YouTube War: Jennifer Terry on Viral Video

November 21, 2008

Yesterday I got to attend a great talk by Irvine Women’s Studies prof Jennifer Terry. She’s been working on soldier-produced viral videos about Iraq, and how they reconfigure the representation, affect, and meanings of war. She suggests that these shockingly decontextualized, non-narrative clips using “extreme verite” enhance morale by representing the war through the first person shooter’s logic of recreation and winning. I found useful (if frightening) her description of the kinetic nature of the images created through the DOD’s “full-spectrum warrior plan,” where the body of the soldier becomes a “data-collecting object” through helmet cams and other devices. She explains that a terrifying oblivion of affect (what my students and I are calling “FLOW videos”–more on this later) is created through this “jolting” vision.

Then, I realized that my LFYT students really are contributing to primary YouTube research, when I shared some of the conversations we had had when one of them shared some soldier’s home movies as part of our class section on this genre.

Our class conversation complements Terry’s analysis by looking at these images through the history and theory of the home movie (as opposed to other “reality” based genres). Through this lens, we were forced to consider how contemporary media culture has begun to re-write the rules of amateur representations of the intimate, in that home movies have been typically theorized as repressing, hiding, or denying the violence under the surface of the happy family and stable society. In this new genre of war (home) videos, we see soldiers representing the sordid, violent, and illicit behavior that has hither-to been the unrepresentable underside of war. As Terry emphasized, YouTube has created a culture of “remote intimacy” where such “personal expression moves into the public sphere.” Then, audience member Anniko Imre added that new media tends to “elevate the trivial while trivializing what’s important.” The language of home video is being rethought and re-purposed to personalize the monumental, trivialize the violent, and expose the worst…and we’re all invited to look.


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