Friday, July 09, 2004

unknown knowns

Various apologists have compared the events at Abu Ghraib to fraternity high jinks. Taking the higher road, others warn us not to drift into thoughtcrime. This is not the real America.

Slavoj Zizek says yes and no.

To anyone acquainted with the reality of the American way of life, the photos brought to mind the obscene underside of U.S. popular culture—say, the initiatory rituals of torture and humiliation one has to undergo to be accepted into a closed community. Similar photos appear at regular intervals in the U.S. press after some scandal explodes at an Army base or high school campus, when such rituals went overboard. Far too often we are treated to images of soldiers and students forced to assume humiliating poses, perform debasing gestures and suffer sadistic punishments.

The torture at Abu Ghraib was thus not simply a case of American arrogance toward a Third World people. In being submitted to the humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture: They got a taste of the culture’s obscene underside that forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy and freedom.


Article via Lenin’s Tomb, where Len also reviews Zizek’s latest at exhaustive length. Anyone would think he was a public intellectual or something.