Virtual War: When Wars Become a Spectator Sport

The Fowler Report is back with an engaging look at war and visuals. Part of the reason why the Vietnam war came to an end was constant images of horror displayed back home. Maybe that’s why we don’t see too many bloody bodies in Afghanistan today. Sarah Fowler reports.

A look at war and its relation with visual media. (Click to view)

A look at war and its relation with visual media. (Click to view)

THE NATURE OF WAR has changed. In the times of great wars such as the American Revolution, both World Wars and the Cold War, entire populations were forced to mobilize to protect their country. The draft called upon thousands of men to go to war while women stayed and took on the role of industrialist – working in factories and raising families. Today, we at home are not directly involved in the Canadian Armed Forces and suffer little from the wars abroad. We, of course, hear about it on the news and notice when the price of gas fluctuates, but all in all, life goes on.

Instead, war to us has become a spectator sport. We experience war only through our daily sources of media. It can almost be said that some of us are so far removed from these experiences that these wars are almost unreal to us. A story on the nightly news about an event that is “happening over there” to “those people.” If war becomes unreal to the citizens of modern democracies, will they care enough to restrain and control the violence exercised in their name? Apathy is a dangerous kind of war.

When war becomes a spectator sport, the media becomes the decisive theatre of operations. The presence of media cameras in war zones has a large impact on how we view and interpret the war. As spectators, we are being fed images and stories that are edited to serve the agenda of the reporting medium. Noam Chomsky spoke of manufacturing consent, propaganda and the media’s ability to affect the citizenry’s view of a specific political issue.

An example of this could be seen in the Bush Administration’s use of the Homeland Security Advisory System in the aftermath of 9/11. You remember, the colour-coded warnings of the likelihood of a terrorist attack broadcast to American citizens while they had their morning coffee. These warnings were not prominent in Canada, but everyday Americans were being subjected to warnings of the possibility of imminent death as they carried out their daily activities. Fear is a powerful tool. This fear and uncertainty was identified as the “Shock Doctrine.” Coined by Canadian journalist/author Naomi Klein, the Shock Doctrine describes the media’s ability to manifest feelings of fear and insecurity within the citizenry. This in turn has an affect on civil liberties, public support for the war and a political environment defined by a state of emergency.

It is during these times that leaders can expand their legislative powers and push for unprecedented changes. In the six months following the events of 9/11, the Bush Administration passed more laws and legislation suspending liberties of American citizens than any other President has passed in history. Think about it.

The flipside is that Obama has been overturning a lot of those laws like hot cakes.

text by sarahfowler

Read Klein’s third book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.


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