Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden

28116811Nonfiction — print. Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. 298 pgs. Purchased.

Subtitled “Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq”, Glidden’s graphic memoir recounts her travels through the Middle East with two friends reporting on the plight of refugees from the Iraq War. Glidden is there to report on the reporters; she wants to learn what journalism is and how journalists operate in their quest to tell a particular story.

“What is journalism? Is it exposing your reader to a history they might not otherwise hear about, one that might put other events in context? Is it showing them a story of someone who has suffered injustice and hoping that they will make connections to other, similar injustices that continue? Is it making something because you hope people will respond in what you think is the “correct” way and take action? Is it telling the story that came to you, even if it’s not the one you went looking for? Maybe the question really is: What is journalism FOR? What’s the point?” (pg. 296)

Rounding out the group is a childhood friend of one of the journalists named Dan. A former US Marine who served as a convoy driver during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dan is returning to the region for the first time in the hopes of learning more about the people whose country he and his fellow Marines invaded. Sarah, the journalist and childhood friend of Dan’s, hopes that Dan’s return to the Middle East will offer the journalism non-profit she co-founded an interesting angle with which to approach the refugee crisis.

As the foursome travel around the Middle East, Sarah the journalist must grapple with how Dan is an unwilling interviewee. Or, at least, he’s not the interviewee and, therefore, the story that Sarah wants him to be. He doesn’t feel remorse for the war; he doesn’t believe that what the United States and its military did in Iraq is inherently evil.

Sarah is convinced that he’s lying to himself, that he just hasn’t seen or spoken to enough refugees to truly understand. And she spends much of the book arguing with him and trying to rephrase her questions to chase specific answers. A situation that, to be frank, offers a more critical examination of journalism than I expected from Glidden’s memoir.

Is Sarah bulling Dan in order to extract out the story she wants to tell? Or, does she do herself and her reads a disservice by accepting his answers at face value? How do expectations color the work of journalists? If the return of a war vet to the former war zone was supposed to be her hook for American readers, how does she get people to car about the other stories she’s trying to tell? What’s the “spin” needed to get news outlets to pay for your work?

All fascinating questions, and all ones that become increasingly important as the idea of “fake news” and the chase of “click bait” undermines the work of journalists in America and abroad.

This is my fourth book for #20BooksofSummer. I purchased this book on October 15, 2016 after hearing Glidden speak on comics as a medium for nonfiction works at the Boston Book Festival. I know the exact date because I found the receipt tucked inside the book as I was (finally) reading it. 


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