-Month-Old Child

Video #5: Settlers Attack Activists

 

Film in IR: Innerview with Michael Williams

Film and visuality have long been used as sources of text and political interpretation in the subject of International Relations (IR). Much more recent is the emergence of IR scholars as direct producers of films about topics of international politics. IR scholars from James Der Derian to Cindy Weber et al. have been at the forefront of this development. Using the theme of ‘Film in IR/Filming IR’, an ISA workshop held in San Francisco in 2013 (organized by Laura Shepherd and Rune Saugmann Andersen), and attended by TVM’s Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf, tried to identify and address the intellectual opportunities and challenges of this development.

What are the challenges that emerge out of using the production of film in the context of the modern university? How does one legitimately evaluate film as a piece of academic work? How does this relate ethically to the political economy of the modern public university? And how creative do or should scholars become with film? How should scholars engage with students over the interpretation of film?

In this Innerview, Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf talk to another attendee of this workshop, Professor Michael C. Williams (University of Ottawa), who – as a self-declared ‘sympathetic skeptic’ of this development – reflects upon the possibilities and intellectual challenges surrounding film in IR/filming IR. This video is intended as a platform to kick off further discussion of these themes within the wider academic and non-academic community. We would like to encourage you to express your views in the comments section below.

Filmed, produced and edited by Roger Stahl and Seb Kaempf. Interview held in San Francisco on 5 April 2013.

 

Richard Jackson’s Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel

TheVisionMachine’s Sebastian Kaempf talked to Professor Richard Jackson (University of Otago, New Zealand) about his Confessions of a Terrorist: A Novel, recently published by Zed Books. In this Innverview, Richard provides insights not only into his novel, but also the motivations to branch out of the conventional academic forms of writing and the challenges when writing a piece of fiction that engages with important phenomena such a terrorism.
 

PREFACE to Confessions of a Terrorist [Abridged] By Richard Jackson

The premise of this novel is quite simple: if you sat down face-to-face with a terrorist, what questions would you ask him or her? What would you like to know about their life, their upbringing, their reasons for taking up armed struggle, their aims and goals, their sense of morality, their feelings about what they do? This question is important, not least because terrorism seems to be everywhere these days, and yet paradoxically, we appear to know almost nothing about the people who perpetrate it. It is on our television screens and in our newspapers virtually every day, and everywhere you go there are reminders of how much efforts to prevent terrorism have fundamentally changed our way of life. In fact, there has never been so much public discussion and information about terrorism at any time in history. And yet, paradoxically, whenever a terrorist incident occurs, the first question on everyone’s lips is: why did they do it? What turned this person into a murderer? What is really going on in the mind of a terrorist? There’s another reason why this question is important: if we don’t understand what really goes on in the mind of terrorists, we will be forced to simply try and imagine it. We’ll have to just guess at what they’re thinking.

I suggest that this is actually what we have been doing for many years now: guessing, imagining, fantasizing about what goes on in the mind of a militant. And thus far, if novels, movies, television shows, and media portrayals are anything to go by, we imagine that terrorists are insane, fanatical, psychologically damaged, cruel, immoral, essentially ‘evil’, and most importantly, quite inhuman.

The problem with viewing terrorists through this veil of ignorance, with trying to understand them through the lens of our usually frightened imagination, is that ultimately we cannot help but turn them into monsters and bogeymen. They cease to be real people, human beings with a history, a childhood, feelings, life experiences, aspirations, values. They are instead reduced to what they’ve done or what they perhaps intended to do. And when this happens, they inevitably become a ‘cancer’ and a ‘scourge’, a ‘savage’, an ‘animal’, an ‘extremist’, an ‘evildoer’.

At this point, we also give permission for them to be treated as less than human. Cancer is to be eradicated, after all; scourges are to be quarantined; animals are to be hunted or tamed. In other words, it is precisely because we have failed to see the humanity of the terrorist, because we have imagined them as something other than a fellow human being, that we have tortured, rendered, imprisoned without trial, and summarily killed thousands of people we suspect or imagine to be terrorists in the past few years.

