Sex Slavery Got To Do With It?
By The Plaid Adder
morning while I was working out I put on Monty Python's Meaning
Of Life. Of all the Python movies it's the one I'm least familiar
with and the one that I remember as being the most baffling
and un-funny. Unlike Holy Grail and Life of Brian it doesn't
have even a nominal plot (unless you count the loose attempt
to organize the sketches around the various stages of life);
and it is composed of equal parts of the absurd, the disturbing,
the sophomoric, and the dark. But I think I am much better
able to appreciate it now than I was when I first saw it at
college in the late 1980s - especially the darkness.
It begins with a 10-minute short film called The Crimson
Permanent Assurance, directed by Terry Gilliam. It's a brilliant
little piece of work, and unfortunately now it is ruined for
American audiences because of our memories of the World Trade
Center attacks. Basically, the central joke of the filmlet
is "corporate piracy." The frail and white-haired employees
of the Crimson Permanent Assurance, an accounting firm that
has just been bought by the Very Big Corporation of America,
rise up against their besuited yuppie executive taskmasters,
make them walk the plank, and then sail off onto the high
"accountancy" looking for adventure.
Their old rococo office building becomes a ship, in a wonderful
sequence that is kind of a prelude to Baron von Munchausen,
and the accoutnants, many of them now sporting earrings, eye
patches, and cutlasses made out of office supplies, sail until
they come to a "financial district" full of gleaming glass
skyscrapers. They attack and board one of the skyscrapers,
which leads into a hand-to-hand battle between the grizzled
pirates and a gang of thirtysomething executives, in which
the ordinary furniture of a corporate conference room is weaponized
in hilarious yet somehow approrpiate ways.
The WTC echoes, alas, come in when the defeated "captain"
of the "boarded" corporation leaps out of a window
to his death, and the film dissolves to a shot of a ruined
city with burnt-out shells of "once-proud" skyscrapers to
show that the Crimson Permanent Assurance has carried the
day. I was thinking as I watched it that Gilliam had found
an effective, if absurd, way of dramatizing the conflict between
the established "moderate" capitalism represented by British
concerns like the Crimson Permanent Assurance and the new
behemothal unrestrained capitalism represented by the Very
Big Corporation of America.
About the time I was watching The Crimson Permanent Assurance
for the first time in college, Caryl Churchill was taking
on the same battle in her satirical musical Serious Money,
a play I would donate organs to be able to see performed.
The Big Bang, as England's transition into (or hostile takeover
by) American megacapitalism was known, happened in the 1980s
under Reagan and Thatcher, and reading Serious Money will
give you some indication of how hard it is to try to explain
what something like that means - even though the effects are
global and catastrophic.
The bottom line is, it is very difficult to explain the operations
of global capital in a way that ordinary people can understand,
even in a classroom - forget trying to do it on a stage. Gilliam's
little film makes no attempt at that kind of explanation,
instead using the vocabulary of a genre we're already familiar
with to translate corporate piracy into a visual language
that we can all understand. It's a weird little movie, but
it has an even greater hold on me now than it did when I first
saw it (after which I remember dreaming about the building-to-sailing-ship
When I finished the workout and turned the video off (right
at "The Middle Of The Film"), what I saw was George W. Bush
giving his big speech at the United Nations.
I missed the introduction, where apparently he actually
talked about what he was there for, which was to demand that
the U.N. help us out in Iraq, on our terms. I came in at the
beginning of what struck me as a wild digression about various
other international threats and menaces, such as the AIDS
crisis and famine. The only purpose I could think of for this
portion of the speech was that it was a lame attempt to make
it look as if we still give a shit about the rest of the world
- look, we're going to put a whole $200 million into international
famine relief. Gee, George, that sure sounds like a whole
lot of money... until you compare it to the $87 billion you
have asked for to fix an Iraq that you broke, even
though the U.N. told you not to.
And then he started talking about sex slavery.
It was a positively surreal moment. Suddenly he's in the
middle of a long diatribe about this international sex slave
industry and how we have to work to put a stop to it. Now,
it is not that trafficking in human beings is not a problem,
or that sex slavery is not one of its more disgusting manifestations.
It's just a little strange to see it popping up in this context.
I mean this is supposed to be a speech about the situation
in Iraq, right? How did we get to sex slavery?
