Friday, April 23, 2010

QuoteS VI

"It isn't the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it's the troubles that cause the rebels." —Carl Oglesby

"Men aren't built to be gods, to take in the whole world; they are built like other creatures, to take in the piece of ground in front of their noses. Gods can take in the whole of creation because they alone can make sense of it, know what it is all about and for. But as soon as a man lifts his nose from the ground and starts sniffing at eternal problems like life and death, the meaning of a rose or a star cluster - then he is in trouble. Most men spare themselves this trouble by keeping their minds on the small problems of their lives just as their society maps these problems out for them. These are what Kierkegaard called the 'immediate' men and the 'Philistines.' They 'tranquilize themselves with the trivial' - and so they can lead normal lives." —Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." —Martin Luther King

"The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, All the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn't asked any questions." —Frank Zappa

"Voltaire made, with this novel [Candide], a résumé of all his works ... His whole intelligence was a war machine. And what makes me cherish it is the disgust which has been inspired in me by the Voltairians, people who laugh about the important things! Was he laughing? Voltaire? He was screeching..." —Flaubert

"In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king. He is taken to be a hallucinating lunatic." —Marshall McLuhan

* * *

"When I was in high school, they drug me into the principals office and they told me I had a lot of potential but that I needed to learn how to study hard and make something of myself. And that's when I quit school. I realized we weren't operating on the same level of reality because I knew that I already was something." —John Trudell

"It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry." —John Taylor Gatto, from a speech accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990

"It is always to be hoped that the people will mysteriously be educated, somehow. Well, that's the link. But the people don't know anything. As soon as we became an empire, we stopped teaching geography in the schools, so nobody would know where anything is. It's not the people's fault – they have been perverted into imperial ways of thinking so that they would be docile workers and loyal consumers. That was the dream and it has come true." —Gore Vidal, interview with Johann Hari

"Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience." —Huxley writing to Orwell in 1949, congratulating him on "how fine and how profoundly important" 1984 was.

* * *

"He had contributed to the events by which another boy was saved from the army of the bitter, the selfish, the neurasthenic and the unhappy. It isn’t given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords." —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Freshest Boy

"Those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound and offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him." —Montaigne

"Between what I think, what I want to say, what I think I say, what I say, what you want to hear, what you hear, what you understand... there are 10 possibilities that we'll have difficulty trying to communicate. But let's try anyhow." —Bernard Werber

* * *

"Colton Harris-Moore, a gangly 18-year-old with furtive eyes and a dimpled chin, has been on police blotters since he was accused of stealing a bike at the age of 8. Since then, he is suspected of having committed nearly 100 burglaries in Washington, Idaho and Canada. Police allege that he graduated from bikes to cars, then to speedboats. Lately, he is suspected of stealing three small aircraft — all the more impressive given that he has never taken a single flying lesson. [...] On Fox News, Harris-Moore's mother Pam Kohler outraged her tut-tutting interviewer by saying, 'I hope to hell he stole those planes. I'd be so proud. But next time, I want him to wear a parachute.'" —article: America's Most Wanted Teenage Bandit

"There is a vast world of work out there in this country, where at least 111 million people are employed in this country alone--many of whom are bored out of their minds. All day long. Not for nothing is their motto TGIF -- 'Thank God It's Friday.' They live for the weekends, when they can go do what they really want to do." —Richard Nelson Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

"Whether we recognize it or not, we are slaves to this system. Have you ever thought about the phrase, "Thank God it's Friday!"? What a horrible, horrible, insane phrase: "Thank God that another week of my so-short life is gone!" We don’t question working at jobs that we don’t love. Based on this habit of asking people if they like their jobs, and about 90% say, "No." And what does it mean when the vast majority of the people spend the vast majority of their waking hours doing things they don't want to do? It's absolutely insane. That's not merely just a drag; that's really very political." —Derrick Jensen