Apart from compounding the original wrong of terrorism, I would argue that this is a counter-productive and ultimately self-defeating approach. It cannot work to end or prevent further acts of terrorism; its only certain result is to create more terrorists and engender more violent retaliation. Sadly, it seems that artists, novelists, film-makers and others who write about terrorism have embraced this veil of ignorance which currently characterises our collective understanding. This is surprising, given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of former terrorists and militants one could quite easily talk to, and hundreds of published interviews, autobiographies, and in-depth studies with them.

So what’s going on? Why do we stutter and stumble about in trying to explain their actions and motives when they are perfectly willing to explain it all, and when there is plenty of information available to understand them? I believe it is because, as anthropologists tell us, there is kind of taboo against ‘talking to terrorists’ or trying to understand them at a human level. A taboo is an unspoken prohibition that functions to maintain the limits of social behaviour and which is designed to protect society from certain culturally determined dangers. In this case, the terrorism taboo is designed to segregate terrorists and militants, and to protect society from their perceived malign influence. Talking to them, listening to their voices, hearing their arguments, trying to understand their point of view is therefore prohibited. The fear is that getting too close to a terrorist may lead to some kind of infection or contamination, and thus will the cancerous evil of terrorism spread.

This taboo is so powerful and so prevalent that you will almost never hear the real voice of a terrorist in a public forum such as the media. They are not allowed to speak for themselves. A central purpose of this novel therefore is to try and break through the taboo on ‘talking to terrorists’. As such, it treats the terrorist as a fully human being, not a stereotypical monster or an inhuman, incomprehensible fanatic. More importantly, the novel allows the terrorist to speak and have a real voice, uncensored and unrestricted, honest and intimate. Of course, the danger of taking this approach, as warned by the taboo, is that in listening to the voice of the terrorist, we will begin to comprehend their point of view. Their reasons may become understandable to us.

The key point is that understanding – or even sympathising – with the goals of the terrorist is not the same as condoning and legitimising their violent actions. I can understand the necessity of resisting oppression without accepting the need to strap on a suicide vest or leave a bomb in a train station to kill commuters. However, without understanding the mind of the terrorist in the first place, we are left with nothing but our terrified imagination as the foundation on which to construct a counter-terrorism policy.

 

Shooting Death: Kevin Sites and the Siege of Fallujah

In an age of instantaneous, 24/7, and live news coverage, in an age of SoJos (solo journalists, who travel with their own cameras, satellite phones, and blogs), how can news reporting from the battlefield still be controlled? With the rise of digital new media in 2002, this particular challenge has confronted many militaries. Our micro documentary offers a rare glimpse into the world of war reporting in today’s transformed media landscape.

Kevin Sites is an American author and freelance journalist, spending nearly a decade covering global wars and disasters for ABC, CNN, NBC, and Yahoo! News. He is considered the ‘granddaddy’ of solo (or backpack) journalism, helping blaze the trail for intrepid reporters who work alone, carrying only a backpack of portable digital technology to shoot, write, edit, and transmit multimedia reports from the world’s most dangerous places. His first book,<sup> </sup><i>In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars</i> (Harper Perennial-October 2007), shares his effort to put a human face on global conflict by reporting from every major war zone in one year. He is now a professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong teaching bachelor and masters programmes.

In 2004, Kevin Sites embedded with US Marines as a freelance war reporter for NBC in Iraq. During the siege of Fallujah, the biggest battle fought by the US military since Vietnam, he shot footage of a gruesome incident in which a US Marine shot and killed a wounded Iraqi captive lying on the floor of a Mosque. This film, drawing on the original footage (courtesy of Kevin Sites), retells the incident of the Mosque shooting and its aftermath, of what happened to the video footage, and how it was or was not reported in the media across the globe. The episode raises questions over the politics of war reporting, modern day (self-) censorship, the ethical responsibilities of those covering conflicts on the ground, and the importance of visual footage in our news streams.

This micro documentary was filmed and produced by Peter Mantello and Sebastian Kaempf, who tracked down Kevin Sites in Boston in 2010.  Edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.

