Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Juba the sniper

It was luckily past seven when the Norwegian Broadcasting called today, and I was awake and about to get ready for the day. Their issue was Juba the sniper. Juba is a mysterious figure, an individual or a myth, who kills American soldiers in Baghdad. He never misses, he is never seen and he always leaves a little message. There are no civilian victims, and afterwards, there are videos of his shot circulated in secret on the net.

Or so the story goes.

Bagdhad Treasure blogged how Juba is becoming a hero in Baghdad. The Guardian wrote about him. There is a wikipedia page on him. Some speculate that he may not be Iraqi at all, but Isreali. People are using computer games to make simulations of the movies. And that's where I became an interesting subject to interview.

Since I do research on internet communication and computer games, I ought to know why this is so popular, don't I? So that's what the journalist asked - why is this so popular on the net? Juba and sniper gets 35000 hits on google. The journalist was impressed. And it had to be the internet that made this case special.

I was a difficult subject, and didn't agree with him (although I'd like to hear what comes out of the conversation - probably nothing, he forgot to confirm my name and title.) I think this is such a good story that if a regular journalist had got to it first, it would have been all over the mainstream news together with other grisly amateur film cuts. It is a perfect tale: the lone hero who fights the opressors singlehandedly by killing them neatly one by one with no civilian casualties. A one-man war, we love them whether the one man is Roger Moore, John Wayne or Jackie Chan. It is, of course, a little more problematic when the one man army is taking shots at our allies. They are however soldiers, shooting soldiers is an act of war, not terror. Terrorism is the use of force against what would otherwise be innocent bystanders - whether it's allied soldiers who use it or the Irish Republican Army. Who thought of themselves as an army of soldiers at war too.

So there is a certain narrative flair to the tale, one that understandably appeals particularly to the young and restless in Baghdad. Just think of Carlos the Jackal, and his type of horrible fame. Then there is the video game angle. The journalist asked me if it didn't look like a video game. I just realised what I should have answered. It's not the video faking a game, but the game and the video both relating to some idea about how a sniper shot will look like through the video camera of a sniper rifle. And so people have games available to let them replay and pretend the same phenomenon as they hear about through other sources, and make similar videos, one of them even using the game America's Army, thoughtfully provided by the US government.

As a phenomenon it's interesting. It's a story spreading and living on the net. Again, Gibson was there first, with Pattern Recognition - only he didn't write about snipers, and was a lot more subtle.

And before somebody writes me to tell me how horrible all this is and how I should not talk about American soldiers being killed in Iraq in the same post as anything to do with fun, games and hero worship, let me say that I think all violent death where one human wilfully causes the death of another human is horrible. I understand the logical arguments for war and legalised violence, but I don't agree with it as a solution to anything - nor do I think it is a good thing that snipers shoot soldiers. I wish they could all have jacked into their different gamestations and let the best gamer win, then had a beer or a cup of tea afterwards.

Update: No, they didn't use my comments in the program. I guess I de-dramatised things too much. Sometimes not being mentioned means you did a good job, you know.

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