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Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac

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Chapter 5

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COMMENTARY

The New War Ecology

Andrew Hoskins

All forms of media have sat uneasily with the idea of the formation of authentic and deep memory and history. For example, Maurice Halbwachs who inaugurated the modern study of collective memory argues: ‘Our memory truly rests not on learned history but on lived history’.1 Under the governance of this formula it is not surprising that most of twentieth century (and earlier) media were seen as inevitably representational, always chasing living memory, the present never quite matching the past, no matter how much effort was invested in its recreation or re-enactment. A more nuanced perspective is to recognise media’s functioning in what I have called ‘new memory’.2 That is to say that memory is constantly renewed by the media and technologies (and the metaphors) of the day, in this way it is always ‘new’ as well as through these same media reflexively shaping a reassessment of the very value of remembering and forgetting under these conditions.

Tom Sear’s ‘Uncanny valleys’ chapter nicely illuminates the digital or ‘postdigital’s’ intensification of new memory in two key ways. Firstly, he highlights the shift in media enabling a new kind of ‘lived history’ in the commemorative re-temporalising of the Gallipoli campaign in Australia, New Zealand and Turkey in 2015. And, secondly, Sear shows how the debate on the role of media in commemoration is no longer focused on the cheapening effects of certain media seen as over-popularising the history of catastrophic twentieth century events, but rather with the compelling and uncanny character of the digital’s collapsing of multiple modes of distance between then and now. And I now briefly expand on these two aspects.

To comprehend the impact of media on an array of events requires a shift in emphasis from ‘representationality’ (the objectivity and accuracy of an image) to that of ‘mediality’.3 Mediality refers to how media texts are interwoven into our lives through the familiarity of our media practices: how we routinely produce, post, filter, edit, share, reshape, remediate, message, archive, and delete digital media content. Essentially, this is part of a fundamental shift following the connective turn from a disconnected, anonymous and mostly passive mass media audience who consumed ‘learned history’ (in Halbwachs’ terms above) to a new multitude of connected and visible users or participants who are entangled in the production of commemorative events, rather than merely observers of them.

But for Sear, the marking of the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign was something more than mediality, something beyond connected real-time participation, to a new way of living history. For example, News Corp Australia’s Anzac Live project converted prominent Australian Gallipoli diarists into avatars, rescripting the event as though it was being witnessed for the first time through today’s digital media ecology and facilitating interaction with ‘followers’ which seemed ‘strange and impossible’. The uncanniness of this effect, however, is not only felt in the ‘oscillations’ in Sear’s terms between an unfolding real-time present and a remediated unfolding real-time past. The media of the day imprints itself on events that shape how they are remembered in the future, as Geoffrey Bowker puts it: ‘Each new medium imprints its own special flavor to the memories of that epoch’.4 And Ingrid Volkmer’s research into ‘global generations media’ demonstrates ‘the relevance of the media environment for generation-specific perceptions of the world, despite national, cultural, and societal differences’.5

But whereas older media forms are often upgraded, where transferable, for consumption in the dominant media of the day, the Anzac Live project is an example of the subversion of earlier media ecologies, in Bowker’s terms, by undermining the ‘special flavor’ imprinted by early twentieth century media on events, that help locate and distinguish them in time and as history. In other words, Anzac Live was not a commemorative event that merely extended, augmented, or protheticsied the memory of the Gallipoli campaign, but should be seen rather as a case of a new memory entanglement of human and technological remembrance. In this way, this commemoration is irreducibly sociotechnical, transcending the social and the technological, being part human, part algorithmic, in the continuous production of a new historical present.

In broader terms of the shifting relations between media, memory, war and history, Sear’s concluding call for historians to ‘generate understandings of how the memory technologies of the present, and human interaction with them, are reframing the history of the future’, also speaks to the profound digital transformation of the start of the commemorative arc, as well as to its most recent re-configuration.

There is a pattern to the remembrances of some of the twentieth century’s conflicts and catastrophes in their initial limited and awkward public markings and reflections. For example, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and the Falklands War, were all marked by following periods of limited and mostly private recollection, denial, unspoken trauma, and non-memory. But once their memorial dams had burst, these events were gripped by cycles of intensive commemoration and memorialisation of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century memory booms. For instance, Jay Winter identifies the time lag between mid- to late twentieth Century war and genocide and what he calls a second memory boom6 from the 1970s as a shift in ‘the balance of creation, adaptation, and circulation’ of memory.7 This shift was firmly embedded in the translation and remediation media of the day, with the new affordability of the personal video recorder in the 1970s and 1980s driving a new archival era of recorded witness testimony. But an explanation as to why this period also saw a revival of the commemoration of the First World War is provided by Eelco Runia in that: ‘a generation after the First World War we were too busy making history to be able to commemorate it’.8 Thus, the emergence of commemoration (during the twentieth century) of the Great Wars was ‘blocked’ by the silencing of traumatic memory as well as by more war itself.

In this century, however, the digital reverses the memorial arc through a new structure of memorialisation that is near-synchronous with events themselves and war itself is emergent in a memory boom, almost preremembered. In this ‘new war ecology’9 there is a new urgency to memorial politics with memory actors who after earlier wars would have been scattered in time and space instead are connected through a kind of living archive.

The so-called ‘collective memory’ of war in this way is not something that is recalled but rather unfolds from war itself. The once hidden and official (military, government) record is pressured in a fluid war ecology in which individual soldiers, survivors, the bereaved, artists, journalists, museums etc. all contribute and compete in memorial acts of an immediacy and forms unimaginable in the aftermath of wars of the previous century. In this way, the deeply unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are both contested and legitimised through remembrances enacted at least a generation earlier than many wars commemorated through slower and more fragmented media ecologies.

Of course the major commemorations (particularly from the 1990s onwards) of the Great Wars mark the end of their memorial arcs in terms of the diminishment of the numbers of survivors (a shift from ‘communicative’ to ‘cultural’ memory in Jan Assmann’s formulation).10 Yet, Sear has shown that the postdigital offers new commemorative beginnings and imaginings which undermine the stability of generational horizons of memory and forgetting.

What remains to be seen, however, is the potential for the memory of war in the new war ecology. The new structure of memorialisation being too close to war itself may actually undermine the future of memory, with the postdigital disabling its capacity to change, transform and dissipate, in other words a kind of ironic blockage of commemoration, by commemoration.

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1 Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, trans. Francis J. Ditter Jr and Vida Yazdi Ditter, Introduction by Mary Douglas, (London: Harper & Row, 1980), 57.

2 Andrew Hoskins, ‘New Memory: Mediating History’, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 21, No. 4 (2001): 191-211; Andrew Hoskins, Televising War: From Vietnam to Iraq, (London: Continuum, 2004).

3 Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin, War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010); Richard Grusin, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

4 Geoffrey C. Bowker, Memory Practices in the Sciences, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 26.

5 Ingrid Volkmer (ed.), News in Public Memory: An International Study of Media Memories across Generations, (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 7.

6 The first memory boom for Winter is marked by the 1890s to the 1920s, when memory was central to the formation of national identities and the memorialising of the victims of the Great War (Winter, 18).

7 Jay Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 26.

8 Eelco Runia, Moved by the Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 11.

9 Andrew Hoskins, (forthcoming) 21st Century War: Media, Memory, History.

10 Jan Assmann, ‘Collective Memory and Cultural Identity’, New German Critique 65 (1995): 125-133.

Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on Anzac

   by Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates