"Army of Dude" - more than a milblog


 

Abstract

 In our world of www 2.0, “weblogs” or “blogs” and their authors, “bloggers”, are on everyone’s lips. However, what is there behind the term? A genre? A medium? Does it convey a message or is itself the message? Blogs, often simply labelled as a new genre of online writing, need to be considered a medium rather than a genre because of their capacity of opening up multiple channels of communication and encompassing all different types of genres. The so-called milblog "Army of Dude" is a perfect examples of this complex, multi-generic medium since it encompasses "typical" milblog content in the Photo Stories, but also a Love Story and pieces of classical writing such as a Short Story.

 

What is a Blog?

 

 

Wikipedia, prompt and valued assistant, says that 

o       the term is contracted from web and log

o       it is a web site on which an in individual posts entries of comment on a particular subject or on personal matters, displayed in reverse-chronological order

o       it typically combines text, images, and links to other blogs 

 

The Wikipedia Encyclopaedia breaks down the different categories of blogs according to their type and content and the way it is delivered. There are mentioned personal blogs, corporate blogs, etc. It is argued that blogs can be categorised by their genre, referring to those blogs that focus on a particular subject such as political blogs, travel blogs, etc.

 

This definition is insufficient and ambiguous because it fails to recognise that

--> What category do blogs belong to?

--> Do these characteristics make blogs a whole new literary genre? Or are they rather a medium than a genre?

 

These questions have to be discussed in order to fully understand what a blog actually is. In order to understand the relevance of blog it is crucial to uncover the meaning behind the term and the variable ways in which it is being used.

 

Susan Herring points out that blogs are essentially different from every previous form of internet communication and that it holds a vast array of potential, providing:

 

Herring argues that blogs form “a de facto bridge between multimedia HTML documents and text-based computer-mediated communication, thereby blurring the traditional distinction between these two dominant Internet paradigms, and potentially contributing to its breakdown in the future”.

 

Along with Blood, Herring distinguishes three different types of blog:

  1. filter blogs whose content is external to the blogger
  2. personal blogs whose content is internal to blogger
  3. notebooks which are distinguished by their focused essays, dealing with either internal or external content

 

However, Herring herself admits that there is a vast amount of “mixed” blogs whose content cannot be categorised that easily. Formal and technical definitions have been criticised for their framing blogs “as a genre that can be demarcated through structure and segmented through content typ” (Boyd).

 

Danah Boyd, being a dedicated blogger herself, argues that it doesn’t do blogs justice to describe them through metaphors and thereby attributing properties of an old concept into a new one. She prefers to understand blogs as a medium rather than a genre. She points out that

 

--> "By conceptualizing the blog as a medium instead of a genre, it is possible to see how blogs are more akin to paper than to diaries. It is not the conventions or content types that define blogs, but the framework in which people can express themselves” (Boyd). This approach of understanding blogs as a medium rather than a genre gains further backup by the notion of Himmer, that “every weblog can be considered literary in the sense that it calls attention not only to what we read, but also to the unique way we read it” (Himmer).For instance, most weblogs offer both factual and interpretive information and leave it up to the reader to consider it trustworthy or not. This is when the communicative model between the author and the reader becomes significant. Like every other author, the blogger writes not to himself (as by the way many do when writing a diary), but to an implied audience. This leads on to some further characteristics of weblogs:

 

o       “Commercial services such as weblog software Blogger … made it possible to post blogs without any technological knowledge … [and] allow ordinary people to become content creators, able to publish and potentially globally distribute their writing” (Wall 156) 

o       to varying degrees depending on the blogger, readers may express their views and thereby enter a quasi-discourse

o       “while some bloggers aspire to a large audience, most are concerned with blogging to those that they know and the potential of like-minded strangers who stumble across their site” (Boyd)

o       share similarities to the personal home page when sharing of personal information, diary-like personal accounts

o       provide links to other blogs and/or news sources, therefore socially interactive and community-like

 

 Summary

Blogs can be considered literary, but they are not a literary genre because they “can express a wide range of genres, in accordance with the communicative needs of its users” (Herring, my emphasis). They may have antecedents in other (old or new) media like diaries, journals, personal homepages, etc. but should not should not be simplified categorised because their various appliances put forward the assumption to understand them as a medium rather than a genre. As Danah Boyd puts it, blogs “blur the line between orality and textuality, … creat[ing] a dynamic that is synchronous and asynchronous, performative and voyeuristic” (Boyd). Citing a fellow blogger, she breaks down the definition of a blog to the concise line

“It’s a blog because a blogger’s doing it.” (Boyd, my emphasis)

 

During the Second Iraq war, a certain type of blogs gained particular attention, the so-called milblogs, “blogs written and maintained by someone in the military” (Wikipedia). Milblogs are often considered a new form of war journalism.

