Thursday, January 06, 2005

Unsavory Ideas

It's a morning dominated so far by unsavory thoughts.
I'm feuding -- at a remove -- with a customer over an agreement we made to speak at a conference that he is now denying ever happened.
The news this morning is full of articles about Alberto Gonzalez, the torture-justifying nominee for Attorney General whose confirmation hearings begin today.
And the TV section of The New York Times contains an article that gives me a new stomach-turning term to deal with: Humiliation Series.
The humiliation series, it seems, is the term for a brand of reality show that relies for its entertainment value on the humiliation of one or more of the participants. The widely lambasted Fox series "Who's Your Daddy?" is evidently a prime exemplar of this trend. The only nice thing about the trend is it appears to be waning. The point of the article is that Fox has fallen into a ratings trench this year due to the failure of several humiliation series.
Thank goodness for small favors.


From humiliation to torture.
The stories and columns about Gonzalez are truly dispiriting in their implication that torture has become policy for the United States. How have we sunk to this level?
I think many Americans simply have not gotten through the denial phase on this issue. I remember listening to my mother last summer conflating the beheadings of Americans in Iraq with the torture at Abu Ghraib. The gist of her comment was something like: "Oh, they're cutting off our heads but we're the ones torturing them?" As if the one negated the other somehow.
Why can't people understand the connection among events that all are part of a coarsening of the American psyche?
That idea is what drew me to the quote from Susan Sontag that I posted on the left of this blog a few days ago. She caught on to this (as, I recall, did Pauline Kael in one of her film commentaries on violence) about 40 years ago and tried to spell it out for us. I can claim childhood as an excuse for not paying attention to her at the time, but it certainly seems undeniable now that Sontag and Kael -- and probably many others -- were right to be warning us so many years ago.