PhD Thesis


Eileen Culloty


Journalism & Mass Media

documentary films film studies war in iraq content analysis public sphere iraq war documentaries new media public opinion

Embedded online: Iraq war documentaries in the online public sphere (2014)

Abstract This study assesses the democratic and pedagogical roles of Iraq War documentaries in the online public sphere by synthesizing critical perspectives on war media and documentary film. The 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq gave rise to an unprecedented profusion of war documentaries, many of which are now freely available on dedicated documentary-viewing websites. These websites function as knowledge resources archiving content produced over the course of the occupation and as transnational reception spheres allowing the claims of individual films to be contested or endorsed from multiple perspectives. Consequently, the traditional functions of the war documentary - as advocacy, reportage, and critique - are challenged and reframed in a transnational context. Within the “new war media ecology” (Hoskins & O’Loughlin 2010), documentary-viewing websites also call into question certain foundational assumptions of war media research such as the critical opposition between mainstream and alternative content and associated claims about the impact of mainstream media framing on public-opinion. To examine these issues, three levels of analysis are employed: a content analysis of eleven documentary-viewing websites establishes which Iraq War documentaries are circulating online; a textual analysis of six prominent films critiques their public sphere roles in reference to their thematic, ideological, and aesthetic constructions; and, finally, a reception analysis of user-comments on the largest documentary-viewing website, Top Documentary Films, evaluates how users contest or endorse the credibility of individual films and filmmakers. Although most of the Iraq War documentaries found online are highly critical of the war, this opposition is manifest in complex ways and relies on varying textual strategies for remediating war representations. With an emphasis on electoral politics, activist films articulate a narrow form of war opposition by appealing to the victimisation of the American subject under the Bush administration. In conjunction with transnational user-comments, however, these films also support a foundational reflection on patriotism during wartime. Documentary war reports call on the evidential power of on-the ground footage to frame fragments of the unfolding conflict for Western viewers. The online archiving of these piecemeal perspectives then undermines institutional efforts to commemorate the war in a particular way. Documentaries about war information and media utilise leaked and suppressed information to set different modes of war mediation against each other. While this strategy allows filmmakers to challenge official accounts of the war, it also reflects practices found in amateur conspiracy films. The study finds that viewers’ prior convictions, along with their pre-established trust in particular filmmakers and institutions, play a significant role in their willingness to accept the credibility of individual films. In this way, the transnational reception sphere frequently challenges the assumptions of film representations and brings together diverging perspectives on war. However, in the absence of editorial oversight, users are left to make their own distinctions between competing documentary claims. Consequently, documentary-viewing websites have an ambiguous relationship with documentary’s status as a “discourse of sobriety” (Nichols 1991). In an accelerated and highly partisan war media environment, the inherent tension between the free flow of content in the public sphere and the quality and veracity of this content calls for continued reflection on the dynamic relationship between traditional media content and emergent media practices.
Collections Ireland -> Dublin City University -> Thesis Type = Doctoral Thesis
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> Publication Type = Thesis
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> DCU Faculties and Centres = DCU Faculties and Schools: Faculty of Humanities and Social Science
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> DCU Faculties and Centres = DCU Faculties and Schools: Faculty of Humanities and Social Science: School of Communications
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> DCU Faculties and Centres = DCU Faculties and Schools
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> Status = Unpublished
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> Subject = Humanities
Ireland -> Dublin City University -> Subject = Humanities: Film studies

Full list of authors on original publication

Eileen Culloty

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Eileen Culloty
Dublin City University
Total Publications: 3