February 21, 2006

Perform For Us All that We Love and Hate

The title of this post is phrase I wrote in the margins of Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others" while researching my book. It just sort of popped into my head. I think it came about from thinking about this passage from Sontag:

"All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure. Everyone knows that what slows down highway traffic going past a horrendous car crash is not only curiosity. It is also, for many, the wish to see something gruesome. Calling such wishes "morbid" suggests a rare aberration, but the attraction to such sights is not rare, and is a perennial source of inner torment."

While I take issue with Sontag's thesis from her New York Times Magazine article, "Regarding the Torture of Others," that what happened at Abu Ghraib was due to America's porn addiction, there is an aspect of the abuse that is related to the experience of porn. This is where I think the title of the post comes in. The allure of images that show a violated body, especially images of sodomy and rape, comes from a deep desire to participate in such acts but knowing that they are morally and culturally wrong. As a result, we have men like Charles Graner using detainees as proxies to act out these pornographic fantasies. So the photos allow for a "safe" gratification of these urges while debasing and punishing the detainees.

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