Žižek echoes a concern I have had for more than ten years now, namely that various American films and TV shows about the “war on terror” have normalized torture to a point that torture is “just one of those unpleasant things we have to live with”. Though I wouldn’t put the blame just on Kathryn Bigelow (though it is troubling how Kathryn Bigelow went from the director of interesting action films like Point Break or Strange Days to the semi-official chronicler of the “war on terror”) and Homeland, much as I dislike either, but on 24. Because 24, which began in the fall of 2001, around the same time as the World Trade Center attacks, and included plenty of ugly and graphic torture scenes, particularly in its latter seasons. Not that graphic torture on TV was anything new in 2001, in the 1990s Star Trek – The Next Generation and Babylon 5 had both devoted entire episodes to their respective protagonists getting tortured – episodes I later learned to my horror were considered fan favourites. But the quality of torture in 24 was nonetheless new, because in 24 it was the supposed “good guy” doing the torturing.
And yes, I know that some people will think I’m the last person who should go all moral on other people for writing torture scenes, considering I write them myself on occasion. However, there is a big difference between my torture scenes and those in 24 or Homeland or Zero Dark Thirty, namely that in my works, only the bad guys torture. And besides, none of my torture scenes are set in the here and now, but either in the past or (not published yet) future.
However, as Žižek points out, there is a different quality to the torture scenes of Zero Dark Thirty and Homeland than to those in 24. Because in 24 and others of the same ilk or influenced by it (Lost and Torchwood included graphic torture scenes in an attempt to capture the coveted young male demographic), the torturers are almost exclusively men. Women stand by and occasionally try to utter “This is wrong” (though it’s stunning how no one in Lost or Torchwood says anything against the torture, though they are obviously disgusted by it, because the male leader figure is always right), but they don’t torture.
Today’s torturers, however, are very young, very thin, very blonde (or red-haired in the case of Jessica Chastain) and very white women. And they’re usually played by the least likely actress imaginable. Prior to Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain was mainly known for playing suburban housewives and mothers of the etheral Madonna type. Claire Danes was best known as a troubled teen from My So-Called Life. And Piper Perabo, whom I spotted in a trailer for something called Covert Affairs, which seems to be of the same ilk, was best known for playing a girl trying to make it in the big bad city without showing her boobies in Coyote Ugly. Now apparently the CIA agents who coordinated the hunt for Osama Bin Laden really were women. I sincerely doubt that they looked like Claire Danes or Jessica Chastain, however.
Personally, I wonder whether having willowy, fair-haired and fair-skinned western women hunt for the big bad terrorists isn’t some kind of “Fuck you” to islamists everywhere. “Look, you people are so pathetic that even a woman can take you. And not just any woman either, but a very white, very western woman played by the least likely actress imaginable.” And yes, this stuff is propaganda.
Also regarding this year’s Oscars, regular commenter Estara pointed me to this great post by Michelle Sagara West in response to the N.K. Jemisin post I linked to yesterday about the disgraceful treatment of 9-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. Come to think of it, I have seen similarly horrifying comments made about Sasha and Malia Obama when both of them were young enough that only a pedophile would think sexual thoughts about them. And yes, I don’t recall similar comments made about Chelsea Clinton or about young white girls nominated for Oscars such as Anna Paquin, Abigail Breslin and Hailey Steinfeld. In fact, I am now wondering whether Keisha Castle-Hughes, another young Oscar nominee of colour (though not black, but Maori) experienced a similarly disgraceful treatment.