Saturday, March 31, 2007

Movies Seen

Til Death Do Us Part on Court TV, by John Waters
I can't decide yet if this is too creepy to keep watching. John Waters directs these vignettes of true crime, marriages ending in murder. He begins the show with himself in the first scene. Whether a bystander or a guest at the wedding, he has some snarky Serling-esque comment for the camera. He's the best part of the show.

Road to Guantanamo
More true crime, this perpetrated by our government. This documentary follows the story that led three British Pakistanis to a horrific stay at Guantanamo, courtesy of the US government. Dramatization alternates with interviews. One of the four friends is getting married in Pakistan. They hear an imam preach and decide to visit Afghanistan to help people. One of the four is lost and likely dead. The remaining three are on their way back to Pakistan, not having found a way to 'help', when they are swept up by the Northern Alliance. They are separated. One survives a trip in a metal shipping container. Some died from lack of air, and some died from the bullets used to create airholes. It is absolutely disgusting that my country had something to do with this. It is absolutely disgusting that gitmo is still open for business.

I can see how this happens. Many humans are a hairs-breadth away from becoming torturers. Witness the Milgram experiment. Witness the Stanford Prison Experiment. Philip Zimbardo has just come out with a new book, The Lucifer Effect. He says of the book, "I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971." He hawked it on The Daily Show just the other day.

For me, the most visceral moment in this movie happened when a prisoner was placed in solitary confinement, made to squat, feet and hands shackled together. Loud heavy metal music blasted the cell. I felt a mild flashback in my body as it brought me back to a time when my stepfather had me crabwalk around the dining room table for what seemed an eternity. I was around ten years old. I crabwalked until my arms and legs gave out and my butt collapsed to the floor. Raging, he kicked me in the back, and I crabwalked some more. I don't remember what it was I'd done to merit this punishment. Most of the time I'd forgotten some chore, or I hadn't done a chore good enough. Pondering this karmic ghost triggered by torture at Guantanamo, I remembered that I'd just come home happy and carefree from a day with my dad. That was probably what I'd done wrong.

We Americans torture our children, not always behind closed doors. It is no small wonder then that our government has sanctioned torture and thinks valid information will come from it. We are a nation full of insecure, self-hating people that lash out at those weaker than us. The Dalai Lama himself has commented on our tendency to insecurity. Underneath our hatred and entitlement is a fear that we deserve to be hated, and are not entitled. Mix in a few elements of Milgram and Stanford Prison, and we have war crimes.

I'm not trying to create an argument or a polemic here, to any who would argue with me for the need to torture to glean information. That flashback did serve a purpose, it gave me an intuitive insight into the pervasive dependency this society has on violence. If people are raised with torture disguised as discipline, it is all too easy to find it acceptable to use similar techniques to get faulty information. I know from first-hand experience you will say whatever needs to be said for the pain to stop. You will say what needs to be said so the pain won't happen again. You learn to hide the truth. My stepfather has issues. In the case of the military, violence is taught, conditioned, encouraged. Empathy and compassion are discouraged. People like my stepfather and worse are created. When will it stop? Could we please stop?

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