 

The Other War on Christmas: Tracking Santa in the Sky and Ghosts on the Subway

Standing at the checkout counter as the clerk rings up the ingredients for a holiday pie, my eyes wonder to the video screen where Santa and his reindeer fly high above a digital earth blanketed in snow. But wait, are those fighter jets on each side of Old Saint Nick? Distracted by paying for the groceries, it seems at first that Santa is really a terrorist in disguise violating North American airspace. But no, it’s really Santa, a digital one anyway, and apparently he needs protection on his midnight run.  So NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has called in an escort for “Big Red One”.

Living in America, ringing in the holidays with the military has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition. The Christmas bombing of Cambodia forged an early association in my young mind. And I remember well the 1989 Invasion of Panama, the one they called Operation Just Cause. While some of us were wrapping Christmas presents in the early hours of Dec. 20, 1989, Micah Ian Wright (2003, 16-17) was in a cold sweat belching “paniky stomach acid” waiting to jump out of a C-130 cargo plane flying 300 miles per hour 500 feet from the ground. But that was nothing compared to the trauma he felt two days later in the ruins of the fire that burned Chorrillo to the ground, the shantytown that was home to 20,000 poor Panamanians (2006, 148). The mass graves still keep the secrets of the true loss of innocence from the bombs that rained down that Christmas.

While Wright was “in country” getting PTSD, the ad-saturated media selling Christmas cologne and electric shavers was also helping us feel good about the invasion, psychologically identifying with the administration of George H. W. Bush and the military. As Judy Woodruff bragged on PBS (12/21/89), “Not only have we done away with the [Panamanian Army], we’ve done away with the police force.”

A year later the specter of war again hung over the season of good will. In August 1990 troops deployed along the border in Kuwait, and the waiting game for the invasion of Iraq began. The First Persian Gulf War started after we rang in the New Year, on January 17, 1991 when Operation Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm and was cause for more media celebration. TV described the incessant bombing of densely populated Baghdad as a marvel of “rolling thunder,” “staggering,” and “fantastic” (CBS 1/17/91). Everyone agreed that the visuals were riveting, the weapons smart and the assaults picture perfect.

As the bombing continued, animation was used on every network. Infrared video footage from cameras mounted on the nose of bombers looked just like the animation. Views from cockpits showed direct hits fired on imaginary targets. The merger of digital computer-based weapons with visual components turned war into a game. Few reports from the Nintendo War spoiled the fun by showing the estimated 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq.

The game of war now penetrates American media culture. We seem locked in its deadly embrace, a sensation I feel in one of America’s busiest public spaces. This Christmas, every time I transfer from the NYC Shuttle onto the 1 train headed for Lincoln Center, I am immersed in the scary cyber-world of skulls and elite forces with rifles drawn. The staggering wall-sized ads for Call of Duty: Ghosts, seek to get the video game in every child’s Christmas stockings. Media still sell cologne and electric shavers, but they make much more on this profitable confluence of war and culture. Children eagerly anticipating the latest edition of the popular franchises of war-themed games probably don’t know they are being actively recruited to carry guns in real wars.

After the popularity of the Nintendo War, the military jumped into virtual war worlds in earnest. As a 1997 National Research Council reports, they partnered with commercial researchers to create thrilling cyber-worlds for recruitment and training. America’s Army, released on a different holiday in 2002 – July 4 – was a direct response to falling recruitment goals in 1999.

America’s Army was also the precursor to media representations that would take war into new frontiers of entertainment after 9/11.  As the Hollywood establishment partnered with the Pentagon to promote the war on terror and with the second invasion of Iraq, war narratives and visual rhetorics achieved full-blown militainment status.

Making war fun, thrilling and desirable for potential recruits is essential for a volunteer army in an age of an ever-expanding military. Across the armed services, the goal of embedding war deep within media geography has resulted in an audio-visual milieu immersed in themes of weapons and glory. The feature film Act of Valor, staring nine active duty Navy Seals, was originally a recruiting advertisement developed into a feature film. So many blockbuster movies like Iron Man and Transformers now depend on the largesse of the Armed Forces for personnel, locations and firepower that many uncritically promote military belligerencies as the cultural norm. Even the iconic action hero Superman’s latest iteration Man of Steel, features a 1.5 trillion dollar F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a jet that has never actually taken flight because of technical errors.

