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David London
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Word from Iraq”

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2007
Mobile Aesthetics & Social Movements: Thinkspace

12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Polycentric sessions, San Francisco Art Institute, Lecture hall and classrooms
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“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: Word from Iraq” was an multi-media exhibition of images and stories of soldiers serving in Iraq. Online journals or milblogs were the primary source for both. The exhibition explored the disparity between the representations of the war by the media and the realities experienced by the men and women “on the ground”. Soldiers have always been reluctant to share their experiences – either for security reasons or because they have no desire to relive the experience. Many argue that “if you haven’t been there, you couldn’t possibly understand”. They complain that the media misinterprets, misrepresents or distorts what is actually happening. Milblogs were created by soldiers to address such complaints. Ironically, what began as an effort to present a more balanced or positive view is now considered a threat to security. In a series of operational security directives, severe restrictions have been placed on blogging by soldiers.

Introduction

This paper explores the process rather than the product of our research on the discrepancies between representations of the war in Iraq by the media and the realities experienced by soldiers. It focuses on audience reactions to being confronted with those realities and seeks to determine if those reactions suggest a recognition of the discrepancies – i.e. Do they blame the media for failing to keep them informed?

We are fed a diet of familiar images and impressions that dominate print and broadcast coverage of war. These images help us cope with its overwhelming complexity and emotional drain. They offer reassurance, if not justification – a sense of order or purpose, rather than order or purpose itself. It comes in the form of generalizations, statistics, oversimplifications and narratives.

Clearly, support for the war has dwindled. A CNN poll of 1,029 adult Americans on June 22-24, 2007, indicated that over two-thirds opposed the war in Iraq. A year before a similar CNN survey showed that 54% opposed the war. This compares to less than 30% of the samples surveyed in March and April of 2003 who opposed the war.[1] According to a June 29, 2007 CBS survey, 77% of the American public feel the war is going badly.[2] Perhaps because they feel the war is going badly, the American public has lost interest in the war. A series of surveys by the Pew Research Center shows that interest has deteriorated to the point where less than 30% of those surveyed claim to be following the news of the war closely – down from 63% when the war was launched in May 2003.[3] Even more disturbing, among those who are most directly affected by the war – college students aged 18-22, only 6.4% of 109 students surveyed by the authors (August 27-29, 2007) claimed to follow the news of the war on a regular basis. Thus, opinions of the war are formed on a paucity of information.

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