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What's Sex Slavery Got To Do With It?
September 25, 2003
By The Plaid Adder

This 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 transformation).

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 the hell?

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 misery.

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 these days.

Yes, Virginia, Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq do have something to do with sex slavery. They help make it all possible.

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 Lair

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