While our country alienates the rest of the globe, Americans are waging a war against each other, leaping at one another’s throats as we fervently and zealously debate the inner workings of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
However, the boisterous face-to-face debates are becoming increasingly eclipsed by a new phenomenon: The flame war.
Analysts and commentators are drawing comparisons between this war and the classic wars — Gulf, Vietnam, etc. But a significant distinguishing aspect of this particular effort lies in our current cyber-embedded culture. If Gulf War I was the first war fought on live television, then welcome to the first e-war.
Every schmoe with an e-mail address seems to be using his God-given e-right to clog bandwidth with personal diatribes on the war. It’s a wonder we haven’t broken the Internet yet. Web sites, blogs, e-lists, message boards, streaming video — you name it, the Net’s got it. For breaking news, who needs TV when you can get news sites updated virtually every nanosecond?
On the plus side, the Net has provided invaluable resources for war coverage outside of the United States. Back in BC (Before Cyber), finding translated news coverage from abroad was a near-impossible task. Now, you’re just a click away from English-translated news sites such as France’s Le Monde Diplomatique, Russia Today, the Kuwait Times— hell, you can even get the news from Kathmandu. An excellent resource, the French AFP provides links to dozens of international news sites.
On March 25, the Arab news network Al-Jazeera attempted to launch an English language news site, which was promptly shot down by hackers, along with the Arabic version. All content was replaced with a picture of an American flag and the words “Let Freedom Ring,” courtesy of a group called the “Freedom Cyber Force Militia.” The hack attack may have been in retaliation for the photos of dead British and American war prisoners that were posted on the site.
Meanwhile, anti-war hackers have tampered with U.S. military sites, including the U.S. Navy’s domain.
Remember back when hackers were referred to as cyber terrorists?
Before it got hacked to bits, the Al-Jazeera site posted a number of graphic photos of dead and injured Iraqi adults and children.
The photos were quickly reposted by numerous American sites, and passed along through e-mail by people who felt they needed to be seen to “wake up” Americans.
Designer and artist Kate Farley of Richmond, Va., was one of many livejournal.com users to repost the photos in her Web journal.
“This is ‘collateral damage,’” says Farley of the photos. “The images that American media show sanitize war and make it inoffensive. It’s much easier for the populace to be in support of a war when they do not witness the devastation.”
But before you get too depressed, let’s remember the Web can be a hoot too!
Other than “The Daily Show,” there is little clever and intelligent sarcasm to be found on television, and the Net has quickly stepped up to fill the void.
The perennial tongue-in-cheek favorite of the Web, The Onion, has dedicated itself wholeheartedly to covering “Operation Piss Off The Planet.”
The site whitehouse.org is chock-full of satirical articles and snappy merchandise (bumper stickers that proclaim “Nuke Dissent” and “Jesus Votes Republican”), and offers scathing, wickedly funny commentary on the war and its accompanying cast of government officials. (Don’t confuse the site with whitehouse.com, which is a porn site, or www.whitehouse.gov, the official White House site, where your tax dollars pay for a different kind of obscenity.)
“Many of our most influential mass media outlets and voices are nothing more than self-appointed Patriotism Gestapo,” says whitehouse.org’s editor in chief and head writer, John A. Wooden. “The mass media, for fear of being accused of having ‘liberal bias’ has been successfully intimidated into playing it safe and treating this administration with kid gloves.”
Wooden feels the Web may represent one of the last free zones for no-holds-barred satire.
“The Web lets other voices be heard — those few remaining voices that aren’t too chicken to rightfully ridicule the farce that is our current administration and its perverted, utterly selfish war.”
Wooden says whitehouse.org experienced a rise of traffic since the war began, but that may be due in part to the attention it received when the real White House took notice of the site. The office of Vice President Dick Cheney sent a letter demanding the removal of all photographs of his wife, Lynne, along with an accompanying fictitious bio. Instead of complying, the site “disguised” Lynne Cheney’s visage by adding a gleaming red clown nose, printed the letter in full, and published a satirical press release by the veep.
Local Web designer David Livingstone registered the domain fuckthewar.com to provide @fuckthewar.com e-mail addresses.
“It allows individuals to constantly express their opinion on the war,” says Livingstone. “Now people can write to their politicians from a fuckthewar.com address.”
Since the site’s inception three months ago, 1,000 people from 36 countries have signed up for the free service.
But who says only the peaceniks can have a sense of humor? The folks at protestwarrior.com are proudly “fighting the left, doing it right!” and have cooked up some merchandise of their own, including T-shirts that say “Except for ending slavery, fascism, nazism and communism, war has never solved anything!”
In response to a lack of suitably conservative confectionery treats in a market monopolized by those tree-huggin’ hippies Ben & Jerry, we now have starspangledicecream.com. The yummy treat was specifically created for those who “enjoy ice cream but do NOT enjoy seeing your money funneled to wacko left-wing causes.”
That’s right, tasty (or tasteless, depending on your view) flavors such as Iraqi Road and I Hate the French Vanilla, can be yours, for a mere $76 for four quarts! A list of forthcoming flavors includes Cowardly German Chocolate and School Prayerleens and Cream.
Hey, here’s a suggestion: Neoconservative Neapolitan. It’s vanilla, vanilla and vanilla.
Also, tough luck for observant Jews and those fighting the trademark American flab — the company does not yet offer kosher or fat-free versions.
The site claims it will donate 10 percent of proceeds to charities and organizations that support U.S. forces, but has not yet specified which ones. (We don’t suppose Dubya’s 2004 campaign fund is one of them.)
E-mail forwards are possibly the most irritating aspect of the Net, and this war has generated a tidal wave of jokes, doctored images and petitions that will probably never see the light of day — all sent to you several times over by everyone you know with an AOL account.
Thanks to these forwards, we can all stay abreast of such breaking political news as the press release from French’s Mustard which reassures the condiment is not in fact French, but made from American mustard seeds.
And this just in! South Carolina legislators have drafted a bill that calls for the Dixie Chicks to apologize to the state and hold a free concert for troops and their families.
Sites like politicalhumor.about.com specialize in Photoshopped gags, such as a photo of Dubya giving Saddam a noogie, a chart comparing the president’s facial expressions to those of a chimp, and satires of movie posters, including “Dude, Where’s my War?” and “Gulf Wars Episode II: Clone of the Attack.”
Many of the doctored images are brazenly un-P.C., and occasionally project ugly racist stereotypes and sentiments in the name of “humor.”
For instance, strangecosmos. com posts the following disclaimer: “NOTE! Occasionally, some pictures may be tasteless, tacky, and definitely NOT politically correct! In most cases, that’s what makes them so funny.”
That is debatable. How about the image “McHammed’s” — McDonald’s golden arches are morphed into the shape of a camel, and an Arab man talking on a cell phone rides atop a camel in the foreground. Then there’s the “New Map of Iraq,” complete with an enormous bomb crater superimposed over the country.
“Road to Baghdad” depicts a car traveling down a highway leading to a billowing mushroom cloud.
Or how about this: an image depicting the Concorde jet smashing into the Eiffel Tower. In the upper corner Dubya is on the phone, relaying the following advice to French President Jacques Chirac: “You should give your friends at the United Nations a heads up. Don’t ever call me again, you asshole.”
A few more clicks reveals a similar graphic: a plane careening towards the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, the two tallest buildings in the world, the design strongly influenced by Islamic architecture.
The photo is titled: “Hey Islam! Payback is a bitch!”Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org