17 February 2007

Suckling, cigars, and state-sponsored torture

I feel bad to again mention Larissa MacFarquhar's recent philosophical excursion—filled as it was with endless paragraphs about the mind-body question and other quandaries you mulled in first-year arts, and, rightly, never again—but the piece did make me laugh, with this sentence on brain chemistry and sensation.
"Oxytocin is a peptide produced in the body during orgasm and breast-feeding; when it is sprayed into the nose of experimental subjects, they become more cooperative."
While on the subject of chemicals and cooperative subjects, let's make something clear: oxytocin is not OxyContin—aka 'hillbilly heroin'—the opioid painkiller that happens to be conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's drug of choice.

Limbaugh (above) may or may not have been high while ranting about New Yorker writer Jane Mayer the other night on his show. (Listen to the audio and judge for yourself.) His bluster does have a druggy, dreamy savor, though; it's like jazz trumpet, with improvised phrases picked up, twisted, drawn out, and dropped. And, yes, it's also reliant on wind.

This, I gather, is Limbaugh's point: Mayer's Feb. 18 examination of the politics of '24' was an obvious attempt by the New Yorker to "discredit the military and shame the country." He goes on:
"There is an all-out assault on the US military. Inherent in this is some of the most righteous indignation among some of the most ignorant people about what happens in war. The idea that war is as highbrow and as clean-cut as a bridge game at the Harvard Club? Spare me!

And these people who are writing all this outraged, righteous indignation over torture haven't the slightest idea what is at stake on the battlefield with this particular enemy, and we never, we never hear about the torture they inflict."
Rush Limbaugh's close friend Joel Surnow (right) is the co-creator of '24.' "The military loves our show," says Surnow, whose office wall is draped with an American flag. "It's a patriotic show."

Mayer's central premise is that the show's frequent representations of torture (generally of 'bad guys' by government agents) may have injurious and genuine real-world effects.

Some important voices agree with her.

The dean of West Point Military Academy, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, met with the '24' creative team to express his worry that "the show's central premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country's security—was having a toxic effect."

And Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq, says DVDs of shows such as '24' circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq:
“People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”
Just to orient this in the current American cultural moment: Before Sept. 11, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time TV annually. Now there are more than a hundred. '24' averages one every other show.

Okay, this is a scattershot entry, I know. But let's try to draw it all together; I can't help but feel there's a beautiful summation to be made—Limbaugh, torture, early weaning, Freud, cigars, oxytocin...

I can't find the killing phrase. Ah, forget it. I'm going to bed.


Catherine said...

Not too sure what you're on about (or just on), jjb, but I'll offer one comment on the theme of addictions.

Mayer's article was an impressive clarification of the increasing creepiness I've been feeling about my 24 addiction.

Reading her examination of self-confessed "right-wing nut job" Joel Surnow, combined with hearing Maher Arar speak in person Friday at UBC, have sealed the deal. I'm not watching Jack Bauer save the world anymore.

It helps that the show's crap these days anyway.

John Bucher said...

You got me midpost, Catherine, so it may not have made perfect sense. Not on anything more serious than the usual 'ludes and red wine.

I agree about the show. I did the Season One DVD binge in two days like most people, but I ended up resenting the intervening subplots, to say nothing of the dialogue.

The show is mechanically compelling, but for click-click-click drama I may as well watch Deal Or No Deal.

zp said...

ooooo, I like "mechanically compelling" . . .

Stephen said...

My wife is breast-feeding our 4 month-old daughter and there's no oxytocin coming my way.

As for 24, like you John we did Season One during a weekend (before we had kids.) I wonder if the people complaining about the torture issue were as vocal about Reservoir Dogs?

Check out Judith Warner, the NY Times blogger/columnist. She's got a 24 jones and may have something pertinent to say. Maybe I'll have a look and post it.

JJB said...

I haven't seen 'Reservoir Dogs,' which is shameful only because I have seen both volumes of 'Kill Bill' -- a subject upon which, as my friend Davey knows, you don't want to get me started.

I'll have a sniff around for Judith Warner.