Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman capture very well the banality and shallowness of much of the broadcast media in Shooting War. We see it immediately with the ubiquitous attractive female anchor (perfectly named “Briana”) with her vacuous questions (“But tell us, what was it like to have a bomb go off so close to you”) and breathless exaggeration (“It was truly incredible live television. Truly incredible reporting”). Of course, every event has a special graphic, including disasters (“Brooklyn Explodes” with a Starbucks logo behind it; “Bangalore Nightmare”), turning tragedies into media commodities.
Shooting War itself is a panoply of stereotypes: the idealistic “independent” blogger who gets sucked into the Establishment media but ultimately decides to “do the right thing” and not be a sell-out; the slutty, self-absorbed magazine reporter; the crazy, out-of-control soldier in the form of Lt. Col. “Crash” Crowley (a la “Apocalypse Now”); the demur but street-savvy native producer; the high-tech terrorist with a Plan for world domination; the mysterious CIA-type “watcher”; and so on. In a way, that well captures what the media, most particularly broadcast media, are constantly seeking: images and stories that horrify or tug at the heart strings, with characters and situations that “fit” a type or preconception rather than be overly complicated or nuanced. Additionally, American “branding” is everywhere, from KFC to McDonalds, a sort of commentary on the notion that everywhere America goes, even in a war zone, we bring with us our commercialization and capitalism.
I find Shooting War to be overtly cynical, highly politicized (not one honorable soldier in the bunch), lopsided, and heavy-handed, but also bitingly satirical. It achieves what it sets out to do, I think, and also shows how the growth of amateur video reporting (and the presence of YouTube) has “democratized” reporting and has circumvented both governments (of the left and the right) and mainstream media.
Finally, as a graphic novel, this also has a special kind of structure that makes it necessarily telegraphic. It’s like looking at a storyboard for a movie; you get the main narrative and the pictures show the action and emotion (the reader doesn’t have to “imagine” the action), but it’s like reading Spark’s Notes without the accompanying analysis. It’s an interesting way to visit the new media and its reimagining of the novel, but I wouldn’t want to live there.