The Iraq War as Entertainment

By James Westcott

Images of the Iraq war are superabundant, and, in contrast to the CNN videogame simulations of the Gulf War, the style is now raw, on-the-ground, and usually in-your-face. They come not just from CNN, but from an overwhelming array of sources: frontline blogs, digital photos, terrorists' snuff movies, al-Jazeera footage of collateral damage, embedded news reports, short "War Zone" films, a dramatization of the war on cable TV, and a plethora of indy exposé documentaries like Gunner Palace, Uncovered: The Truth About the Iraq War, and Control Room. The amateur internet and digital footage is usually too repulsive to watch, and even when it's not, a feeling of unseemly access attends it - should we really be watching this? But the slick, produced material on the news, on cable, and in the cinema - where most people still absorb Iraq, despite the new digital frontiers - now aspires to the rawness of the amateur stuff. Different genres of representation are melding together. Revelations and hard-hitting drama are promised, unprecedented access is granted, and a total view seems possible. What we're left with, though, is an increasing A.D.D. about Iraq - an inevitable effect of the glut of representations of the war, all of which claim to bring it all back home like never before. But they pose an ethical dilemma: Is it acceptable to be entertained by an "epic series" like FX's "Over There" while the war is still happening?