News is homemade and gritty in 'Iraq Uploaded'

Times Staff Writer

Maybe in the end, the troops will have to tell their own stories.

With the war in Iraq in its fourth year, newspapers and television networks have cut back on their coverage, particularly of troops in the field. Money and safety are two reasons commonly cited.

The thesis of "MTV News Presents: Iraq Uploaded," scheduled for tonight, is that the troops are filling the vacuum with their own videos relayed in real time to the Internet. Several websites specialize in footage from the front, notably ifilm and its war-zone section.

Like much discussion of the Internet and the blogosphere, the impact of the troop-shot videos is probably overblown in "Uploaded." If there is a lesson in modern mass media, it is that no individual venue -- even the august ones with their names on buildings -- has all that much power anymore.

Still, the images of death, destruction and fear rendered by troops are a significant new addition to the public's ability -- if it cares to exercise it -- to understand the reality of war.

"Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company," possibly the best of the Iraq documentaries released so far, uses home videos shot by Marines backed by interviews with Marines. "Lazy Ramadi," the rap-song satire done by two Army sergeants, is reaching cult status.

Several documentaries about National Guard units, most recently "War Tapes" about the New Hampshire guard, use videos taken by the troops. And it's common for all sorts of military outfits to produce DVDs of their tours in Iraq with film and rock 'n' roll soundtracks -- perfect for parties back home.

With Gideon Yago as guide, "Uploaded" tries to cover a lot of territory in 30 minutes: the home videos, the uniformed filmmakers, the Bush administration's objection to pictures of flag-draped coffins, the insurgents' use of bloody video clips as a recruiting tool and big media's reluctance to show pictures of dead Americans.

There is even a section on the audience for ifilm and other sites. Some viewers go from military wannabes to military don't wannabes. "For me, it kind of scared me straight," says one.

"Uploaded" suggests that Americans are emotionally removed from the war in Iraq because they are not shown enough pictures of the dead and wounded. Maybe so, but maybe it's more basic: Without a draft, military service is no longer a shared responsibility so why worry too much about its consequences?

The footage mentioned in "Uploaded" is tilted toward quick takes, the explosion of improvised explosive devices, brief firefights, off-duty horseplay. Shaky cameras and unguarded comments -- often profane -- are the norm. The result, "Uploaded" notes, is that most of the footage is impressionistic, unedited, largely context-free. It specializes in showing not the Big Picture of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy but the Little Picture of daily existence.

The Little Picture -- the rubble-strewn streets they're assigned to patrol, the convoys hit repeatedly by IEDs, the fearful and distrustful Iraqis they're told to interrogate -- is where enlisted soldiers and Marines live. They die there sometimes.


'MTV News Presents: Iraq Uploaded'

Where: MTV

When: 8 tonight

Rating: Not rated

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