There are plenty of reasons why rhetorically this might
have seemed like a good move to Bush's speechwriters. First
of all, sex slavery is universally acknowledged to be a Very
Bad Thing, so Bush gets to look big by seeming concerned about
it. Second, it subtly ties into the whole "saving third world
women from third world men" thing that was used to justify
our invasion of Afghanistan and which will always come in
handy any time we want to take out an Islamic nation. Third,
it is guaranteed to play to his base, who not only are appalled
by sex in all its forms, but who also favor stricter controls
on immigration to this country, which is of course one of
the ways in which it would immediately occur to this administration
to try to control human trafficking. And fourth, it works
as a ploy to stifle critics of the speech. What, you thought
that was a disgusting performance of American arrogance? What
are you, some kind of pro-sex-slavery monster? But whatever
the underlying reasons for including it, coherence would not
seem to be one of them. Rebuilding Iraq... sex slavery. What
Well, there is a connection. It's just not one he wants
us to make.
Let's see...what are the conditions you have to have before
you can set up an international human trafficking ring? Well,
first of all, you need to find a large population of vulnerable
and desperate people. You need a group of people who are so
fucking desperate to get out of their own countries that they
are going to fall for scams about finding people work in America
(or Europe, or wherever), or be drawn into prostitution because
it's preferable to starvation. Or, you need a large population
of vulnerable and desperate people who are living in an area
where there is no functioning system of law and order, or
a system of law and order so corrupt that it can be bribed
to either look the other way or actually help out when the
traffickers abduct the women and children they intend to sell.
Then, you need a network of buyers in a richer nation who
see nothing wrong treating these particular human beings with
less dignity than you would accord to the family pet as long
as they're going to get some pleasure or profit out of their
So basically, what you need is uneven development. Money
and power in one part of the world, poverty, anarchy, and
desperation in another. The kind of thing that is created
and maintained by global capitalism, which relies on keeping
the majority of the world poor and exploitable so that they
can reap bigger profits when they sell their products to the
rest of the world. The kind of thing encouraged and intensified
by those hard-to-understand developments in international
finance that Gilliam was already going after, albeit with
a sense of playfulness that would be gone by the time he was
making Brazil, in 1983.
See, there really is a connection!
So, then, if you're looking to start up a sex trafficking
ring, you want global capital to keep right on doin' what
it's doin'... and of course that's what George W. Bush and
his Enron buddies are all about. But uneven development alone
is not enough! You also need regular, violent convulsions
of the ordinary fabric of society that will destroy kinship
and community structures, create populations of unprotected
and vulnerable refugees, break down the ordinary operations
of law enforcement, render governments unstable and highly
corruptible, and otherwise make it possible for you to prosecute
an illegal and flagrantly immoral trade in broad daylight
at high volume.
And lucky for you, we got guys in Washington right now who
have Ph.Ds in making all of that shit happen.
Yes, you are living in exciting times, my aspiring trafficker,
because your man in the White House has just reduced not one
but two countries to rubble and then brought in America-friendly
puppets to run them and American-owned companies to "rebuild"
them. Yes, you ought to be daily thanking George W. Bush for
the opportunities he is creating in Iraq, a country which
has been reduced to poverty by 12 years of sanctions and now
plunged into a nightmare of chaos and random violence in which,
basically, any form of organized crime could be prosecuted
and our troops would never get around to dealing with it,
as they are too occupied with protecting themselves from attack,
securing their own bases and the U.N. building, getting the
oilfields back into production, trying to restore basic services,
and trying to figure out who the hell it is that they're fighting
Yes, Virginia, Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq do
have something to do with sex slavery. They help make it all
So, sure, it's always good to bash human trafficking, it's
a terrible thing and it does not get nearly enough press.
But as long as military force and the resultant mayhem and
destruction are this administration's preferred method of
dealing with... well, with everything, then I don't want to
hear it from Bush. It is just too disgusting to watch him
up their condemning the things that his own policies have
done so much to foment. When they erect a statue to our great
leader in the public square, they should depict him with the
panther of evil rubbing up against his legs, as Bush swats
it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper with one hand, and
feeds it a humongous, bloody steak with the other.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting
an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the
same can be found at the Adder's