"Rattling off the long list of buzz-words and acronyms – LIBOR, derivatives, leveraged-buy-out, – the eyes glaze over, as if hypnotized, and the congregants move as told, signing up for their 401K's, assured by the priests of Wall Street and their cohorts that nirvana will be theirs come retirement time, their modest bundle magically expanded by the one fish to millions by the mumbling of certain words better left to the experts of the priesthood. It is an old story, of course, derivative (!) in our culture of the long-ago much fabled Greeks who told of the Golden Fleece. Well, if you were one of those taken in by the smooth talk of Reagan and others who told you that it would be better for you if you put your trust in the market, and... well, you’ve been fleeced. Retirement time is here for many, and the little nest-egg, to stick to the clodded linguistic clichés that seem to govern those of the fiscal inclination, ain't. Or actually it is, but it was long ago converted into some investment banker's 3rd home or second yacht, and you can't have it." —Jon Jost

"A person is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do." —Bob Dylan(?)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

philosophers are people, too

My room has recently been found to be infected with hundreds of thousands of bedbugs. To quell their infestation I've been collecting them in jugs and making bedbug soup out of them, which has turned out to be quite tasty. All of this started four weeks ago when a friend of mine mailed a pair of bedbugs to me (by accident?), and two weeks later I awoke from uneasy dreams to find my entire ceiling transformed -- with the linked bodies of thousands of tiny bedbugs! -- into the following gigantic blog post.

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People who never think, frequently enquire of those who do think, what has been the use of philosophy?

Philosophy: A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

road through tyre
[Ah, but] why is art beautiful? Because it’s useless. Why is life ugly? Because it’s all aims, objectives and intentions. All of its roads are for going from one point to another. If only we could have a road connecting a place no one ever leaves from to a place where no one goes! If only someone would devote his life to building a road from the middle of one field to the middle of another - a road that would be useful if extended at each end, but that would sublimely remain as only the middle stretch of road! The beauty of ruins? That they're no longer good for anything.

hubert robert louvre                            Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie in the Louvre in Ruins
                                     Hubert Robert


All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusions is called a philosopher.

[Mais non!] The philosopher is a lover of wisdom and truth; to be a sage, is to avoid the senseless and the depraved... The sage is a physician of souls. He ought to bestow his remedies on those who ask them of him, and avoid the company of quacks, who will infallibly persecute him... He should at all times inculcate upon [the ignorant but well-meaning], that a hundred abstract dogmas are not of the value of a single good action, and that it is better to relieve one individual in distress, than to be profoundly acquainted with the abolishing and abolished.

Where is the citizen to be found among us who would deprive himself, like Julian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius, of all the refined accommodations of our delicate and luxurious modes of living? Who would, like them, sleep on the bare ground? Who would restrict himself to their frugal habits? Who would, like them, march bare-headed and bare-footed at the head of the armies, exposed sometimes to the burning sun, and at other times to the freezing blast? Who would, like them, keep perfect mastery of all his passions? We have among us devotees, but where are the sages? where are the souls just and tolerant, serene and undaunted?

Marcus Aurelius Distributing Bread Joseph-Marie Vien                            Marcus Aurelius Distributing Bread to the People
                                     Joseph-Marie Vien

Never again shall I meet beings who swallow the nail of life.

andrei rublev tarkovsky                            Andrei Rublev
                                     Andrei Tarkovsky

meditating philosopher rembrandt                            Meditating Philosopher
                                     Rembrandt van Rijn


Let us imagine a brutish state in which human corpses are left unburied as carrion for crows and dogs. Such bestial behavior clearly belongs to the world of uncultivated fields and uninhabited cities, in which people wandered like swine, eating acorns gathered amid the rotting corpses of their dead kin. This is why burials were rightly defined in a lofty Latin phrase as 'the covenants of the human race', foedera humani generis, and were characterized less grandly by Tacitus as 'exchanges of humanity', humanitatis commercia. Furthermore, all pagan nations clearly agree in the view that the souls of the unburied remain restless on the earth and wander around their corpses: which is to say, souls do not die with their bodies, but are immortal.

[Yes,] For the round suns that pass
are nothing next to the clubfoot,
of the vast articulation
of the old gangrenous leg,
old gangrenous ossuary leg,
ripening a shield of bones,

the warlike underground uprising
of the shields of all the bones.

What does this mean?

capuchin crypt rome                             Capuchin Crypt, Rome

[That] thou art a little soul carrying around a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.

Archelaus… said that both men and beasts were made of a lacteous slime, expressed by the heat of the earth; Pythagoras says that our seed is the foam or cream of our better blood; Plato, that it is the distillation of the marrow of the back-bone...; Alcmeon, that it is part of the substance of the brain...; Democritus, that it is a substance extracted from the whole mass of the body; Epicurus, an extract from soul and body; Aristotle, an excrement drawn from the aliment of the blood, the last which is diffused over our members; others, that it is a blood concocted and digested by the heat of the genitals, which they judge, by reason that in excessive endeavors a man voids pure blood.

a zed and two noughts greenaway                            A Zed and Two Noughts
                                     Peter Greenaway

Time is everything, man is nothing; he is no more than the carcass of time.

'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more 'twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.'


dvorak ninth sheet music

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This originally started as a comment I was making on my killing at a distance post (aka talking to myself). I was writing it in response to someone I know who more or less said they didn't want to/didn't need to watch the collateral murder video. I wanted to figure out why exactly I felt the video was important for all Americans to watch, and I ended up going off on a tangent so I decided to post it instead...

* * *

One of the easiest and most basic ways to bring strain and discomfort to an end is avoidance. Our tax dollars and our apathy form the fuel that feeds the wars we're waging, yet we go out of our way to shield ourselves from the suffering we help create. It is crucial to remove the buffers and look directly at what lies at the end of the chain we're all linked into. By allowing some of this strain to be felt, the chance of us doing more (or anything) to stop things we feel are wrong becomes more likely. And even (or especially) if we still plan to do nothing, we should at least have the respect to not turn away simply so we can feel more comfortable in our daily lives.

This is all straight out of Milgram's book, Obedience to Authority (more on this in an upcoming post). In his experiments, subjects would often turn their heads to avoid seeing the suffering of the victim they were being ordered to shock. "These subjects do not permit the stimuli associated with the victim's suffering to impinge on them." Denial, practiced by the media in ways I mentioned in my killing at a distance post, is another common shield used to reduce strain. "Rejecting apparent evidence in order to arrive at a more consoling interpretation of events." When net strain exceeds the strength of the binding factors, disobedience occurs. (Binding factors include things like situational etiquette, anxiety, and recurrent actions1.) Unfortunately there are many easy ways to resolve or diminish strain, much like a maintenance worker turning a valve to let out some steam in a giant machine.

It didn't occur to me until writing this that Milgram's text can also be seen as a blueprint on the psychology of revolution. Almost everything about modern American life exists in some way to let off steam. When you think about it in these terms, everything seems designed to make sure the strain never exceeds the binding factors (it doesn't hurt that we're biologically programmed to avoid feeling uncomfortable). History tells us that revolution tends to take place only when people's lives become "unlivable" -- physically, of course, but also psychologically.

Milgram's book also helped me see that when the solider in the video says "it's their fault for bringing their kids into battle," it's actually a heartening moment because he's asserting his humanity. Blaming the victim is one of the most common ways to relieve the strain caused by doing something you were told to do but that you felt was wrong. I now think this probably has more to do with the comment than the systemic training of turning Iraqis into "others" (though that's certainly part of the equation).

