Imperial War Museum trip - a student's view

Artist Jeremy Deller next to the car exhibitWalk into the foyer of the Imperial War Museum in London and you may be forgiven for thinking you were inside a ‘Modelzone’, a shop devoted to collectable war replicas. Littered across the atrium are countless examples of British military iconography. The Spitfire hangs valiantly from the rooftop, emblematic of the triumphalism often associated with military success and War in general. However, juxtaposed against these adulated instruments of warfare lies a burnt-out Volvo from Iraq. Simply entitled ‘5th March 2007’, the wreckage was salvaged from a car bomb explosion that took the lives of 38 people in a busy Baghdad market. Resembling little more than a contorted, rusting wreck, the car acts as a powerful image illustrating not only the literal implications of the Iraq conflict, but of War in general.

The museum offers a very different approach to mediatized forms of war reporting or dramatizations. No framing is in operation, no templates of previous conflicts are used, and exasperated Hollywood storylines do not feature. Instead the eclectic mix of exhibits offers scope for personal interpretation. The wreckage overrules the abstract notion of warfare we develop through the dissemination of news content. Often the constant barrage of images depicting violence and the subsequent unfathomable tally of casualties and fatalities make it difficult to comprehend the human cost of conflicts. Instead, here, the broader political relevance of warfare takes priority. Where the Imperial War Museum really excels is through the collections' ability to deconstruct this discourse and illustrate the realism of conflicts either through symbolism (e.g. 5th March 2007) or through moving personalised narratives, as witnessed within the Holocaust exhibit.

The effect of unmediated communication, directly from a person affected by a conflict to the information consumer, is extremely relevant in the New Political Communication field. Just as the private accounts of Holocaust survivors at the museum caused a much more emotive, tangible interpretation of the traumatic events of the Second World War, social media tools are increasingly connecting personal accounts of conflicts to individuals globally, as seen in recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. This poses an interesting question as to how these direct relationships will affect frame dominance during military action.

Thank you to the Imperial War Museum and Dr O’Loughlin for organising an engaging and informative tour.

James Dennis - @dennisdcfc

MSc New Political Communication 2010-11