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Entertainment Quotient of Iraq

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So often we continue in our daily dealings, watching the “runaway bride” and learning the meaning of “skeet, skeet” that we forget we are in a war. A real one. Not a confusing international entanglement like Bosnia or Somalia and certainly nothing like the short-lived ride of the first Iraq conflict in 1991.

No matter what your politics are on the war in Iraq, you have to admit that we are in the midst of an intensely important engagement. As was pointed out in some of the Sunday TV talk shows, Iraq is in some ways more precarious than Vietnam. It is at the center of the world’s pulse, unlike Vietnam, which was ultimately of little strategic import. We will likely be in Iraq awhile, since pulling out would damage the cause of freedom in the Middle East at-large and electrify existing terrorist movements.

In TV terms, the current war is an ongoing epic series with no end in site. Think Gunsmoke or Guiding Light in terms of longevity. A war that could have better served the 11 seasons of M*A*S*H than the three-year Korean War in which it was set.

Which brings me to my point, that the Iraq war is going to be a treasure trove for the entertainment industry. It is the war that a modern generation of artists and producers needed to create works to rival those from WWI, WWII and Vietnam. This will come across as cynical and somewhat frivolous, which is acceptable. But certainly no offense is meant to anyone serving the military or to those who have lost others in the war.

Since the Trojan War epics of Homer, we have always been fascinated with war stories. The drama of lives being lost in clashes of will has a natural home in literature, theater and more recently film and TV. America has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period with Vietnam being our last source of major conflict and death. That’s good for our society obviously, but it left screenwriters with a dilemma. How could they create modern war tales? They either had to set their scripts in the past, ala the WWII revival of Saving Private Ryan, Thin Red Line, Hart’s War and Enemy at the Gates, or utilize the intrigue of smaller skirmishes to make it contemporary. The first season of 24 was about a Chechen rebel for instance, and Ridley Scott’s Blackhawk Down focused on a singular incident within the Somalia operation. I’m not really sure who JAG was fighting all those seasons.

Before the current war, the first Persian Gulf War was over 10 years old, making it less of a relevant source if it ever was one. After all, who wants to set a story in the early 1990s? It’s boring compared to the turbulent 1960s or taut 1940s. Three Kings was one of the few successful dramas about the Persian Gulf War, but it was was a stretch to have it figure into last year’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate. They should have just waited a few years.

Over the next 20 years and beyond, expect to see many TV shows and films dealing with the Iraq War. It is a believable backdrop for future seasons of 24 (including its proposed film version), Alias and new shows like the Pentagon drama The E-Ring. It will launch new novelists from the front lines like Hemingway, Mailer and Dos Passos before them. New art in sculpture, painting and architecture will be marked by this period as well.

Last fall, there was discussion about a show being developed for F/X about the Iraq War, to be produced by Stephen Bocho, who later expressed his reservations with the topic. That opens the question as to if the war is too topical to be used in entertainment right now. But if of sufficient quality and taste like Casablanca and Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, both made during and about WWII, then it is appropriate in my opinion.

Chip / Culture Drift

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About Chip Ross


    I agree with the potential for new art coming out of the war, though I’d hesitat to call it entertainment from my perspective. There is a NEA project called Operation Homecoming in which writers gave workshops to veterans of the current war in order encourage them to write about their experiences. The resulting book will appear in late fall 2005, IIRC.

    One of my colleagues wrote a book about her experiencs as a female Soldier who also speaks Arabic deployed to Iraq. I am looking forward to it

  • That’s a fair point about not calling it “entertainment” but I thought that “art” was too high of a term to classify the storylines that will lead to new seasons of “24” etc. But I do believe that both high art and easy pop culture will come from the Iraq war in the years to come.


    I was only explaining my perspective. When I was a kid, I loved watching war movies and “Combat” on TV, what kids didn’t? I am sure my uncle, a WWII vet, looked at these films a completely different way.
    Now that I am returned from a war, I still watch war movies, but it’s no longer a fun and games popcorn event for me. In fact, my experiences have changed the way I feel about a lot of the movies I watched prior to my experiences. Onee thing that I do look for is faithfulness to detail, a story can be a dramatization, but make sure the Soliers look and act like Sodiers, and havethe right equipment. More important, that the writers actors are accurate as well.

  • It is rather profound to hear from a war veteran on this subject. Thanks for reading and commenting. I was concerned that this topic would offend or cheapen those in service, so I am really glad to hear your thoughts above. My Dad was in Vietnam, and I always thought it was weirder to watch dumb Vietnam movies with him, like “Missing in Action 3,” than the better crafted “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon.”


    I recently read two separate articles on Soldiers in Iraq recording rap albums. They should be very interesting.

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