The economic burden of the world’s largest war machine is rarely mentioned in this militarized culture. Media have forgotten what Eisenhower realized about the trade-offs between guns and butter. “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

As one writer notes this holiday season, we live in an age of crushing economic anxiety. The domestic economy is incapable of job creation, and the military is offered to children as an employment option. Recruitment starts ever younger. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood called out NORAD’s tracking of Big Red One as “reprehensible” recruitment, noting that “it’s a backdoor way of marketing to kids when they are not supposed to be recruiting until they are much older.” With NORAD’s Santa tracking, the usual militarized fantasies and politics of fear are brought into children’s Christmas fantasies.

The Boston Globe took the editorial position that Big Red One was nothing but fun. “Some critics have protested that the Pentagon is militarizing Christmas, but they’re likely overthinking an initiative that’s meant to be all in fun.” These wise mediators of cultural interpretation did acknowledge that Santa, up against advanced weaponry in North American airspace, could be a “little disorienting.” They followed with a joke that made light of civilian causalities from drones and fighter jets. They worried that Comet and Cupid might be “injured by a wayward drone, or that Frosty the Snowman might melt from the heat of a fighter engine.” The loss of empathy is the psycho-cultural blowback from pairing fun with weapons designed to kill.

Danger fantasies of Santa being shot down over North American airspace, and a South American Federation able to nuke the US from orbit, displace the real dangers posed to American safety and well-being. The civilian economy reels under the force and power of military spending. Media make no connections to trillion dollar weapons systems never deployed and Congressional refusal to extend unemployment benefits to a million people before adjourning for the holiday recess.

I leave the market with what I need for a pumpkin pie, and give a dollar to the Salvation Army recruit, and I am lost in my own fantasy that someday John Lennon’s song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over) will come true.

 

Additional Works Cited

Wright, Micah Ian, 2003. You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want. (New York: 7 Stories Press)

Andersen, Robin 2006. A Century of Media, A Century of War. (New York: Peter Lang Publications)

 
 
 
 

Innerview: Mark Andrejevic

The Vision Machine sought out Dr. Mark Andrejevic for his thoughts regarding surveillance, datamining, and the recent NSA revelations.  His 2013 book, Infoglut: How Too Much Information is Changing the Way We Think and Know, is a timely confrontation with the recent shift toward this new mode of control.  What makes this book particularly powerful is not simply its documentation of how the big data apparatus works, but also its discussion of the philosophical and cultural undercurrents that accompany the big data world – everything from precog crime and signature strikes to the externalizing of subjectivity and the proliferation of conspiracy rhetoric in public life.   In the innerview, he draws both from the book and events that have transpired since its publication.

Dr. Andrejevic is media scholar at the Center for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland.  Here, we present two versions of the innerview: a condensed video and a nearly unabridged hour-long audio segment that goes into greater depth and detail.

Full Audio:

Download MP3

 

 

The Flyover

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, many of us sought solace in everyday events. I remember going to a UCLA football game in search of some sense of stability. Before the opening kickoff, as they always do, spectators stood for the National Anthem. As a lone trumpet solemnly sounded in the far corner of the stadium, a palpable feeling of unity and patriotism filled the Rose Bowl. The crowd of 95,000 spectators, normally bifurcated by college allegiance, was made one in song.  Near the end, a deafening roar erupted in the form of four F-A18 Hornets flying overhead. In an instant, a collective public in the process of mourning, fellowship, and healing exploded into an orgy of jingoism and weapon worship.

As a sports fan and former U.S. Air Force Serviceman, I had formerly viewed fly-overs as benign expressions of patriotism.  However, that UCLA game in a newly post 9/11 world yielded an awakening in me. It was an awakening to the power of military spectacle and direct proof of how exploitation of mob mentality can instantly mobilize a wounded people.   We have become inured by the constant encroachment of the martial upon the social body.

