Friday, January 26, 2007

They Just Run It For Us

image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359 See Note 1

My Senator finally wrote back today. A month or two ago I'd written her lamenting that we're torturing people and imprisoning them without trial and that this could be considered a bad thing. I might have even mentioned the words "Latin American dictatorship" or some such. Anyway, she finally wrote back, or someone on her staff did, and said that, for the most part, she thought this was a bad thing, too. She also mentioned that she will try to work on changing this, which I think would be just splendid if it actually happens.

Which brings me to the point of this brief essay. One of my favorite television shows these days is Stargate SG-1, which for those of you may not be aware, is a science fiction show about contemporary American soldiers fighting a secret war against over-the-top bad guy aliens who are bent on conquering the galaxy. OK, one might call this escapism, but on the whole it's no more fanciful than 24, which some pundits and Administration officials seem to think is a wonderful guide to fighting terrorism. I think the idea that any human being could go for twenty-four hours without sleep, being beaten up, tortured, and wounded along the way, without making a single mistake of the sort one typically makes after that much abuse (like not remembering one's car keys are in one's pocket, that sort of thing) is so far from reality that aliens with glowing eyes who can control inanimate objects from a distance seems pretty down to earth by comparison.

So, consider this a warning that there will be the occasional reference to Stargate SG-1 here. For the moment, I'm just going to mention my favorite line from the show. It's from the episode "Inauguration", where a new President in his first day on the job is told about the stargate program, which is being kept secret from the public. The President then observes;

"I'm here because the people of the United States elected me to run their country for them ..."

I have yet to encounter a more elegant description of what the relationship is between us and our elected officials. This show aired in 2004, when we were just starting to realize how truly off-kilter things were becoming in this country. Iraq was turning into a disaster, we were finding out that Administration officials had revealed the identity of a non-official cover (NOC) CIA agent for political purposes, that there was a secret network of prisons all over the world that was being run by the CIA to kidnap and torture people who may or may not have been terrorists, and that all across our own country our Constitutional protections from our own government were being systematically ignored. A science fiction show, produced in Canada by mostly Canadian actors and several Canadian writers, had a better handle on who we are supposed to be as a country than our own government and our supposed news organizations did.

Which brings us back to me and my Senator, and you and yours. Don't be reluctant to tell your government officials what you want for your country. Writing about things like torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and your elected representative's own complicity in those things is an uncomfortable thing, but it's a necessary thing. Be polite, be respectful, but be firm. It's our country. They're just running it for us.

Note 1 - This is a screenshot from the Stargate SG-1 episode "Inauguration" on DVD. William Devane is playing the President, and James McDaniel is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Screenshot taken by Cujo359. This is not an official image of the show or MGM.



Cujo .... The simple concept that we extend rights to the most vile among us, in order to insure the rights of most innocent among us is never ever mentioned any more. Yet it is the cornerstone of 2,500 years of Western thought.

Cujo359 said...

No kidding, Colorado Bob. What's been so awful about this period in our history is that many of us are so willing to forget those things. That it's our country, that those rules are designed to protect us, and that if you give those protections away you're not any safer are things that most folks just don't seem to know or care about. They're frightened and they want the scary people to go away, and that's the only thought they seem to be able to keep in their minds.

Anonymous said...

I know this is only tangential to the topic of your post, Cujo Bro...but I had to speak out in affirmation of your comments re. 24. If anything, I'd go much further than describing this show as 'escapist', something which applies to the vast majority of programming on television (including, sadly, most of the news).

In a disclaimer, I have to say I've never followed 24 as broadcast: but I did watch it in rental marathons, before I had to abandon it in disgust partway through. To me, the central conceit of having a guy stay up for a whole day and still alertly engage in all sorts of life-and-death derring-do was actually one of the least preposterous aspects of the show. Hell, I’ll give them that as a narrative necessity. (Yes, its ridiculous; but the alternative could be having major characters spend several weeks of episodes napping and offline. So let’s just go with it for now, rather than get bogged-down in how the round-the-clock premise could be more-realistically written.)

But I continue to be appalled at how insidiously 24 presents torture by Americans of those evil, swarthy terrorists as an invariably successful means of extracting critical info. In the face of a mountain of evidence--from intel insiders who are in a position to know--time and again we are shown that it is necessary to violate international law (to say nothing of human decency) if Americans are to be kept safe. The implicit justification for this is, Its ok, after all, since it works--and it does keep us safe.

Welllll…that’s a fantasy which makes Stargate look like C-SPAN, as any first-year intelligence or law-enforcement official worth their salt would probably agree. We're told, anecdotally, that even the Mossad have abandoned torture as basically useless. But in an era of Gitmo Hilton vacation packages and CIA black gulags in distant lands, of course torture is extremely useful when you want someone to tell you what you want to hear. After all, that's what gave the US coerced info that would support an invasion of Iraq (as only one example we could name).

A recent column in MediaChannel goes into 24's implicit political stance, further referencing an excellent article in the latest New Yorker. Both pieces lay out the problems with this jingoistic claptrap much better than I could, so its worth checking them out.
wordpress/2007/02/14/ will-24s-producer-be-able-to-challenge-the- daily-show-on-fox-news-channel/

I guess every generation of Americans needs entertainment that will sooth its anxieties and allow it to rewrite history in its favor; this is esp. true after geopolitical conflicts that America is/was unable to triumph with sheer military might. The post-Vietnam era begat Rambo, and so in retrospect it should be unsurprising that 9/11 gave us 24...a hugely-popular TV show where we can stop massive acts of terror, if we only torture the villians enough to lay out their evil plans in advance.

Here's a brain-teaser: if Dick Cheney wrote the screenplays to this propagandistic horseshit himself, what would he do differently?

Cujo359 said...

You're right, Joel Surnow is one of the more successful right-wingers running TV shows these days. The torture and other "lone man against the system" aspects of the show are certainly fantasies you hear a lot from that side of the political spectrum. In moderation they make sense, but at times 24 just goes well beyond where I can suspend my disbelief, particularly that a US agency is allowed to do all the things the CTU is portrayed as doing.

The early reviews, even from the right, seem to indicate that Surnow's "comedy" is anything but. I predict a quick demise. Even Fox can't afford to have such an obviously bad show on their network for long. After all, Fox "news" plays on TVs in public places all over the country. How much embarassment do you think a bar or fast food place can stand?