Filming war…

Emily regularly tells me stories about lessons at school deliberately to wind me up. It is an innocent enough sport, and I am easily defeated.

One of the things that she teases me with is the teaching of all sorts of subjects- History, Religious and Moral Education, English Literature- through the medium of Hollywood movies.

So History is taught by watching- Braveheart.

Shakespeare is taught be watching Leonardo Di Caprio pretending to be Romeo.

Moral issues are taught by watching war films- a whole series of them it seems.

I am not meaning to have a pop at teachers- I think they do a difficult job with passion and skill- but (as Marshall McLuhan said) the medium is the message- and film has this way of sowing images in our minds that are hard to shift.

And when these images are manipulations of the truth (as all film is of course, to a lesser or greater degree) then I think it is important to ask whose world view we are buying into- whose version of truth is being propagated.

It is difficult to escape the realisation that the lens is controlled by the powerful, and not the weak. The powerful even strap cameras to their bombs and missiles. It makes for great TV.


This was brought home most powerfully to me recently when watching the great John Pilger’s film ‘The War You Don’t See.’ This film deals with what happens when cameras go to war- in an age of ’embedded’ reporters, and carefully controlled press briefings.

If you have any interest in justice in an age of technological warfare waged by superpowers in out name, you must watch this film. It is available on you tube- here.

Here is the trailer

The film also makes some points about the role of war films in all of this that made me sit up. Like most blokes, I like a good war film- heroic buddy movies for the most part- escapism for those of us who have never been exposed to the harsh realities of war.

Most of us can see through the jingoism of the world war two films,  and also the nonsense of the Rambo/Schwarzenegger comic book violence, but Pilger made some interesting points about the modern crop of films- even those who appear to carry an anti war message. Pilger pointed out how they carry a myth of the soldier as innocent victim, and in doing so distort entirely the reality of modern war, which above all is characterised by it’s ability to dehumanise and so denude ‘the other’.

It is war reduced to video game and CGI.

Fiction becomes truth- fake heroism, the vindication of our way of life in the face of despotic extremism seen in the lives of our enemy. Despite the fact that the enemy then become victim to our own despotic extremism.

Just in case you do not believe me, it is worth watching the back end of this clip-

The question is still with me- does showing our kids war films make it more likely that wars like this will not be be fought in the future?

I doubt it.

How about getting hold of a copy of the Pilger film?

That might.