Information Warfare: August 16, 2005

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When television meets reality, strange things happen. A recent example of that is a new television show, Over There. The show tries to portray the experiences of American troops in contemporary Iraq. But the show also tries to deal with the demands of television dramas. This means, well, that accurate "reality" is apparently out of reach. 

Over There is not just unique in that it is dealing with ongoing events, but the people actually involved in those events are able to see the show. Illegal copies of the show have made their way to the troops (either via video captures sent via CD, or those same files snagged online via Bittorrent). The troops are not impressed. Some are appalled, although rather saltier language is used to express their reactions. 

What bothered the troops the most was how poorly the actors dealt with very important things like combat and security. There are several hundred thousand Americans who have been to Iraq, gotten the combat training needed to survive there, and could have advised the shows creators on  how things are actually done. Many troops winced as they watched the actors make one fatal mistake after another. It would be funny, it it werent for the memories of friends who made those same mistakes and got killed or injured because of it. 

Maybe its for dramatic effect that the show depicts a single hummer out in the middle of nowhere, with no one paying much attention to local security. SOP in Iraq is two vehicles, minimum, when you go outside the wire (leave a base camp), and careful security measures whenever you stop. You can get away with the lone rider motif in most parts of the world, but not in Iraq. 

Another hilarious bit, to troops who have been (or are still) there, is the depiction of senior officers (like colonels) wandering around without a security detail. Cant understand how they would miss this. TV and movies loves to show security details. And the ones in Iraq are well trained and all business. Oh, and colonels shooting hummers to prevent troops from doing something? Doesnt happen. The military has their own colorful ways to deal with disputes and disagreements, but blasting a hummer says that the trigger-happy officer has problems with his command presence. If the writers had spent some time talking to troops who have been to Iraq, they could have gotten some entertaining, and much more realistic ways to handle that.

And then there was the episode where the bad guys had some Stinger missiles. Where were the reality consultants for the show when this got written? The bad guys in Iraq have access to thousands of Russian made portable anti-aircraft missiles. Getting their hands on Stingers would involve a major victory over American troops, something not likely to happen, or go unnoticed. Stinger missiles are very well looked after, and their probably arent many  in Iraq anyway. 

Scenes involving the interrogation of prisoners come off, to the troops who have been involved with actual interrogations, as some kind of parody of a parody. What are the shows writers using for source material? Again, the great tragedy here is that the reality of these interrogations is lot more entertaining than the parody portrayed in "Over There." 

Along those lines, the troops get really upset at the way G.I.s are portrayed in combat. American troops are taught, again and again (until the get it right), the proper moves to use in a firefight, or when threatened with attack. The shows writers could have just referred to video taken by embeds during the 2003 invasion. Those vids showed how it is done, but bear no resemblance to the tactical travesties portrayed in Over There.

Hollywood makes a big deal of sending their actors to a brief boot camp before they shoot a war movie. Perhaps, for shows like Over There, they should have sent the writers and directors. Bu whats really annoying to a lot of the troops is that many family and friends will believe Over There is an accurate portrayal of operations in Iraq. The troops will have to spend lots of time and effort repairing that damage. Oh, and the show hardly bothers to portray the troops using email (which is a major morale item for those serving over there), or playing video games (a major recreational activity when off duty.) 

Its uncertain what the target audience for Over There was, but ratings have been plummeting since it first premiered last month. They defiantly lost the military audience, and many civilians as well. Perhaps it will soon be over for Over There.

 


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