My piece, “God Bless Deterritorialized America,” is a translation of that moment at UCLA when I broke of the military-industrial psychological conditioning that involuntarily shackles American society.  The video examines the link between sport and the military in contemporary America.  The deterritorialization of the American landscape refers to the colonization of public spaces (in this instance sports arenas) by the U.S. military, which brandishes its weapons and thus reinforces the state of emergency. In this state of deterritorialization, the border between the civilian and the martial is intentionally obscured. As a result the battlefield has been symbolically extended into our everyday experiences and public spaces.  The video was constructed from found footage as a meditation on this condition.

 

Through Hyper-Tinted Spectacles

The Australian War Memorial is both shrine and museum, commemorating Australians who died in war. Its collection, used by a range of researchers from broadcast industry to non-profit bodies, includes over 5000 films, such as newsreels, government productions, and amateur films.  Film curators acquire contemporary and 20th century material, thus keeping one foot in the past, another in the present, and an eye to the future. The use of film collections in contemporary contexts is of increasing interest to the film curator.

In Their Footsteps (ITF) was a ten part series broadcast on Australian commercial television in 2011.  Although presented as a documentary, its format resembled that of a reality television program. In the words of its executive producer, it intended to “shine a new light on Australia’s war time history… make the past come alive”, by engaging viewers with the war experience utilising adapted footage. Colourised both literally and figuratively, it reinforced the emotional impact of the content and the story.  Colour of War : The ANZACS  (CoW), was a three part documentary series broadcast on Australian commercial television in 2004. It’s name was its aim.  Using entirely original to the period colour film to depict Australian WW2  history, it promised a “very personal connection to the war experience”.  The Memorial provided film and advice to both productions.

When ITF first went to air, curatorial sensibilities were shaken by the featuring of, to archival eyes, garishly coloured newsreel footage.

Perhaps we should have been grateful that film was made accessible to thousands of viewers, whatever its colour.  However colourisation, good or bad, raises questions. ITF was produced at a time when the “memory boom”  – “a widespread fascination with activity about the past … connected to war” (Todman) was at its height.  One reviewer went so far to say that ITF was “an acknowledgement of national grief … paying tribute to those who underwent  devastating personal trauma”.  To what extent did the mediation of original footage contribute, and, does it matter?   As New Zealand documentary maker Gaylene Preston says: “I don’t think an audience cares how a story is told, so long as it is meaningful and truthful”.

Truthfulness is troublesome. Many think a documentary referencing home movies comes closest to delivering an objective, “truthful” text, while others wish to relax the perceived demarcation   between “objective” archive, and, the aesthetic work of the film maker, which demonstrates the film maker’s  subjective interpretation. However Bruzzi observes that even simple manipulations can distort the objective interpretation of seemingly “uncontaminated” amateur film, leading to contradictory interpretations. These two productions, sharing the aim of bringing history “to life”,  may be interrogated as to ways in which archival, particularly amateur footage, was adapted or contextualised for television. Was the inherent authenticity of the original material compromised?

Each ITF episode featured a normal (non-celebrity) person embarking on a “voyage of discovery”. Information about their war veteran relative is gradually revealed by relatives and historians they meet along the way, in archives and battlefields. This format offers the participant and viewers at home a “mystery” to be solved, and its tempo of sequenced multiple destinations, characteristic of reality shows, sustains viewers’ attention.

Participants rendezvous with informants and emote their responses; their reward is an emotionally cathartic end to the journey, resolving what has hitherto been a grievous familial memory.

In keeping with conventional documentary style, there is “a formal interpreter, whose confident narration suggests that the facts are knowable and their meaning understandable..” (Toplin, 1216).   The narrator is veteran actor Bryan Brown. His accent, familiar to Australian audiences, affirms a sense of national identity as he guides viewers on their parallel journey. Musical accompaniment is contemporary, such as the electronic music with strong percussive beat which accompanies official footage of armed forces on the march. This underscores the “now-ness” of the series, neutralising the anxiety that a prime time audience will be bored by historical documentary; as film maker Chris Marker said, “the word ‘documentary’ leaves a trail of sanctimonious boredom behind it” (Bruzzi).  ITF ‘s colourful handling of archival footage signals the blazing of a hyper-coloured trail.

