Thursday, July 03, 2008

Stuff: Where's your no-God now?

At the risk of becoming the "all torture, all the time" blog, I humbly submit a visual comparison: what fake torture looks like versus what real torture looks like.

In my previous series on so-called torture porn films, I made the case that the spectacular scenes of suffering that are the hallmark of franchises such as Saw and Hostel are not realistic. Rather they're a sort of over-the-top representation of our worst dark fantasies of what torture is. Now, through the miracle of the Interwebs, you don't have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself.

Representing the world of spectacularly fake torture will be represented by the "Angel Trap," the absurd Rube Goldbergian device that dispatches Detective Kerry (played screamingly by Dina Meyer) in Saw III. Needless to say, it is not safe for work and you may have to log-in to youtube and confirm your age before viewing.

Notice the sickly green and yellow lighting scheme, the steampunk-meets-butcher-shop complexity of the device, the dank dungeon like surroundings.

For what torture really looks like, we check into, of all places, Vanity Fair. VF columnist, contrarian gadfly, neo-con apologist, public intellectual, and crusading atheist Christopher Hitchens agreed to be waterboarded. Waterboarding is one of the approved "aggressive interrogation techniques," or, more colloquially, tortures currently being used by the United States government. VF cameramen recorded the short and unpleasant affair. By way of your first major contrast, this clip is work safe, at least in terms of gore and whatnot. However, if you do get asked about it, you'll have to explain what the heck you're watching and I doubt that will sound good to your employer. I should also explain that very loud music is blasted throughout a considerable portion of the clip. I have no idea if that's in the film or post-production.

Normal lighting, no maniacal ventriloquist's dummies handing out life lessons, no bloodshed. In fact, compared to the hyper-real violence of torture porn, it is almost mundane. Actually, it is mundane insomuch as it is not a fantasy of suffering, but the real thing.

In posting this, I don't wish to make a political statement (though I do have extremely strong feelings on the issue), just an aesthetic one. I hope this puts paid to the notion that so-called torture porn films are characterized by their lack of stylization and their narrow visual pursuit of realism.


Curt Purcell said...

You nail your argument with a sledgehammer here, my friend! Not that I ever considered Hitchens a tough guy, but I was literally slack-jawed at how quickly and unremarkably he reached the point of unbearable agony (or whatever the technical term is) that prompted the dropping of the balls.

CRwM said...


Thank you for swinging by.

If Hitchens is correct in saying that this technique does, in essence, slowly drown you, then I don't see how anybody can hold out for more than a minute or two max. I know I wouldn't last but a few seconds. I'm ashamed that this is something we, as a nation, allow.

Frederick said...

Just imagine having no option to make it stop the moment it got to be too much. Since drowning/suffocation is my worst nightmare, waterboarding would be truly torture.

And it's true that reality seldom is as romantic as the fantasy/film. Which is why so often when people get what they think they wanted it's not what they bargained for. This is especially true in cases where people perceive a need for a negative such as pain or death.

Anonymous said...

The key element that makes horror movie torture work is its unreality. We can "safely" experience the agony knowing no one was actually harmed. Torture done in real life does not give us that safety. There is no philosophical or practical argument for the use of torture in the real world. You can rationalize it all you want, but the bottom line is it's horrible and terrifying and makes us less human even to consider it. Within the confines of a movie, that's a plus for generating fear and revulsion for dramatic effect. It's a minus outside of that context.