1 "[When] each action influences the next. The obedient act is perseverative; after the initial instructions, the experimenter does not command the subject to initiate a new act but simply to continue doing what he is doing. The recurrent nature of the action demanded of the subject itself creates binding forces. As the subject delivers more and more painful shocks, he must seek to justify to himself what he has done; one form of justification is to go to the end. For if he breaks off, he must say to himself: "Everything I have done to this point is bad, and I now acknowledge it by breaking off." But if he goes on, he is reassured about his past performance. Earlier actions give rise to discomforts, which are neutralized by later ones. And the subject is implicated into the destructive behavior in piecemeal fashion." --Milgram

Saturday, April 10, 2010

killing at a distance

The coverage of the Collateral Murder video I saw on television made it seem as though the entire video consisted solely of the first part -- the shooting of the group of men walking down the street -- and this footage was washed away either by saying that a camera was mistaken for an RPG (ie, everything that happened was explained in terms of "mistakes", with interviewers going along with this assumption by asking questions like "how can such mistakes be limited?"), or with the concept of the "bad-apple." (Of course the military has said that there were no mistakes or bad-apples, just standard operating procedure.) I'm guessing the rest of the video (the shooting of the rescuers/van; hellfire missiles shot into a random building) was largely ignored because it didn't conform easily to any of these explanations. (I say largely only because I didn't go out of my way to watch all of the coverage of the video; it's possible the other aspects of the video were completely ignored by CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc.) Everything discussed was within the framework of accepted wisdom, and the bigger, broader, more important questions were never asked. In fact, great pains were taken to make sure they weren't even brought up. The news told us that the release of the video was an important story because the mistaken death of two Reuters reporters was a major concern. The assumption being made is that the death of everyone else in the video was not.

Naturally, no real real questioning is ever done within the framework of the status quo. How could it be? Asking the right questions would indict our entire culture and lead us to places that would urge us to change major aspects of our lives and what we hold to be true.

Below, in an excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe, Derrick Jensen asks some of these questions and shows where they can lead.

* * *

"The journey of our culture has been one of increasing abstraction from direct personal experience, manifesting in every aspect of our lives, from our pornography (and, more broadly, our intimate relationships) to our economics -- which, time after tedious time, values abstractions such as ideology or money (what's a dollar worth, really?) over living beings -- to our violence. Recall that, among the Plains Indians, the closer one got to one's enemy in battle, the more one was socially esteemed. Contrast that with modern warfare, in which the act of pushing a button, the mere movement of a finger, could destroy life on the planet. If I strangle someone, I must feel with my hands the other's life struggling not to end. If I stab someone, I must feel his or her blood, must watch it pulse or gurgle out, the last display of the rhythm of that person's heart, that person's life. Even shooting someone, I still must see the person whose life I am going to end.

But you could ask, what about the blacks who've been tortured and killed by lynch mobs? Did the mob not take great pleasure in causing the pain to this person? In a sense, no, because, even in the act of torture, they were not recognizing the uniqueness of their victim: He (or she) was killed for being of a class, as evidenced by all the lynchings of the "wrong person." What, then, of people, denied all individuality, killed, not for themselves, who are killed not merely at a psychic distance, but by a rainstorm of bombs -- or poisons -- sent to them from the other side of the planet?

Stanley Diamond commented that "Modern mass society creates the modern mass soldier, as a reflection of itself. The effort is made to train him as a deadly bureaucratic machine; in fact he may even shortly become obsolete to be replaced by machines...

Predator drone

He kills, whether by bombing at a distance or face to face -- but he kills, it should be re-emphasized, at a psychic distance. 'We might as well be bombing New York,' said an Air Force officer in Vietnam. This distance is compounded, of course, by ethnocentrism which the United States as an imperial power instills into its citizens. But the modern mass soldier [and I would add citizen] does not have to hate the specific enemy, which is an inverted way of saying that he does not necessarily recognize the humanity of the specific enemy... Killing a 'gook' or a Jew, remains killing at a distance, although physical proximity demands more of the psyche than bombing from the air; the total dissociation of the former is converted into the direct subjective distortion of the latter. The point remains that the people killed were insufficiently alive in the consciousness of the killers -- and this mirrors the actors' inadequate sense of their own humanity. What we were facing at My Lai, then, is not an incident, not even a policy, but the tragic course of civilization."

