Just Look What They"ve Made Us Do!


"He who fights monsters should beware lest he himself become a monster." -- Nietzsche

CounterPunch has posted a piece by Robert Fisk of The Independent, "Racism & Torture as Entertainment: From Hollywood to Abu Ghraib," that I'm going to use as a hook for something I've been meaning to say. Fisk writes: "When the young woman involved in [the Iraqi-prisoner] torture expressed her surprise at all the fuss, I immediately understood why. Not because what she did was routine -- though it clearly was -- but because that is how she was told to treat these Iraqi prisoners. Hadn't they been killing American soldiers, setting off car bombs, murdering schoolchildren? Hollywood turned into reality."

Fisk has perhaps spared himself any exposure to American TV; but as TLD readers know, when I tire of translating Petrarch and Dante into Ciceronian Latin, I sometimes activate my own dusty television device. And over the past couple of years -- since the late summer of 2001, in fact -- I've noticed that some of the networks' "thriller" series have started to bring torture into the mass-entertainment mainstream -- all in the interests of greater realism, of course. And I'm referring to torture perpetrated by the "good guys."

"Threat Matrix," "24," and "Alias" are three such series I can name off the top of my head. I invite readers to provide other examples. In the shows, we see heroic, good-hearted characters being "forced" to torture suspects in urgent defense of the Empire. Our heroes agonize. They sweat, they grimace. Why, they often seem to be suffering as much as their victims! But you see our brave paladins *have no choice*. Desperate circumstances have *driven them to adopt desperate measures* -- and abandon morality in favor of utilitarianism -- even though, really, the milk of human kindness runs through their veins.

In the universe of these shows -- which viewers are invited to accept as the real universe -- no questionable policies on the part of the United State have provoked terrorists to attack the American homeland. The shows exist in the same fictional universe as the one inhabited by George W. Bush -- where evil folks just hate good folks and do evil things to them because, well, because that's what evil folks do.

One doesn't know for sure exactly how long the U.S. Organs of State Security have practiced torture; we may be confident that they didn't abruptly start on September 12, 2001; but twenty years ago -- even ten years ago -- American mainstream TV shows just could not have shown "admirable" U.S. government employees torturing suspects. The audience wouldn't have stood for it, and the regime wouldn't have stood for it, either. And perhaps it would have occurred even to ordinary people channel-surfing in their recliners that if torture had become "necessary" in the context of imperial premises, then someone had better go back and check those premises.

No longer, it seems. How far we have come.

Your rating: None
Nicholas Strakon's picture
Columns on STR: 9