Project Reviews

Killer Entertainments
Created and maintained by Jennifer Terry and Raegan Kelly, Vectors Journal, and University of Southern California Institute for Multimedia Literacy

Killer Entertainments displays 33 viral videos of military actions in the War on Terror shared between three viewing windows. Points of interest are drawn from the videos to create micro-narratives on political and economic discourse, military operations, particular individuals, locations, and video techniques. The project attempts to contextualize the videos by creating a network of common themes meant to incite discussion about the war. Sources are derived from various video, news, and government websites, in addition to academic print.

The project utilizes the Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular space from the University of Southern California. The international online journal maintained by the University of Southern California's Institute for Multimedia Literacy explores the convergence of culture and technology in the shaping of our daily world. Vectors publishes projects that are best told through the multimedia tools of in the digital sphere.

A joint venture by Jennifer Terry and Raegan Kelly, Killer Entertainments addresses the role of video in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Serving as a crucial reminder of the similarities between the response to the Vietnam War, the project attempts to answer the question of how to present and analyze videos taken by combat troops without diminishing or sensationalizing their contribution. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have become an afterthought for much of the American public. Killer Entertainments presents site visitors with the necessary scholarship to draw their own conclusions about the conflicts.

Utilizing Cultural Studies methods, writer Jennifer Terry probes the tacit nature of knowledge and power in the human mind. This power-knowledge dualism materializes in the ideas, visualizations, identities, and relationships of a dynamic society. In configuring the design, Raegan Kelly aimed to give visitors the chance to make, "Critical observations, to begin to apprehend affectively, visually, and intellectually some of the motivations and decisions driving both the production and the dissemination of these pieces [videos]." The three frame horizontal format allows for indiscriminate viewing of the selected videos in single, double or triple playback mode. Depending on the level of action in individual videos, viewing three videos simultaneously alludes to the perception of chaos in war, suggestive of the variety of viewpoints available in a warzone.

As you watch, key frames trigger access to concepts, analysis, and contextual information. Through these little blurbs you are able to track the threads common not only to the media but also to the popular entertainments of everyday life. The scholarly points connected to each video literally strafe across the display with a changeover in footage. Only by participating are readers able to control the production of links that puncture the screen much like a bullet. After extensive exploration of the project the page takes on the sight of a battlefield, littered with red tracers, dried blood spots and bullet holes.

Unlike most scholarship which tends to be hidden from the public eye, one of the greatest attributes of digital works is their ability to reach the masses. However, if people still are unaware of a project then how different is it from everyday academic print obscurity? Killer Entertainments' greatest weakness is not in its presentation, but in its accessibility. Even though the site is not barred through means of membership, it is linked to less than five websites. Moreover, I had little success in my attempts to access the project through a keyword search using words used within the project, such as viral or military video.

Recognizing its innovative design, linked websites valued Killer Entertainments as a study on the presentation and methodology of digital scholarship. For instance, The Digital Humanities Initiative within the Davis Humanities Institute at UC Davis used it as a teaching tool for a class examining technology in everyday America as seen through war and the digital media. The Critical Commons: For Fair and Critical Participation in Media Culture website took note of Terry and Kelly's videos created by soldiers in combat zones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, some as "official" recordings; others that were taken as amateur video on cell phones or personal video cameras. Hence, the Critical Commons acknowledges Killer Entertainments employment of non-commercial media as objects of fair use, "Killer Entertainments takes particular care to treat its objects of study with respect, resisting the temptation to simply overlay heavy-handed revisionist critiques or politically charged diatribes against the cynicism of the war."

In the experimental phase of one of the first digital projects The Differences Slavery Made, creator Edward Ayers claims they failed to succeed in their mission of a "fusion" of content and platform, not taking advantage of the platform to assist in the argument. Killer Entertainments accounts for the failings of past projects, utilizing the entire space and tools to argue its point.

Visitors are forced to actively participate in order to discover everything the project has to offer. Through the combination of music, voice, and visual interactive structures, visitors gain knowledge through experiences. The raw footage captures the full range of human emotions be it fear, panic, excitement, adrenaline, and calm. Viral videos allow the user to bear witness to combat in its truest form through the sights captured on film and the sounds of gunfire, commands and profanity. Purposefully ephemeral in nature, the videos selected for analysis can be found at any number of popular video sharing sites. Although content is over 80 percent U.S., the use of insurgent video made by the Islamic Army of Iraq and locals leads to intriguing discourse against the American-centric view of the war. Visitors reach a new level of understanding while watching insurgent videos of RPG strikes on U.S. aircraft, IED attacks on coalition convoys, and views of dead American troops.

Creators Jenny Terry and Raegan Kelly's design cultivates the many attributes of the digital medium by making use of its nonlinear capabilities. Simultaneous links and visuals allow the visitor to take in multiple viewpoints without focusing on a single argument, consequently giving the user a greater depth and range of knowledge in which to make their own interpretations. Killer Entertainments is proof that innovation and form do not have to be sacrificed for clear navigation. However, the project's highly interpretive nature lacked a quantitative thread of commonality. A concept map tracking the number of times specific points were applicable could serve to reinforce their argument. Never the less, Killer Entertainments is digital scholarship at its best, pushing the envelope of media incorporation with abstract design and giving the visitor interpretive opportunities not afforded in the world of the monograph.

Jenna Schutz
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: December 2009