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September 03, 2006



That was indeed disturbing.

And while I admit I didn't read Hunter's original piece, what about "24"? That seems the antidote to Hunter's disturbing needs.

Bruce Baugh

There are times I keep flashing back to a Mad magazine piece with the hypothetical last strip of various long-running newspaper comics. The Little Orphan Annie one included Daddy Warbucks and his buddies shooting up eveyrthing and everybody with Tommy guns, shouting "We've got to take the law into our own hands!"

I still have trouble sometimes dealing with the fact that otherwise functional human beings out there genuinely do want to be monsters, and that it's only shame, cowardice, and the like that keeps them in line. I dislike living in so Freudian a world (just as I am very annoyed with administrations that make me feel that anything in Atlas Shrugged makes sense).

Dan Jacobson

I'm suddenly assaulted by the memory of Wayne sitting atop his horse (his high horse?) shooting the eyes out of a poor dead man just for kicks. Yeah, time for more of that good old-fashioned heroism.


The Searchers at least acknowledges that Ethan Edwards, the iconic cowboy hero played by the iconic cowboy actor, is a racist and a monster. It would take a longer essay than I care to write to explain how that differs from the handwringing, guilt-ridden have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too revenge fantasies of Kill Bill et al. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. I do know it's awfully easy to create holy scapegoats who offer noble statements about the destructive costs of violence or murder while indulging in our lust for it.

Now our culture has added torture to the acts that confer "tragic-ethical grandeur" on our heroes--brave men and women who willingly exile themselves from polite society to protect it. Unfortunately, the tragic grandeur that Stephen Hunter pines for, this dithering about the social and psychological costs of being a torturer--poor babies--doesn't just assign sympathy to the wrong people, it replicates the White House's debased framing of the entire torture debate. It accepts the completely erroneous claims that torture is an effective means of protecting us, that it yields reliable information in a timely manner, or that it's justified under that old con game, the ticking time bomb. (Jim Henley is especially great on breaking down the ticking time bomb argument: "Get you to agree to sleep with the guy for a million dollars, then just haggle over the price.") What does it matter if Jack Bauer's a monster if the show still grants Bush's and Cheney's every excuse for his monstrosity?

I don't know if 24 has had a boiling-alive scene yet, but there's always next season.

Dave Van Domelen

The current comic Retro Rocket spent much of its recent issue (#3) dealing with the torture issue, coming down squarely on the "It doesn't get you information, and it makes the torturer a monster" side. In fact, it's revealed that the title character (a "brain in a jar, stuck in a robot" style cyborg) had his life fall apart after getting back from a tour in which he tortured the enemy. Eventually he couldn't even stand to look at himself in the mirror, which was why he volunteered to become a mech.

Chris M.

Wow. One of the best things you've written to to date, Marc. I have nothing to add.

(Except...speaking of fantasies, am I the only one who fantasizes about having Superman or Green Lantern's powers and flying to Washington DC to exercise my own unique brand of self-expression with the current administration? I promise it stops well short of torture...)


Thanks, Chris. I've been enjoying the new posts over at your blog; when you wrote about lines in the sand I realized that torture by "heroes" had become one of my lines for writing off characters, titles, and writers.

Then I realized how sad it is that our culture has reached a point where I have to filter out the works where heroes torture.

Chris M.

Couldn't agree more. Sadly, we seem to have become an "ends justify whatever my self-righteous anger or indignation makes me feel like saying or doing" culture.

"Being Right -- It's Easier Than Thinking!" or "Compassion Is For Wimps!" (Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the credo of the article that started this discussion in the first place.)


More like "Lashing Out--It's Easier Than Being Right!"

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