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Ultra Reality TV: War

April 1, 2003

It's reality TV in the extreme. It's not 'news.' News explains. News fits into 30 minute slots. Instead, this is direct experience, without explanations. It's war, unclear, but present. So real, the viewer and the soldier become one. One nation, one military. No longer a rigid division between the frontlines and home front. By 'embedding' reporters with the troops, we have embedded Americans into the reality of war. That explains why support for the war didn't waver with several setbacks and surprises in the early hours. There is another reason the war's frontlines have disappeared. The first casualties and slaughter of this war occurred at home, in New York and Washington, D.C. Americans are still mourning their own civilian casualties.

By seeing war in real time, the American Viewer for the first time in history understands war in all its immediacy. We are forced to suspend judgement -- as must the combatant. Within a few hours of real war TV the viewer accepted that there would be no big picture. Channel switching brought no relief. It only mirrors the battlefield. Each soldier must be patient and persevere, without the benefit of the 'big picture.' Viewers, like the reporters, have also developed a new respect and awe for the soldier.

As Secretary of State said, this is not a computer game.

'News' is linear. The news story has a beginning, action, and a conclusion. Previous war reporting preserved this linear format. In World War II, film captured glimpses of the battlefield usually carefully edited. The Vietnam war was videotaped, but the tape was delayed in transport. Now, with the use of satellite phones in Iraq, the feed is instant. There is no time to design or edit a story. There is no 'story.'

The American viewer has adapted to the new format. There are no answers or neat reports. Only a mosaic of pictures and sound. No piecing the story into the big picture. There is in fact no big picture. Like war, the victory (and Iraqi defeat) will be the sum total of individual battles, individual bravery, individual sacrifice. Our very perception of war has changed by the reality of war.

This may explain Americans disregard for Hollywood's anti-war grand standing. Hollywood films have become too slick, too unbelievable. The technology with computer-driven special effects are so perfect that we now view films as they should be: fantasies, though well-produced, still realistic fantasy. They are realistic, not real. Actors now act. They play characters, they read scripts. The final product is created on a computer and video editor. So Hollywood actors' anti-war diatribes have less credibility. Hollywood actors no longer larger than life idols. They are best, celebrities.

This also explains the flood of 'reality TV' series. The networks realized that the viewer wanted direct experience. The series, "COPS," initiated the trend. The viewer was able to watch the police in action. At the same time, respect for law enforcement increased. The viewer learned that crime and fighting crime is hell. While the evening 'news' reports the arrest of a criminal, usually in less than a minute, "COPS" showed the frenzy, confusion, and danger in any arrest. One reality police series showed tragically a police officer gunned down during a routine traffic stop.

Police reality programs prepared the American viewer for the reality of War. But war TV is more complex and complicated. The images of bravery and sacrifice are multiplied. The images and realities of battle taken together are the war. Media commentators, especially former military officers, try to talk about the war. They try to describe it as history, as if there is a script and they are reading from it. But, with real time war, there is no history until the sum of all battles results in closure.

When this conflict is over, and Iraq stabilizes, when the troops come home, the parades, speeches, and honors will resemble previous wars. On the surface. But it will be different. Unlike any time in history, the citizens will have had direct appreciation and awareness of each combatant's service and sacrifice. The appreciation will be fuller. The applause, louder. And the mourning for those who do not return, deeper.

Write to Arthur at bruzzone@rightturns.com


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. He is the former Chair of the San Francisco Republican Party.

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