Monday, March 17, 2008

The New Yorker laughs off torture

In February 2007, Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker, did us all a service by documenting the extent to which Fox's 24 had inured Americans to torture -- making it seem necessary and thrilling and heroic. How sad, then, that the same publication this week should publish an obscene little attempt at humor by Geroge Saunders that replays the old RosannaDanna op-ed in favor of "violins on TV" by coming out in favor of "washboarding" terrorists. That is, playing a washboard as a percussion instrument. Catch the hilarity:
I honestly don’t understand the mind-set here. Are these people terrorists or not? Or, I should say, is it possible that these people might be terrorists? Or, rather, has someone (possibly us, possibly someone other than us, such as, for example, someone they knew back in their home country, with whom they have possibly been having, say, a blood feud) alleged that they were possible terrorists? Keep in mind that we’ve never washboarded anyone who has not been, by someone or other, accused, more or less, of being a suspected, pending, or eventual possible terrorist. So why do we want to coddle these people? I say washboard the bastards 24/7, then supplement the washboarding with a circle of Peruvian wood flautists, then reinforce the flautists with a circle of acne-faced, oblivious fifteen-year-old boys with Fender guitars and distortion boxes, and let the war on terror begin.
Gilda Radner waxing enthusiastic about "violins on TV" was funny. Pretending to enthusiasm about "washboarding" terrorists is disgusting. What's the difference? First of all, RosannaDanna had no inkling what violence on TV was. Second, the evils of violence on TV, such as they are, are a matter of degree, part of the furniture of everyday life, fair game for humor. On the other hand, to mix the rhetoric of enthusiasm for torturing terrorists with depictions of ridiculous un-pleasantries is to trivialize the intense evil that we have collectively consented to. An extended joke about waterboarding in The New Yorker is perhaps stronger evidence of the coarsening of our culture than the popularity of 24.

3 comments:

  1. I've just discovered your blog today -- thanks to Andrew Sullivan. Your posts are thoughtful and illuminating. I will, however, point out a minor error in this post. It was Gilda Radner's Emily Litella character who mistook violence for violins, an error only worth noting to give me the opportunity to offer you my thanks and praise.

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  2. George Saunders said...

    This may be improper form, but I'd like to point out that the piece I wrote is, in fact, an anti-torture satire, from the point of view of a doofus, as indicated, I'd hoped, by the last two paragraphs. This is a common form, in which the author's real feelings (torture sucks, the nation is slipping into immorality, help me, help me) are presented via ironic occupation of the mind of someone of the opposing camp. 'Defending' a piece like this, especially if one has written it, is a bit like appealing, with careful reasoning, to a lover who has spurned you, but nonetheless, there it is - just feel a little queasy at the thought of being misunderstood by those in my own, appled-by- torture, camp...keep up the good work on the blog.

    GS

    ReplyDelete
  3. A DUPLICATE, W/Corrections...

    George Saunders said...

    This may be improper form, but I'd like to point out that the piece I wrote is, in fact, an anti-torture satire, from the point of view of a doofus, as indicated, I'd hoped, by the last 5-6 paragraphs. This is a common form, in which the author's real feelings (torture sucks, the nation is slipping into immorality, help me, help me) are presented via ironic occupation of the mind of someone of the opposing camp. 'Defending' a piece like this, especially if one has written it, is a bit like appealing, with careful reasoning, to a lover who has spurned you, but nonetheless, there it is - just feel a little queasy at the thought of being misunderstood by those in my own, appalled-by- torture, camp...keep up the good work on the blog.

    GS

    ReplyDelete

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