Thursday, October 18, 2007

War Buddy

It was a week that I saw a lot of Sean Lawson, since he presented at both the 4S and AoIR conferences about the military's use of social media and persuasive games. Sean is both a policy wonk and a Ph.D. candidate in Science and Technology Studies at RPI, who has discovered the value of rhetoric to explain many phenomena in the discourses of political organizations.

At the 4S conference, he gave a presentation on the military-funded videogame, Future Force Company Commander, which he points out is strangely unconcerned with either training or recruitment, the ostensible motivations for creating other military games like America's Army. The cinematic opening scene of F2C2 in an exotic pagoda-studded land -- in which a terrorist aiming for a vehicle on a bridge is foiled by magically repellent armor -- Lawson describes as the "only entertaining part of the game," which is largely taken up with plotting assets on highly symbolic maps. As the Blue Force fighting the Red Force, which is armed with Soviet-era equipment, the player must deal with defending one country against an invader in a conflict between the fictional aggressor Sabalan and U.S. ally Dalilar. As Lawson points out, strangely there seems to be no airforce in the army of the future, and no attack helicopters, no tanks, or really no marines either. Lawson explains the message of the game as such: "the network is the weapon," and "seeing the enemy is as good as killing the enemy." He argues that the rhetoric of the game can be explained by the fact that its maker is SAIC, which has a vested interest in infowar, networked combat, and C4ISR models. Of course, there's more to be said about the rhetorical efforts of SAIC, about which I'll have an article in the forthcoming issue of media/culture.

In his AoIR presentation about military bloggers, Lawson pointed out that restrictions on solders' use of social media reflected a contradictory attitude about the new ideologies about information and networks that are central to the work of top strategists within the military. As Lawson points out and this video shows, President George W. Bush addressed the Second Annual Milblog Conference. And yet on April 19, 2007, the Army released new OPSEC Regulations against blogging, and in May, the Department of Defense announced plans to block access to social media sites like YouTube and MySpace. In his research Lawson looked at 44 military blogs and took advantage of The D-Ring ("where the military and new media collide") , Wired's defense blog Danger Room, and aggregating services like Milblogging. Lawson argues that military bloggers are both inside and outside these structures of authority, so it isn't a simple case of one side pitted against another. As the bloggers themselves point out, they see themselves as contradicting the reports of the mainstream media and engaged in the battle for the hearts and minds of civilians at home.

Lawson's work is still evolving, like most graduate students, and I'd like to see him draw on more nuanced examples of rhetorical thought rather than overemphasize a dated and relatively heavy-handed critic like Lloyd Bitzer, but he's looking at important public policy issues of the kind that I'd like to see in more new media dissertations, and I look forward to seeing him again at conferences in the months and years ahead.

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Blogger Sean Lawson said...

Thanks for the kind words! I hope to see more of you and your work in the future as well.

12:49 PM  

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