* * *

Later, Jensen continues: "I wrote earlier that narcissistic individuals must ultimately be disappointed, and must then always displace onto others the blame for their disappointment. This is often, but not always, true. There is at least one condition -- and, to be sure, this happens all the time -- under which those who are narcissistic will accept blame, and in fact will act with all speed and diligence to correct their mistake.

The mistake, of course, is weakness, also known as empathy, compassion, communication, love, relationship, or humanity. More generally, the mistake that can be acknowledged and rectified is that of a failure to objectify. More generally still, the mistake can be known as a failure to be narcissistic enough, the failure consisting of acknowledging the other's uniqueness and existence as a subject. In practice, this weakness finds its way into the world as a lack of will sufficient to annihilate one's enemies.

Failure to eradicate their enemies was, to go back to the cradle of our civilization, a huge problem among the Israelites. God warned them time and time again not to make covenants with those He delivered unto them: those they were supposed to exterminate and whose land they were to take. The deal was pretty clear, and it's just as clearly a deal we still adhere to: Give up your humanity and dissolve all interconnection with others, and you will receive power beyond your most insane dreams. Here's God's part of the bargain (and if you're an atheist or otherwise a humanist, just substitute for God the Market, Science, Technology, Capitalism, Free Enterprise, Democracy, the United States, Progress, Civilization, or whatever other abstraction you want, and the bargain still holds): "I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation... Behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite." Our God having long since dispatched these peoples, we can make the list more current by substituting Khoikhoi, Arawak, Pequot, I'wa, or Aborigine. In order to benefit from these marvels, the Chosen People had to promise never to "make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves." The Isrealites had to cut down the groves, just as today we have to deforest the planet, because otherwise it would be too tempting to enter into a relationship with other gods, other humans, or the land where we live. And it simply won't do to form those other relationships, because "the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God," and to enter into relationships with another is, as the book of Exodus so indelicately puts it, "whoring." To make sure the Chosen People deeply internalized this message, it was drilled into them. We read, again and again, "I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." The reason? Always the same: If these others live, it might be too tempting to gain their ways. "They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me." The message is repeated in Deuteronomy, Joshua, indeed, the entire Old Testament. The message is acted out to this day.

The message is an extension of the lesson of Noah, the lesson of Lestor Luborsky, with his electrodes attached to the eyeballs, letting us know where we dare not look, of R.D. Laing, with his three rules of a dysfunctional family or society. Don't. Don't look. Don't listen. Don't love. Don't let the other be. Don't. The best way to guarantee you won't be in a relationship with something is to not see it. The best way to make certain you won't see something is to destroy it. And, completing this awful circle, it is easiest to destroy something you refuse to see. This, in a nutshell, is the key to our civilization's ability to work its will on the world and on other cultures: Our power (individually and socially) derives from our steadfast refusal to enter into meaningful and mutual relationships.

Saleh Matasher Tomal (he made a living hiring out
the mini-van. It was the family’s source of income)

This refusal -- this key to power -- was carried forward and used by slavers, Columbus, Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, Hitler. It is put forward today by politicians who send soldiers to kill at a distance, and by soldiers who do the killing. It is pushed by CEOs and others who wish reap the benefits of our economic system, and by purveyors of porn who tell us it's okay to represent women as objects to be "fucked in every hole" (or, judging by my Alta Vista search and the prevalence of statistics, to be raped) but fail to mention any form of relationship at all. It is okay, we are told incessantly (for incessant repetition is necessary to make this painful and eventually numbing lesson stick) to utilize resources, whether the resources are trees, fish, gold, diamonds, land, labor, warm, wet vaginas, or oil. But one must never enter into relationship with this other who owns or is a resource. To do so would be to break the covenant with your God, whose name is Jealous, whose name is Power, because your power comes directly from your unwillingness (or, perhaps, in time, inability) to maintain relationship: It is much easier to exploit someone you do not consider a living being -- a You, as Buber would have put it -- much less a friend, a lover, a member of your family."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

some notes on THE HURT LOCKER

I had planned on making this more in-depth but I've chosen instead to post what I have now because of the Collateral Murder video I found out about today. There are spoilers below for The Hurt Locker I suppose, but I'm of the mind that you can't spoil what's already rotten.

