This kind of participant media undermines the tradition of the polite, agreed-on fiction—the airbrushed version of history. When we visualize past battles, we call up a library of orderly, after-the-fact images: Washington standing in a rowboat, soldiers raising a flag in concert. Even the defining photo of the Vietnam War—Kim Phuc, a village girl wailing while running naked from a napalm attack—was haunting and horrifying but also artful and well composed.
First-person violence is more bathetic, sloppy and nonsensical than history-book memory, and maybe badly shot amateur footage is its truest representation. Cell-phone video of the French Revolution would not have glowed like a Jacques-Louis David painting. Likewise, what we saw out of Libya was not pretty, for Gaddafi or—however much he had it coming—for our image of humanity. All the more reason we should see it. This may be how we remember our next generation’s worth of history as popular revolt is married to populist media. Tyrants of the world, take note: when the executioner comes for you, he is likely to bring his own videographer.