Monday, May 24, 2004

Last night I deleted part of what I posted about Susan Sontag's New York Times Magazine cover story on Abu Ghraib. I don't know why I backed off. Even though Sontag means to indict American society, some of what she says is all but indistinguishable from blame-shifting nonsense uttered by Rush Limbaugh, Charles Colson, and others on the right -- people who want you to believe that Abu Ghraib happened because of bad individual morals rather than bad government policy:


Why did it even occur to our soldiers today to molest and embarrass these prisoners sexually? I think it is in part because we live in a pornography-soaked culture. You can’t turn on the television without seeing it. The number of movies that you can watch is minimal because so many are filled with moral rot, four-letter words, and brazen sex acts. The Internet is full of pornography, and when we make efforts to curb it, the courts strike them down. And so our kids are raised in this kind of garbage.

Limbaugh: we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever...


...most of the pictures seem part of a larger confluence of torture and pornography: a young woman leading a naked man around on a leash is classic dominatrix imagery. And you wonder how much of the sexual tortures inflicted on the inmates of Abu Ghraib was inspired by the vast repertory of pornographic imagery available on the Internet -- and which ordinary people, by sending out Webcasts of themselves, try to emulate.

Rich Lowry in National Review: was shocking to see a large gloved man smiling in a picture with his arms crossed as he stood over a pile of naked Iraqi detainees, but there was something familiar about it too. The apotheosis of the strong. There was something familiar in the picture of Lynndie England, with a cigarette dangling from her lips, pointing her finger at the genitals of a naked detainee. We know what she's doing in that picture — she's trying to seem cool. She thinks that cruelty is a game, that the strong engage in it casually.


Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people: it was all fun. And this idea of fun is, alas, more and more -- contrary to what President Bush is telling the world -- part of ''the true nature and heart of America.'' It is hard to measure the increasing acceptance of brutality in American life...

Oliver North:

...for 13 or 14 days now, all we have seen on the front pages of America's newspapers is a group of obviously twisted young people with leashes and weird sex acts, the kind of thing that you might find on any college campus nowadays, being perpetrated by people in uniform.

Roger Hedgecock, substitute host for Rush Limbaugh:

...I mean the more -- you know, I know this was the first day or two, I guess, that Rush was getting into this -- the more I think about it, the more he was right the first time. He said, "This is like -- this is like a, a, uh, a prank; this is like college; this is like fraternities; this is -- this is just these people. This is how they were raised."


From the harsh torments inflicted on incoming students in many American suburban high schools -- depicted in Richard Linklater's 1993 film, ''Dazed and Confused'' -- to the hazing rituals of physical brutality and sexual humiliation in college fraternities and on sports teams, America has become a country in which the fantasies and the practice of violence are seen as good entertainment, fun....

To ''stack naked men'' is like a college fraternity prank, said a caller to Rush Limbaugh and the many millions of Americans who listen to his radio show. Had the caller, one wonders, seen the photographs? No matter. The observation -- or is it the fantasy? -- was on the mark.

Is the culture at fault? Find me the violent video game (or action film or XXX Web site) with naked male monkey piles offered as entertainment or porn.

Is modern life at fault? Shipboard flogging and precinct-house brutality predate Tarantino movies and Internet porn by a hell of a lot of years; even a couple of Sontag's examples date from before most of the Abu Ghraib MPs were born -- frat hazing goes way back, and Richard Linklater's semi-autobiographical Dazed and Confused is set in 1978.*

These abuses happened because people who have far more power than the MPs wanted them to happen.


*Correction: It was set in 1976. (Thanks to SullyWatch for pointing that out.)

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