Similarly, a variety of effects were applied to archival footage. Besides the “hyper” colouring, a vertiginous fish-eye lens was used on scenes from Kokoda! Front line – the original version won Australia its first Academy Award.  Other archival, often amateur footage, is presaged by a simulated film projector; “Picture Start” frames flash by, with the whirring sound of running film. Evoking the pre-digital age of home movie viewing, the viewer is alerted that the following visuals include period film; travelling back in time means making allowance for whatever technical failings it might have.

ITF aligned itself with the Memorial, official keepers of war history, to claim a foundation of trustworthiness from which its stated aim, “bring history to life”, can spring.  The on-camera presence of its curators lends credibility to the program, while the opening sequence features the Roll of Honour – bronze plaques listing Australia’s war dead, which reside in the Memorial.

Revealing personal history offers, as reviewer Graeme Blundell says, “a move from a sense of injustice and disorder to a kind of affirmation of some sort of benevolent moral order in the universe” – in other words, if not a happy ending, a satisfying one. After stories and tears, the family mystery –what did happen to Uncle Billy? – was solved.  On discovering that her uncle was executed by Japanese forces, Tracey, a participant in the series, speaks of her “burden and responsibility to keep going to get to the truth”. Following a tearful visit to his grave, she reports feeling “a sense of history .. its not a mystery any more, it’s a good history”.  In telling the tale of one WW2 casualty, ITF invites the viewer to feel their own family’s story could be told, perhaps establishing Preston’s “meaningful” story as a historical narrative, at a microcosmic level.

Colour of War was a “national interest” program , as described in a promotional blurb , (www.nfsa.gov.au) for government sponsored body Film Australia, and jointly produced by commercial and government bodies. It was billed as utilising all original colour footage to “paint a vividly detailed picture “ of ANZAC forces from WW2 to the end of the Vietnam conflict.  Many previously unseen colour films, mostly of the WW2 period, accompany diary and letter extracts, allowing viewers “a very personal connection with war experience, both on the battlefield and on the home front”. CoW’s promotional assurance was that “In colour, shared history becomes even more intimate and involving.. powerful and moving”. It was screened at the 2005 International Documentary conference.   Its three 45 minute episodes were themed as : the commencement of WW2; war at home and abroad, and,  Korea and Vietnam.

Success of the series was staked in its complete dependence on original, authentically coloured film.  The footage was handled lightly; manipulations consisted mainly of close ups, slow-downs and colour grading. Lack of colourisation was its biggest selling point.  The voiceover opening the series intones: “The earliest known colour film of ANZAC Day….A  glimpse of a time, usually only seen in black and white.. The film has not been colourised. The colour is real”.

Like ITF the series was narrated by another steadfastly Australian actor, Russell Crowe, but as it was scored with period songs and incidental music, its sound scape invokes sombre reflectiveness and furthers the overall aim of connecting with the past.


Colour‘s power to signify authenticity was noted by one reviewer, who said “It takes a while to adjust to the colour footage, which seems so much associated with the era after World War II. But that is the strength of this series, that the soldiers, prisoners.. look so much like people who could be alive today” (Pryor).   Colour is integral to engendering trust in the content and a sense of “alive-ness”, which attracts viewers’ attention.  The ensuing engagement or investment by viewers is not dissimilar to that observed by curators of objects : “Appropriation [of authenticity] depends on the ability of people to establish relationships with objects and the networks of people and places they embody.. ” (Jones, 189).  However,  “there is always the question of whether the way [objects] are ..presented might undermine their very authenticity …”.  Might adaptions of film in-authenticate them, render them less trustworthy ?  In ITF’s case, the footage is used illustratively, as a “complement to other elements” (Bruzzi, 21). Therefore, authenticity is less important than visual spectacle; if the original footage was never bright turquoise, it doesn’t really matter.

Blundell’s response to episode one, “Its an acknowledgement of national grief..” (etc) would not be surprising if applied to a site or ceremony, but its application to a made- for- tv program  suggests that commemoration need not be a physically sited practice, it can be experienced virtually.  Scates observes that “the urge to commemorate is often deeply ahistorical”. The strong desire to connect with one’s origin drives genealogical research, and finds an ideal vehicle in ITF’s on-screen drama. It allows viewers to fantasise resolutions, and imagine their own potential part in national history.

