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Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:26 PM

Is feminism worth defending with torture?


How Kathryn Bigelow's thrilling Osama-hunting saga faces the thorniest moral dilemmas of the "war on terror"

BY ANDREW O'HEHIR

None of us living today can know how historians of the future will judge the whole “war on terror” phase of American history. Will it remain a contentious point of ideological division, like McCarthyism or the 1960s, or will it become a national embarrassment to be swept under the carpet, like the Salem witch trials or the fulsome speeches in defense of slavery delivered on the floor of Congress? And then there’s the possibility that the terrorist-hunting mania of the years since 9/11 has driven us so completely nuts, and bankrupted us so thoroughly, that a balanced view of this age will only become possible after the whole edifice comes crashing down. To quote the most intelligent, most farsighted and most deeply hypocritical of our slave-owning Founding Fathers, I tremble for my country when I consider those future conversations.

In the first few minutes of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s mesmerizing and troubling chronicle of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a young female CIA agent named Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, arrives at a “black site,” apparently in Pakistan. She enters a cell where a fellow agent played by Jason Clarke is questioning a purported al-Qaida moneyman. Away from the job, Clarke’s character turns out to be a likable guy, but here he’s an expert practitioner of the “enhanced coercive interrogation techniques” so popular in the early stages of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The detainee is hung by the ceiling with chains, repeatedly beaten and sexually humiliated, forced to soil himself and finally smothered with a towel that is then drenched with an entire jug of water. (That particular enhanced technique became especially well known.)

Whether Bigelow and her screenwriter and off-screen partner Mark Boal are actually arguing that torture is effective, or that it yielded useful information that helped lead to the killing of bin Laden, is ambiguous and sure to be the subject of much debate. Personally, I find the symbolic significance of this agonizing and confrontational scene more alluring. Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar, knows something about being a woman in a macho environment. This is the first of her films to have a female protagonist, and it’s hard to avoid the possible parallels between her and Maya. Beyond that come the bigger questions signified by Maya’s presence in that room. Does a society that produces female CIA agents (and reelects a black president) gain the right to commit atrocities in its own defense? Is torture justified if the torturer is a university-educated woman, and the tortured a bigoted Muslim fundamentalist?

I think those are excellent questions for us to ask ourselves, arguably defining questions of the age, and I think the longer you look at them the thornier they get. I certainly incline toward the predictable left-libertarian response that torture and other illegal and unconstitutional actions (like, say, the government assassination of United States citizens on secret evidence) are immoral and unjustifiable in almost every instance. But you’ll notice that I’ve left myself a little wiggle room, and if we’re honest we recognize that morality is always relative, and only available in shades of gray. Whether you want to view this as coincidence or reflection of the Zeitgeist, there are several important films this season in which questions of morality, political leadership and good intentions loom large in the air, in the immediate wake of a presidential election conducted around just these issues, however murkily articulated. (The dog-abusing robot with the funny underwear vs. the Muslim brother from another planet. Have you forgotten already?)

read more:
http://www.salon.com/2012/12/01/is_feminism_worth_defending_with_torture/

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Arrow 10 replies Author Time Post
Reply Is feminism worth defending with torture? (Original post)
DonViejo Dec 2012 OP
LadyHawkAZ Dec 2012 #1
DURHAM D Dec 2012 #3
TomClash Dec 2012 #6
LadyHawkAZ Dec 2012 #8
RainDog Dec 2012 #2
Sheldon Cooper Dec 2012 #4
gollygee Dec 2012 #5
Egalitarian Thug Dec 2012 #7
cali Dec 2012 #9
forestpath Dec 2012 #10

Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:48 PM

1. It isn't worth defending for any reason

no matter who and no matter what, and the idea that any country, ideology or group would "earn" the right to do it because they're progressive in other areas is just idiotic. You don't get brownie points for being progressive that allow you to be regressive in other areas.

That being said, the article title is a huge stretch worthy of the World's Biggest Rubber Band Ball. What does this have to do with feminism? It's like saying we were all going against our feminist principles by not electing Sarah Palin. Women are not any more inherently good than men are- surprise, humans are human!- and there's always going to be some subgroups and individuals that are just plain bad or evil, whatever else they may believe in or support. Feminists as a group are generally humanists and opposed to violence. Lumping that one bit of cinema in under the banner of "feminist" as if it were what feminism was fighting for is ridiculous, and shows a lack of comprehension on the author's part. The very fact that the author found it worthy of note that a woman was doing it, after decades of Rambo-style military propaganda, should have given him a clue. Premise fail.

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Response to LadyHawkAZ (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:00 PM

3. Agree 100% with your second paragraph. It is a silly fail.

OTOH I am really grateful for the OP because the linked article showed a link to five video clips from Les Miserables. I can't wait until the movie comes out later this month.

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Response to LadyHawkAZ (Reply #1)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:33 PM

6. Your two paragraphs

. . . are 1,000 times better than the OP.

I would add one thing. It is an insult to real interrogators, who do slow, painstaking work without harm.

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Response to TomClash (Reply #6)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:54 PM

8. She presumably got the job on her own merit

without regard for her gender, and that was where the "feminist" issue stopped. It seems like the author is trying to hold what the job is against the feminists because our work allowed her to be there, and that's just silly.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 03:54 PM

2. interesting article n/t

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:12 PM

4. What does this have to do with feminism?

I don't understand the connection.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:15 PM

5. OK I've read this three times

I have a sinus infection and a fever so my thinking is a bit fuzzy, but I don't get the connection at all.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:52 PM

7. Flailing fail. n/t

 

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 04:59 PM

9. it appears that the editors or author went for the most sensationalist title

they could come up with. Stupid title. Stupid article. pure unadulterated shite.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Sat Dec 1, 2012, 06:28 PM

10. Nothing like a setting up a strawman (woman?) non sequitur of a question that

 

NOBODY wondered about except apparently the author, who then magnanimously granted himself "wiggle room" in answering it.

If I hadn't already canceled my subscription to Salon a couple of years ago, this tripe probably would have been enough to make me do it.

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