 

Melissa Wall argues that during the second Iraq war, “mainstream media … became less critical of the government and military actions” and that therefore, people turned more and more to the internet, including war blogs, for war news. Her claim is that

“these blogs represent a new genre of journalism – offering news that features a narrative style characterized by personalization and an emphasis on non-institutional status; audience participation and content creation; and story forms that are fragmented and interdependent with other websites.

 

One of these milblogs is “Army of Dude”, kept by the young American soldier Alex Horton who has been stationed in Iraq and is now back home. His manifold, complex blog serves as a perfect example for the previously supported thesis that blogs are not a genre themselves, but a multi-generic medium.

 

“Army of Dude” – a milblog and beyond

There are particularly three elements or recurring themes of Alex’ blog that distinguish it from an ordinary “milblog” and are different from what one would expect from a milblog.

 

The Monday Photo Stories

On Monday, November 05, 2007 Alex introduces to his reader a “new weekly series”, promising that

    

"Every Monday I'll bring to you a riveting story from my tour in Iraq with pictures I've taken, unless otherwise noted."

 

And a couple of weeks later, on Monday, January 28, 2008, he comments on this specific type of entries:

    

"Every Monday for a few months, I've been bringing you tales of battlefield excitement, from ducking machine gun fire to uncovering mass graves. While these stories are intense and need to be told, they really don't show for you the true realities one experiences in war: infinite, soul crushing boredom (…)."

 

For our purpose particularly important about these entries are the following points:

 

The point is that all these elements that can be found in these postings do not belong to one particular genre. The detailed descriptions of the incidents resemble diaries, yet, since they are written from retrospective, they also resemble autobiographies. This again does not serve a sufficient classification as well since the medium of the blog enables the text to remain dynamic and open, as for instance the numerous comments show.

 

The love story

The degree to which bloggers reveal details about their private life is up to them. Some prefer it to remain anonymous, others (like the author of “Army of Dude”) give their full names, pictures of themselves, and also add an email address. Generally speaking, one may say that in “contemporary industrialized societies, … the public and the private sphere seem to meld and merge” (Serfaty 83, my emphasis). One striking example for this exposure of the private sphere of the blogger’s life is Alex’ love story with his now-girlfriend Lauren, whose getting together the reader of the blog was able to follow. The posting of Thursday, March 13, 2008 tells a lot about this love story

 

 

"Any writing opened a window her to get to know me better"

 

 

What is noteworthy here is that firstly, Lauren was the motivation for Alex to start blogging and that hence, he presumably started writing with Lauren as one major implied reader. Secondly, while the flashbacks into the past, his missions in Iraq, happened in the past, the reader also takes part in the bloggers present life – this possibility to write about the past, the present and the future is unique in weblogs.

 

The short story

The third extraordinary element of “Army of Dude” is that Alex is totally aware of his function as an author. On Friday, June 15, 2007 he writes a short story about how his meeting Lauren could have been if he had been able to return to the States by the time they were promised in the first place.

 

Conclusion

 

To sum it all up, “weblogs” have to be considered as a medium rather than a genre. The so-called milblog is an illuminating example of its complex, multilayered nature with elements of all different “genres” of writing and communication. By encompassing characteristics of news journals, diaries, entertainment media (War/Action and Love Story), autobiography, and at the same time being interactive and encouraging discourse between author and audience, the blog opens up a whole set of channels and therefore is undeniably more than just a genre.

 

Sources

 

Blood, Rebecca. "How Blogging Software Reshaped the Online Community". Communications of the ACM. December 2004. 20 August 2008. <http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/blog_software.html>

 

Boyd, Danah. "A Blogger's Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium." 2006: Reconstruction 6 (4). <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml>

 

Herring, S. C., Scheidt, L. A., Bonus, S., and Wright, E. (2004). “Bridging the gap: A genre analysis of weblogs.” Proceedings of the 37th Hawai'i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-37). Los Alamitos: IEEE Computer Society Press. <http://www.blogninja.com/DDGDD04.doc>

 

Himmer, Steve. "The Labyrinth Unbound: Weblogs as Literature". Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric Unbound. 19 August 2008. <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/labyrinth_unbound.html>

 

Horton, Alex. “Army of Dude.” <http://armyofdude.blogspot.com>

 

Merriam-Webster. “Genre.” Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. 23 August 2008. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genre>

 

Serfaty, Viviane. “Chapter Four. The Private – Public Divide.” The Mirror and the Veil. An Overview of American Online Diaries and Blogs. Rodopi: New York, 2004. 83-97.

 

Wall, Melissa. “’Blogs of war’. Weblogs as news.” Journalism. 2005, 6: 153-172. 22 February 2008. <http://jou.sageepub.com>

 

Wikipedia. “Blog”. 21 August 2008 . <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog>