Saturday, July 28, 2007

Not Up to Snuff

This recent Sunday Telegraph article details the rise of what New York magazine's David Edelstein dubbed torture porn. You know the recent proliferation of flicks like Saw (1,2,3), Hostel (1,2), Cabin Fever, The Hills Have Eyes remake (1,2), Wolf Creek, The Devil's Rejects, and Captivity. (Edelstein rightly suggests The Passion of Christ also.)

The Telegraph's Jenny McCartney grew up in Ulster and is disgusted with the genre. She suggests:
We might begin by questioning if we ever have the moral right to watch terrorist victims such as Daniel Pearl or Nick Berg being beheaded. I do not think we have, because the argument that has always prohibited the watching of child pornography - that the helpless victim was unable to give or withhold consent to the act or the filming - applies equally to al-Qa'eda's home-made snuff films.
That probably nails why I couldn't bring myself to watch, say, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the hanging of Saddam, or this hanging in Iran Andrew Sullivan recently felt compelled to post.

But those movies are just fiction, right, so what's the problem? I agree with McCartney's conclusions:
The cinematic child of voyeurism and terror, 'torture porn' is a genre that gorges on the world's horrors and regurgitates them, but learns nothing from them.

The more of it audiences consume, the less they understand. In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four the panicked hero, Winston Smith, describes a nightmarish night at the flicks, as the audience relishes the sight of a boatload of enemy refugees being bombed, and roars with laughter at a mother's hapless struggles to protect her small boy from death.

We are not so very far away from that now. There must come a point at which audiences ask a different question from what will the torturer do next to his victims on screen? We must ask what watching him is doing to us.
I think we'd be a little creeped out by someone who enjoyed watching films, which simply featured scene after scene of rape for two hours. So why are we OK with watching flicks which consist solely of scene after scene of amputation, mutilation, maiming, dismemberment, disfiguring, butchering, impalement, and torture?

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