Adventures in “Journalism” 1
October 9, 2008
I’m trying to redress my lack of focus on the media, here. Below, some fun times at 29 Palms with a British Tabloid.
At the 29 Palms Fake Iraq, though, I do score points because although they make fun of me for using a clunky, big film camera instead of a sleek pro-level digital camera like the British Tabloid people, it’s clear that the Cpt. showing us around and the actors and troops we encounter put some (if only a little) credence into what I’m trying to do vs. what the tabloid people are doing. What the tabloid people are doing: running amok. Posing stylishly. Getting in the way of the training. Generally, they’re the British Tabloid equivalent of Ugly Americans, and from the looks on the faces of all involved you can tell that more than a few people here this morning think the Brits are a little soft in the head.
Case in point: It’s the high desert in mid-December. Anyone with any brain whatsoever knows that the desert is not a furnace; it cools off at night, especially in the winter. When the Brits (a “reporter” I’ll call Maude and a photojournalist I’ll call Chesley) arrive and Maude has “forgotten” to bring anything like a coat, she plays on the begrudging sympathies of the Marines for a military-issue coat to wear. How this translates into actual (tabloid) journalism is that Chesley can take pictures of her palling around with Iraqi actors looking like part of the scenery. There are times at which Maude and Chesley’s aims seem so at odds with my basic idea of news photojournalism that it’s as if they wandered in from the high desert and are in the middle of a fashion shoot while surrounded by Marine reserves from Iowa learning how to politely inform a theatrical Iraqi that you’re going to search his shipping-container house with or without his permission.
The only time Chesley and Maude seem like actual journalists and not a very weird kind of tourist is when they grill the Cpt. who is our media escort about whether going into Iraq was a good idea or not. It’s also the only time they let the façade of cool professionalism slip, because when the Cpt. shrugs and says casually that he thinks Iraq is a bad idea and then goes on to voice his opinions about the war, oil, and Blackwater based on his own experiences having been there, Maude can’t help but stammer a little: “Really? Yes? R-really?” And she obviously has no followup, as Chesley clicks away, because that was not the answer she had already planned out.
I didn’t know at first that I would be stuck with Maude and Chesley; I thought I would get to tag along with a reporter team from my hometown of Milwaukee, two very nice, very down-to-earth women there for a story about reserves from Wisconsin, but instead I get saddled with the Brits, who can’t understand at all why a fake Iraq in the middle of the desert might be of visual or anthropological interest and so consider me a rank amateur, not a Real Journalist. I get brushed aside for most of the morning as the Brits dominate the conversation with the Cpt., and Chesley absolutely doesn’t care if he gets in my shot ’cause he’s there for a reason. This becomes something of a game for me, then, because Chesley himself is not bad looking so I start to purposely frame my shots with him in them. This freaks him out both for basic human nervousness reasons and because it’s hard for him and Maude to understand that they’re not just there to report on it, but as far as I’m concerned they’re part of the story itself. For media types, this place was made to be looked at, and these people have been trained only and always just to look.
Below: Chesley snaps a pic, and one of the ubiquitous crushed cars at military bases.