This deeply personalised approach contrasts with Colour of War which, while inviting emotional engagement, does not portray individuals in microcosm. The voiceovers are directly related to archival footage or, if illustrative, do not focus on contemporary protagonists.  An example of achievement of audience engagement is in the Dunbar family’s home movie sequence. An actor reads a letter written from the Front by son Lindsay Dunbar, addressing each family member as they appear on screen. To see them thus addressed, particularly as the narrator intones that the author didn’t return, is emotionally provocative for the viewer. We don’t need to see footage of the young man dying; “banal images privilege the narration, pushing the viewer to fantasise the story being told” (Odin, 260).

This is a “ slippage common in historical documentaries” (Bruzzi, 33), whereby the literal scene depicting (for example) death is missing, but an emotional state relative to loss is evoked in the viewer by the strategic combination of visuals and narration. “…The viewer knows something that the filmmaker at the time did not know : what happens next. This hindsight – aspect of watching home [movies] changes its meaning. The viewer knows more than the image in itself can ever contain”. (Buckingham, 102)] In this case, as you watch their smiling faces, you know they are already dead.

Arising from non-official sources, home movies contain a “latent authority” with which “even the best…feature film or newsreel cannot compete” (Forgacs, 51).  Banal yet intimate, they draw the viewer into a past reality. “A home movie image possesses ..psychic force” (Odin, 261).  When viewing amateur footage,  “..viewers are inspired to reflect on past scenes from their own autobiographies..” (Moran, 140). ITF invited this reflection by personalising its format; archival footage and photographs visualise the “lost” relative, and, by featuring an ordinary person in each episode, ITF spotlights the Everyman. The home viewer assimilates the voyager’s story as their own, which is in keeping with ITF\’s goal of “keeping things real”. ITF uses less home movie footage than CoW but the shared aim, to invoke emotional engagement, is achieved in ITF by the personalisation of each episode and home movie effects, such as the simulated film projector, the seating of a participant before a film projection screen, all recreating the home movie mode.

ITF and CoW had a common aim: to produce a popular war documentary for television.  CoW promised a “personal connection” ,  and ITF promised to “shine a new light”  ITF self – consciously  coloured and affected footage to enhance its visual appeal, while for CoW, the “naturally” occurring colour of war-era home movies, was an advantage. The appeal of amateur footage, a non-biased, psychically forceful text, provided a meaningful viewing experience, coming almost directly from the archive to the viewer.  ITF incorporated a third party, the “voyager”, who invites the viewer to empathise and interpolate their own nostalgia or desires.  ITF rarely presented archival footage without special effects, while CoW not only respected but pointed out the original format. Whilst both programs sought emotional engagement, ITF invests in yearning, perceiving a need, in society at large, to connect with one’s military past and further, to resolve grievances of the past in a satisfying way. In such a scenario the authenticity of archive takes second place to the seemingly greater concern of psychological recognition and the subjective “truth” of feeling.

In any case, it’s comforting as a viewer to think that a satisfying conclusion, bringing contentment to all, is just around the next ad break.

Works Cited

Anderson, Steve.  History TV and Popular Memory.  In Television Histories: Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age, eds. Gary R Edgerton and Peter C. Rollins.  University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

Bell, Martin. The Death of News. Media, War & Conflict, 1.2, 2008: 221-231.

Blundell, Graeme. First Watch: History Hits Home. The Australian. April 30, 2011.http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/history-hits-home/story-e6frg8n6-1226045112377.

Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction.  New York: Routledge Press, 2000.

Buckingham, David; Willett, Rebekah; Pini, Maria.  Home Truths?: Video Production and Domestic Life.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Elliot, Tim. Walking with the Brave. Sydney Morning Herald. May 5, 2011.
http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/walking-with-the-brave-20110504-1e731.html.

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. Media and the Un-Representable: The Brief Time of Audience as Witness to 9/11 – MIT3.  Television in Transition International Conference, Cambridge May, 2003.

