9/27/2005

Operation War Porn:
Back in college days, among the many jobs he held at one time or another (which would include a diner dishwasher with a mentally challenged boss - no, really), the Rude Pundit worked at a video rental store, an independent one before Blockbuster gorged on nearly every local shop. The Rude Pundit did not have one of those Quentin Tarantino-type experiences where all of us shelf-stocking clerks traded our Kurosawa and Samuel Fuller flicks in a cinephile circle jerk. Nope. Eventually the Rude Pundit had to quit his job at said video store for one simple reason, for one question that he'd get on a nearly daily basis: "Which Faces of Death is better?" When the Rude Pundit answered that he didn't know, that he had never watched any of them, he was faced with some variation of "Dude, it's cool" followed by a description of some gruesome "death" scene the person had heard about.

Yep, at the time, most of us didn't realize how much of it was fake - most everyone who rented it thought they were gettin' the real deal: actual footage of murders, suicide, and monkey brain-eatin' (the fuckin' box said it was all real). Here's a 2005 review of the recently released DVD box set from an Amazon customer: "I watched this collection in the barracks while I was in the Army while eating honey nut cheerios. Its hard to believe that as a hard core horror/gore fanatic that I did it now. I thought it was fascinating and gross at the same time. I love biographies and documentaries and liked the way it was presented."

You get it? When the Rude Pundit dealt with customers who wanted to rent Faces of Death, they didn't want to dare their friends to watch at the slumber party. It wasn't just because it was "cool" to say you'd seen it. No, you see, they were gettin' off on it, like it was a porn film.

What brought up this tender memory of rude times past is John Aravosis' passionate, angry piece about websites that put up graphically violent and gory photos allegedly taken by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these are porn sites that are trading access to photos of women eating each other out in exchange for soldiers sending in photos, of, say, a headless man in a car that ran a military checkpoint. Giving head, losing head, it's all the same when your brain's been so jacked up on violence and sex for your entire life that you think slappin' bitches is foreplay. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger after shooting a half-naked Sharon Stone in Total Recall, saying, "Consider dat a divorce," the photos have cute titles, like "Cooked Iraqi," with its image of a burnt corpse, and many of them have the soldiers standing around and grinning, like hunters over a ten-point buck that's been taken down in one shot.

Aravosis and others are rightly asking questions about what war does to humanity, and, specifically, how war is affecting soldiers who have obviously come to view horror as a joke (as a coping mechanism, some might say, when being polite). But, in the most liberal sense possible, we have to ask how a culture of violence has prepared the soldiers to see the dead enemy as a worthless pile of meat, that body parts aren't the viscous remains of life, but merely the cool detritus of the kill.

As others pointed out, the stupidity of the outrage over the Grand Theft Auto sex patch, where your digital man can fuck a digital prostitute, is magnified when the violence of the game is so relentlessly brutal (yeah, yeah, it's all about the "choices" you make when playing - fuck you: it's about shootin' shit up gangsta-style). But this ain't about content: that's a bullshit excuse the conservative right likes to use as a method of believing it's doing something. No, it's about a capitalistic culture that commodifies and fetishizes violence. And, frankly, like competing with your friends to see who gets the most kills on Halo 2, you can bet there's a one-upmanship going on here among soldiers with their digital war porn: "Shit, you mean PFC Fuckface got a shot of an exploded stomach? Well, fuck him, here's one of half a head."

Maybe, in a truly stomach-churning way, it explains why anyone took photos at Abu Ghraib. Can you top this line of jackin' off prisoners?

The Rude Pundit ain't naive. People have collected trophies of the war dead since the apes figured out how to use bones to kill other apes. Skulls, scalps, skins, it was all a perverted way of demonstrating that the body's been conquered. Takin' pictures just made it easier. Somewhere back in the late 1800s, someone jacked off to Matthew Brady's photos of war dead. And it ain't just war. You click over to rotten.com or ogrish.com, and you've got Faces of Death 24/7. You can bet that photos of bloated and popped Katrina victims have made their way onto some of these sites.

Maybe in some sick way, it all starts to make sense, all the violent images, the gun training that first-person shooter games provide, capital punishment being celebrated, the bland acceptance of torture. Many of us'll look at those photos from AmIFuckedUp.com or hear about them and sigh for the losses of this brutal war. But then there's the legion of people who're gonna click on over and fondle themselves and smile, loving the degradation by proxy.

Fuck it. It's too much to grapple with. In the end, there's pictures of shiny-faced Americans, smilin' as they show us a disembodied, bloodied arm hanging on a hook. And does that say something about them? Us? As Americans? As humans?