See also: this post.

* * *

* * *

The Hurt Locker left a bad taste in my mouth when I first watched it a two months ago, but I can't say that I hated it. The more I thought about it, however, the less I liked it.

One of the film's strengths as a suspense film is its ability to map out a cohesive geography where everything becomes dangerous, every person suspect. Much of the tension in the film is derived from this, and the viewer easily sees the situation from the soldiers' point of view. A man is pulling out a cell-phone... is he about to detonate a bomb? You have 10 seconds to decide. In such an environment we see the impossibility of correctly sussing out danger in every encounter, and the paranoia this creates becomes tangible. This atmosphere makes viewers more understanding and accepting of civilian casualties in war.

Early in the film one of the soldiers, Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), is reluctant to shoot an Iraqi who's holding a device. Another soldier, played by Guy Pierce, is killed as a result. Geraghty's character is shown, in this moment and in others, to be the most emotional and reluctant soldier in the entire film, and for these qualities he is portrayed as weak and unstable, largely due to the stress imposed on him by not wanting to take innocent life. In war, to be cautious is to be dead. If you want to guarantee your highest chance for survival, shoot first and ask questions later. Your own personal survival is, or so we are told by the film, the most important thing. (Or, as the Collateral Murder video shows us, shoot first and, well, shoot first! is the most important thing.)

The Hurt Locker shows us a world where taking innocent (foreign) life is not just acceptable, but necessary.1 It's interesting that, of the three main characters, only the one played by Geraghty gets hurt. He pays for the sins of Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), the most bold, borderline insane, character in the entire film (and the films protagonist) with a bullet in the leg.

"On the evening of April 28, 2003, a crowd of 200 people defied a curfew imposed by the Americans and gathered outside a secondary school used as a military HQ to demand its reopening. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne stationed on the roof of the building fired upon the crowd, resulting in the deaths of 17 civilians and the wounding of over 70. The events leading up to the event are disputed. American forces claim they were responding to gunfire from the crowd, while the Iraqis involved deny this version, although conceding rocks were thrown at the troops. A protest against the killings two days later was also fired upon by US troops resulting in two more deaths." --Wikipedia.

The film is based around a bomb disposal unit, and it makes sense that much of the geography consists of ruined buildings and rubble. This immediately gives the impression that the buildings have been destroyed by insurgent bombs even when we know this isn't the case. Not showing the bombings done by the United States, responsible for most of the crumbling landscape, gives a false impression of the unit sent there to disarm bombs. It suggests that our military was sent there to save the Iraqi's from the insurgents without hinting at the irony of a bomb disposal unit sent to disarm bombs, many of which wouldn't even be there if the military hadn't been sent to begin with. This idea is brought forth more overtly when an Iraqi man, strapped against his will with some kind of metal suicide jacket containing bombs and a timer, pleads for his life to have the soldiers disarm it. (The contraption -- and the set up -- feel as though it would be more at home somewhere in the Saw franchise.) This scene makes no sense at all and makes me question whether any such device has ever been used.2 The entire idea seems absurd since the contraption is so visibly obvious. Imagine walking down the street with a suicide suit on when you could just as easily have bombs hidden under your jacket. This scene exists only to show the insurgents as barbaric villains, differentiating them from the ordinary Iraqi citizens we are trying to save (and who don't want us there). The problem with this is that many ordinary Iraqi citizens are the very ones deciding to fight against us. As an Iraqi said in the documentary Meeting Resistance3: "Suppose Iraq invaded America. And an Iraqi soldier was on a tank passing through an American street waving his gun at the people, threatening them, raiding and thrashing houses. Would you accept that? That is why no Iraqi can accept occupation and don't be surprised by their reactions. Their attitudes are normal."