Jones, Sian. Negotiating Authentic Objects and Authentic Selves, Beyond the Deconstruction of Authenticity. Journal of Material Culture, Vol. 15 (2) : 181-203.

Moran, James. There’s No Place Like Home Video.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

National Film and Sound Archive.  Colour of War promotional blurb.  http://nfsa.gov.au/collection/film-australia-collection/program-sales/search-programs/program/?sn=8578.

Odin, Roger.  The Family Home Movie as Document. In Mining the Home Movie ed. Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia Zimmermann. University of California Press, 2008.

Preston, Gaylene. New Stories from Old Stuff. Lecture, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, Australia, June 15, 2012.

Pryor, Lisa. The Colour of War – The Anzacs. Sydney Morning Herald. November 26, 2004. http://www.smh.com.au/news/Review/The-Colour-of-War–The-Anzacs/2004/11/25/1101219668726.html?from=moreStories.

Scates, Bruce C.  Manufacturing Memory at Gallipoli. In War Memory & Popular Culture: Essays on Modes of Remembrance and Commemoration. Eds. Michael Keren and Holer H. Herwig.  McFarland and Co, 2009.

Stephens, John. Memory, Commemoration and the Meaning of a Suburban War Memorial.  Journal of Material Culture, 12, 2007: 241-260.

Todman, Dan.  The Ninetieth Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  In War Memory & Popular Culture: Essays on Modes of Remembrance and Commemoration. Eds. Michael Keren and Holer H. Herwig.  McFarland and Co, 2009.

Toplin, Robert Brent. The Filmmaker as Historian.  American History Review, 93.5, 1988: 1210-1227.

West, Amy.  Making Television History: The Past made Present in Reality Television\’s Pioneer House. Screening the Past, 24, 2009. http://tlweb.latrobe.edu.au/humanities/screeningthepast/24/pioneer-house.html.

 

Theatres of War

In the past, representations of war were a useful tool in shaping social, cultural or political ideology. Today, they serve as a powerful heuristic in preparing soldiers for the ‘realities’ of modern warfare. In other words, before soldiers go to war, they must first stop off in Hollywood. The company, Strategic Operations, is both the presage of modern day simulation as well as a formative middle ground for understanding and preparing for the complexities of asymmetrical war. Merging the movie making techniques of Hollywood with battlefield training, this unique company immerses soldiers in what they call ‘hyperrealism’. By combining immigrant Middle Eastern role players with battlefield pyrotechnics and special-effects make-up, Strategic Operations collapses the boundary between the imaginary world of conflict and actual war.

This spotlight was shot, produced, and edited by Professor Peter Mantello.

 

Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

Professor David Campbell (http://www.david-campbell.org/) is a writer, researcher, teacher, videographer, and producer engaged in the analysis and production of visual storytelling. With his writing and research he focuses on photography, multimedia and politics. He examines how documentary photography and photojournalism work, the opportunities multimedia bring, and the challenges presented by the revolutions in the new media economy. With his creative practice he works both as a multimedia producer collaborating with photographers and as a documentarian flying solo.

David has written or edited six books and some 50 articles and essays. This research deals with how atrocity, famine, war and ‘Africa’ are represented, how photographs function to visualize the global landscape, and how US foreign policy and wars in Bosnia and Iraq have been produced. He has curated three large visual projects (Atrocity, Memory, Photography, Imaging Famine, and the Visual Economy of HIV-AIDS).

For the past two decades he has taught visual culture, geography and politics at universities in the US, Australia and the UK, most recently as Professor of International Politics at Newcastle University (1997-2004) and then Professor of Cultural and Political Geography at Durham University (2004-10).

Now he works free-lance and independently, but retains a number of affiliations. He’s a member of the Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies at Durham University, Visiting Professor in the Northern Centre of Photography at Sunderland University, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia (where he is part of the Australian Research Council funded project on how images shape our response to humanitarian crises).

This innerview with David for TheVisionMachine was conducted by Sebastian Kaempf and Peter Mantello in Alphabet City, New York City, on 9 February 2010 and edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.