The ongoing military contest for the city of Mosul, the formerly populous town in northern Iraq held by the Islamic State since 2014, seems destined to become one of the world’s first live streaming battles. In contrast to the civil war in Syria, which has filled the press and social media with videos of violence and suffering recorded hours or days earlier, the clashes around Mosul are being broadcast live or almost live around the globe in a grotesquely intimate and accessible manner. If you know where to look rudimentary online streams of confused mayhem are available to watch as a grotesque form of online “wartainment“. Sam Kriss writes in the Baffler:
“What they don’t tell you about the battle for Mosul is how boring it is, hour by hour, day by day. From my vantage point near the Iraqi village of Bartella, ISIS positions are visible in the smoke-filled distance, across the crinkled flatness of Nineveh; in front of me, gangs of weary Peshmerga fighters clump about in their fatigues as an endless line of armored cars trundles slowly through their ranks. I hear orders shouted in Kurdish and Arabic, but there’s nobody around to translate for me. Farther off, tanks and artillery pieces are positioned behind banks of sandbags. Their engines idle, whining in the afternoon heat. They do nothing, I see nothing, I’ve learned nothing. The real action isn’t happening here, but just to the right.
All these events are being streamed on YouTube, and the live chat window boils over with instantaneous analysis and petty grudges. One commenter, “croatia? more like catholic srbija,” is repeatedly announcing that “C R O A T I A I S G A Y.” There’s a lively debate over which European country is the most cucked—Sweden, for instance, has a “prolapsed anus.” As usual, a few dedicated idiots are trying to question the historicity of the Holocaust. Other users spam porn titles (“GirlsDoPorn Ep. 29,” “Lilo DAP Anal GapeThatAss COHF”) and transcribe Green Day lyrics (“bolevourd of broken dreams… a walk alone… a walk alone… aaa aaaa a a”). Welcome to the future of eternal war.
The Mosul offensive is streamed on YouTube by the Kurdish media group Rûdaw and Ruptly, Russia Today’s Berlin-based video agency; the feeds are relayed on Facebook Live by al-Jazeera and Channel 4 News. On Facebook, emojis bubble up from the bottom of the screen in time with the rising pillar of dust as another IED detonates: shocked face, angry face, Zuckerberg-blue thumbs-up sign.
This is the first time a war has been turned so directly into an object for public consumption, and the moral questions are obvious. Isn’t this repulsive? People are really dying in and around Mosul; surely it’s grotesque to turn the battle into a piece of entertainment. But the battle for Mosul isn’t at all entertaining. It’s something else.”