Near the end of the film, Jeremy Renner's character walks down the aisles of a supermarket with his wife. He goes to the cereal aisle to pick something out and is confronted with dozens of choices. When he dismantles a bomb and is forced to choose between the red, blue, green, and black wires, he's much more comfortable. The choice means something. In the supermarket he doesn't know which cereal to pick -- the red, blue, brown or yellow -- because in the end it doesn't really matter.

Finally he decides on something and then goes back to place it in the cart. This scene juxtaposed with the previous war footage is interesting, and I thought the film was going to take a major turn and make a bold comment on consumerism. Ran Prieur, commenting on why we watch films like The Road Warrior for entertainment, said: "That's how bad our own world is -- that we fantasize about a world with war, hunger, and no trees, just because we'd get to be outside all day fighting for something that matters, instead of cowering in sterile buildings rearranging abstractions." The Hurt Locker could have done something with this, turning the "war is a drug" concept onto the viewer. (Why do we watch action films?) Instead the film shows that life is dull to Renner because he's hooked on war, overriding any ideas about how our own lives have come to feel meaningless. The hard rock music starts up, and the army recruiting commercial begins. Renner walks in slow motion off the helicopter, ready to return to combat. DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

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Jonathan Rosenbaum reacted against the idea that The Hurt Locker is apolitical: "This is a film whose most courageous character is shown to be myopic to the point of insanity when it comes to perceiving Iraqi people in his midst — or at least one Iraqi kid in particular whom he supposedly knows and has some fondness for. He’s so convinced that this kid has been killed by a terrorist that he can’t even see the kid greeting him. This kind of blindness surely implies something about American perceptions of the Iraqi people, the ones whom American soldiers have allegedly been fighting for. It even, I would argue, implies something political." I didn't see the scene that way myself. I thought that Renner, once realizing that the kid was alive, ignored him because he didn't want to feel what it was like to lose him for a second time. He wanted to keep his distance and not get to know any Iraqis because the emotional investment was too large. And, as Brian Geraghty's character shows us, too dangerous. In the film's insular world, this expression of compassion would open Renner up to the possibility of being killed (Rambo never dies), which also goes back to the idea that American life trumps non-American life. And yes, Renner's character is myopic and not exactly made out to look the best -- he's both a hero and an anti-hero -- but he's still a fearless, tough soldier who can seemingly do no wrong. Geraghty's character is made out to be somewhat culpable for his psychologist's death, but Renner's, as I mentioned, only for accidentally putting a bullet in Geraghty's leg. And the film seems to suggest that this bullet is not only Geraghty paying for Renner's negligence, but also Geraghty paying for what the film perceives to be Geragthy's own negligence: the sins of emotion, reluctance, compassion and empathy, which lead to fear.

1. "Well, it's their fault for bringing their kids into battle," one of the soldiers in the Collateral Murder video says. "That's right," another soldier responds. And of course these children were in the van that came to give aid to the dead and wounded, the dead and wounded who were walking with two Reuters reporters... "After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own 'Rules of Engagement'."
2. I haven't found any evidence to support it. The closest thing was this piece about a 6 year old, but even in that story there is no concrete evidence. Furthermore, it was a child. It would be pretty tough to trick an adult into wearing a bomb (though maybe not a "stupid Iraqi").
3. I don't recommend this documentary unless you're someone who doesn't already know that ordinary Iraqi citizens are becoming insurgents because of our presence. This point is all the film has to offer, and it isn't particularly well made or artistic.

Saturday, April 03, 2010