TV UK, 27 March

The Willing may have preferred an entirely audiovisual shock-and-awe blockbuster, but life isn't like that.

Dolan Cummings

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Topics Politics

By some strange coincidence, just as the Coalition of the Willing launched its attack on Iraq last week, my boiler exploded, flooding the carpet, but otherwise depriving the flat of water.

The troll who lives on the sofa fled to spend the weekend at the trollette’s cave, leaving me alone in a Reality TV-style Basra House. I had this great one-man make-and-mend Blitz spirit going on. Newspaper all over the floor, washing in reheated dishwater – phwoah, isn’t it? Just like in a real Reality TV show, I was in no actual danger from bombing, but at least I was able to follow the war on TV.

Of course I have to make do and mend with the terrestrial coverage. Do you know there are Kurds in the desert in northern Iraq who have satellite TV in their tents? No such luck in the Basra House. The best I can do is BBC News 24, which has been showing all night every night on BBC1 since the invasion began.

We have much more footage than we did last time, and not just green blobs on a black background, but still, comparisons with Hollywood are far-fetched. Hollywood could never get away with the Baghdad Cam and its images of sporadic traffic at night with occasional sirens – that’s more like video art. There have been webcasts from inside Iraq, but these have been very poor quality – the point is to show the bravery of journalists rather than to illustrate the actual story. (As we have seen, journalists do face real danger from both friendly fire and stray militias.)

Al-Jazeera has broadcast gruesome footage of both Coalition and Iraqi casualties, but ultimately war does not lend itself to television, not really. The Willing may have preferred an entirely audiovisual shock-and-awe blockbuster, but life isn’t like that. Accordingly television can only treat the serious stuff of war with lengthy journalistic reports and studio-based analysis. But to get to grips with the war properly, you have to understand what’s happening back home.

On Sunday night BBC2 showed a quick response documentary about the effect of the war on British politics. This made a lot of the resignation of Robin Cook and the non-resignation of Clare Short, but the focus was on the anti-war movement itself. The commentary gently hinted that there is something odd about a movement led by Stalinists and Socialist Workers, but overwhelmingly comprising disaffected New Labour types. Other than that, though, the programme disappointingly took the anti-war movement at face value, missing the opportunity to examine the odd political context behind the war itself.

Every time Saddam appears on TV, there is a frenzied discussion over whether it is the man himself or a double. The same scrutiny has not been applied to our own leader. But has anybody else noticed that Tony Blair’s eyes are becoming increasingly and freakishly blue? I first noticed this during his address to the nation last Thursday. It’s like the tell-tale sign of a clone in a dodgy sci-fi film. Is this part of the shock and awe strategy? What will they think of next?

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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