User-Generated Media and Comedy in War

Curator's Note

Perhaps the most interesting media related aspect of modern warfare is that soldiers on the ground have the distinct opportunity of representing themselves in media. Sites such as YouTube, which was created in 2005, only a couple of years after the start of our prolonged wars, have provided an outlet for our military members in a way that is uniquely immediate, more raw, and as various as the contributors.

Footage of actual missions and attacks pepper the web. The sheer number of “on the ground” videos are both a blessing and a curse to documentarians, as well as the American public, who are trying to understand the realities of these conflicts against the backdrop of sensationalist dramas that come out of Hollywood. I will leave the discussion of movies such as Zero Dark Thirty, for another time or another curator. But I think one important facet of this phenomenon of self-made videos is the use of comedy.

In “Lazy Ramadi,” SSG Matt Wright and SSG Josh Dobbs parody a famous SNL skit entitled “Lazy Sunday,” both of which use catchy rap-style lyrics to offer a glimpse into two very divergent American experiences. In “Lazy Ramadi,” Army soldiers Wright and Dobbs go back and forth, poeticizing both the serious and mundane elements of life in a war zone. We see them eat jello, complain about heat and bombs, prepare for missions, and daydream about being back home. It is my view that these comedic representations are not only good entertainment, but good for the soul, and largely missing in contemporary, mainstream entertainment.

War is riddled with both intense tragedy and supreme boredom; each extreme can have negative affects on one’s psyche. Comedies such as this serve as catharsis for military members and civilians alike. They, in a sense, teach the wider American audience, while at the same time providing a healthy outlet for the men and women dealing with situations they never dreamed they’d have to. So in the vacuum of professional war themed comedies (M.A.S.H. for Vietnam-era folks comes to mind), American military members are left to provide their own, through user-generated, social media.

Comments

Karen Petruska's picture

media democracy

This clip is amazing—thanks for finding and sharing it.

There has a been a lot of press about certain types of military videos—footage of coffins returning home, images of abuse at detention centers, blurry news video with the sounds of bombs falling in the background—but I’m incredibly captivated by your description of the types of videos that soldiers make of themselves. Are there rules about these sorts of things? For example, do videos have to be approved before they are uploaded? Are there particular things that cannot be said? How formalized has this form of military self-expression become?

Hattie Daily's picture

Truth in Humor

Thank you, Nicole for using this video, it never fails to entertain. I think you’re right about this type of content providing catharsis. Additionally, it provides a pretty accurate picture of day to day life during deployment, and that life is often hard to explain. I have the same questions about who regulates the release of these types of videos.

Nicole Clark's picture

Rules and such

Hi Karen and Hattie, thank you for putting this week together! And great questions. While I can’t give you a definitive answer as far as current rules, I’ll tell you what I know, and hopefully others will jump in if they have more insight. There does not seem to be any specific military-wide rule structure on online content, per-say. I’m assuming this is partly because it would be extremely difficult to police such a thing. Individuals on deployment are allowed to have cameras, cell phones, and use the internet unsupervised. That being said, there is an understanding of operational security that is relied on to help military members police themselves, and occasionally individual units will make specific rules requiring approval and such for pictures, videos, and other content (see http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/05/21/153003267/military...). For the most part, military members know that it is in their best interest to not display anything that could compromise their mission/lives, and there are specific rules about not making certain kinds of political statements.

Now, from 2007-2010, there was a ban on using popular social media sites including YouTube, to try to curb the negative affects of certain posts. However, this only included DOD networks; it did not affect what people did on their personal computers or in internet cafe’s. This Seattle Times article talks about the ban and brings up the point that stifling ‘voices’ in the field could have negative effects when the enemy is still able to upload, promote, and celebrate their successful missions (http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2003706431_militaryblock14.html).

That all being said, if anything a service member releases seriously hampers operational security or exhibits taking part in a criminal act, there can be repercussions, as in the cases of Abu Gharaib and the Marines who videotaped themselves with dead Taliban members.

Hattie Daily's picture

Ruels/Reply

A great deal of regulation comes as a reaction to a disastrous media event such as Abu Ghraib. Also, regulation may be specific to certain areas of operation and certain types of units. It would be interesting to look at some of the more disastrous media stories from the military and track the fluctuation in internet freedom for service members.

Zara Dinnen's picture

Funny military videos

Hey Just wanted to also say thanks for the post. I am doing some work on the music videos soldiers make— choreographed to Carly Rae Jepson and Lady Gaga etc. It seems there is not much writing on this stuff around, so I appreciate this. And the links to commentary on the rules! Particularly interested in the fact soldiers maybe using spaces outside the base to upload; I had been thinking of these videos as mediated by US satellites but perhaps not?

Nicole Clark's picture

Cyber information control strategies

Zara, that’s great. That should be fun and valuable research. I got a kick out of those music video parodies as well.

To be more specific about the internet being used on deployment: service members are not (as far as I know) using off base cafes, but there are civilian run internet cafes on base, not connected to military networks. While I can’t speak to the matter of how ownership of satellites impacts the information, it is my understanding that internet sites for user-generated media (i.e.: YouTube) are the arbiters of the information that comes through, and their responsibility lies with keeping it legal and within their own established constraints. I’m not personally aware of any government censorship outside of normal legal repercussions in the case of infringement. Moreover, YouTube users are expected to help the company police its content according to laws and company guidelines, by flagging.

On that note, there is a VERY interesting International Journal of Communication article* on the whole subject of user-generated media in war that I ran into yesterday. It discusses various issues about this type of media space during war time and who controls it. Particularly the article focuses on a phenomenon where civilian users grouped together and formed a coalition of ‘anti-terrorists’ who labeled themselves “Operation YouTube Smackdown” (OYS). Their mission has been to impede the proliferation of propaganda by anti-coalition forces and/or terrorist organizations. It’s well worth a read!

*Citation: Fiore-Silfvast, Brittany. “User-Generated Warfare: A Case of Converging Wartime Information Networks and Coproductive Regulation on YouTube.” International Journal of Communication 6 (2012), 1965–1988 1932–8036/20120005. (http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/1436/774)