YouTube War: Jennifer Terry on Viral Video (November 21, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2008 blog post marks my interactions with media and women's studies scholars interested in what Jennifer Terry calls "killer entertainment." My own interests in the representation of the Iraq War culminated in a feature length documentary made with and about my sister Antonia Juhasz in 2008.
The Iraq war has been called the "first YouTube war" because soldier-made representations have been extensively circulated and seen on YouTube. "If you want to see the horror of war, you do not need to look far. There are sites aplenty showing the carnage, and much of the material is filmed, edited and uploaded by soldiers recording their own experiences."[cit]

Everyday people have long made home movies about their daily lives. Home movie scholarship looks seriously at this noncommercial production as a resource for academic historiography, allowing us rare access to a people's-eye view of trauma, memory, family, and nation. YouTube scholars address how the nature of the private (or domestic) has changed online.

Cinema verite (film truth) is a documentary movement from the 1960s invested in using media technology to show life as it is.[cit]

First person shooters, "a video game genre which centers the gameplay around gun- and projectile weapon-based combat through the first person perspective; i.e., the player experiences the action through the eyes of a protagonist,"[cit] are one object of study in the field of computer game research.
Yesterday I got to attend a great talk by Irvine women's studies professor Jennifer Terry. She's been working on soldier-produced viral videos about Iraq and how they reconfigure the representation, feelings, and meanings of war. She suggests that these shockingly decontextualized, nonnarrative clips using "extreme verite" enhance morale by representing the war through a first person shooter's logic indebted to the fun and challenge of video games. 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-vids ... 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 with the speaker some of our class conversations about soldier's home movies. My students' ideas complement Terry's analysis by looking at these images through the lens of the history and theory of the home movie (as opposed to other "reality"-based genres). We were forced to consider how contemporary media culture has begun to rewrite the rules of amateur representations of the intimate. 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 before had 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 Aniko Imre added that new media tends to "elevate the trivial while trivializing what's important." The language of home video is being rethought and repurposed to personalize the monumental, trivialize the violent, and expose the worst ... and we're all invited to look.