Thursday, December 2, 2010


Reporting on armed conflicts invariably relies on one or more basic storylines that impart sense to the unfolding of events and the roles of actors. Such a narrative usually casts some in the role of victims and others as perpetrators. The most prevalent storyline of violence in the reporting on the warscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been rape. Indeed, the DRC has become infamous globally through the reports on the massive scale of sexual violence. While other forms of violence and abuse have also been committed on a massive scale, it is sexual violence that has attracted the lion's share of attention, especially among "outside" observers... Arguably "SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence) tourism" has been added to what has come to be known as "war zone tourism." 

From the opening paragraph of The Complexity of Violence: A critical analysis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Nestled in the middle of that dense and important paragraph is a word of real significance to any efforts in communicating the reality of distant conflicts--warscape.

The word itself does not appear frequently enough to yet merit a definition in wikipedia or any other major online source that I could find, but I think it deserves a significant amount of examination before it does. When used in a social or political context, the authors here and in one other study I could find seem to think of it as denoting the realities of a war, of describing the existence of things beyond the scope of communication. But within word itself lies a key to its own interpretation.
-scape |ske…™p|
combining form
denoting a specified type of scene : moonscape.

Critical to understanding depiction and its effects we need to have a clear sense of how removed the authors and the audience might be from the war. To experience a war as a warscape we must approach it from a distance. There can be little warscape for the war fought over and around us. That is too traumatic and chaotic to be combined into form, or any specified type of scene. With enough distance in place, all kinds of influences determine what final form the war might take, and what those media depictions might achieve in the world. As I have said time and again, those influences almost always align themselves along the interests and perspectives of the media makers.

We know from the history of the genre of landscape painting and photography in the west that the media are formed as much by the needs and wants of the audience as they are by any intrinsic truth of the land itself. Ansel Adams' work achieves iconic status in the branding of the western landscape because there is an audience that is highly receptive to his particular vision.

Does it not hold true as well then that the stories of distant wars are not then shaped as much by the needs, desires, and fantasies of the audience as they are the complex realities of distant conflicts? Are we not able to pick and choose the telling of the war that best suits the marketing and dissemination of the news itself? In this way, the warscape becomes the companion to the landscape. It is a vision rooted in distant events and places, but prepared, shaped, packaged, and distributed with the specific intent to meet local needs.

And if warscapes have been formed to respond to market needs, could they not also be formed to achieve results other than popular reception and market share? Could they not be formed to exert influence on political outcomes, on public figures, on groups with power to direct aid and partnerships, negotiate settlements, support solutions? Absolutely they can.

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