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Thu Dec 11, 2014, 12:17 PM

Why do so many Americans believe torture works? Partly because TV & movies portray it that way.

From TVtropes.org: (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TortureAlwaysWorks)
In the magical world of fiction, if torture isn't being just used to prove that the Big Bad is indeed big and bad (or that the Anti-Hero is indeed anti), it works as an instant source of 100% reliable information. The information extracted under torture is always accurate and important, even if the interrogator himself starts with no information at all and so has no way to know if the prisoner is telling the truth or lying. The possibility of having the wrong person, who will say anything under torture whether they know anything or not, will be excluded. Often as not, the victim is then released with no consequences to them if they lied.

The only times when torture doesn't work is when the tortured is just too Badass to be broken, and doesn't say anything at all. When characters object to torture, they are often portrayed as weak liberal Strawmen who "don't have what it takes" or "don't realize what's at stake". They only make moral criticisms, and never bother to point out that it's unreliable, presumably because they too know that it Always Works. Even when it doesn't work, characters who should know better assume that it will.


Some of their many, many examples from film, TV, and literature:


In Dirty Harry, San Francisco Police Department Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan presses down on the Scorpio killer's badly wounded leg (he was just shot with a .44 revolver) until he tells him where to find a girl he had kidnapped and left to suffocate. Naturally, he finds out where she is, only to discover that she has already died. The killer promptly walks away from the law by crying "police brutality", much to Harry's disgust.

In The Dark Knight, Batman uses it on a mob boss by dropping him from two stories up (conventional Batman interrogation techniques involve dangling the perp from twenty or thirty stories up until he talks) and breaking his legs.

LOST: The flashbacks of the Ben/Sayid torture episode, One Of Them, saw Sayid successfully torture a former superior officer of his to get the location of US soldiers. He used pliers to great effect it seemed.

Used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy's interrogation subjects are usually demons, whose loyalties are extremely weak. Once she has someone at her mercy, it rarely takes more than a minute for them to start talking.

Played with in an early episode of Angel. Angel is tortured, and doesn't reveal what the bad guy wants. However, it's revealed afterwards that he was THIS close to do it, but the gang saved him before that point.

In his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming (who had prior experience in British intelligence) refers now and then to agents being tortured, on the implicit assumption that, indeed, anyone even a trained agent will eventually give up what they know given enough time and pain.


How many times have comedies worked in a line like "Ve haf vays of makink you talk"? That wouldn't be funny if it hadn't been a cliche already.

It's no surprise then that Americans largely believe that torture works. The explanation of why it doesn't is rarely presented and even more rarely heard. We're not exactly a nation of critical thinkers, either, so until media begins to portray torture honestly, until we make a point of educating ourselves as a society somehow, we have no reason not to continue to side with our own baser instincts, nodding our heads when our leaders casually tell us torture was the only way to get the information they needed before the next bomb goes off.

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Arrow 14 replies Author Time Post
Reply Why do so many Americans believe torture works? Partly because TV & movies portray it that way. (Original post)
Gidney N Cloyd Dec 2014 OP
riversedge Dec 2014 #1
sumus Dec 2014 #2
pipi_k Dec 2014 #3
Locrian Dec 2014 #4
CaliforniaPeggy Dec 2014 #5
Gidney N Cloyd Dec 2014 #6
2naSalit Dec 2014 #7
0rganism Dec 2014 #8
woo me with science Dec 2014 #9
SomethingFishy Dec 2014 #10
Gidney N Cloyd Dec 2014 #12
SomethingFishy Dec 2014 #13
Gidney N Cloyd Dec 2014 #14
Taitertots Dec 2014 #11

Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 12:22 PM

1. we are

a gullible--non-thinking lot!!

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 12:26 PM

2. Sign this Whitehouse.Gov Petition to call for the release of the Panetta Report


http://wh.gov/i1ooD

This petition calls for transparency. The Senate Intelligence Committee report found that the CIA used harsh interrogation techniques that rarely resulted in valuable information. Senator Udall said an internal report, known as the Panetta Review, is a "smoking gun" that proves the agency continues to mislead the public. The White House can release this report and bring an end to the shameful chapter.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 12:45 PM

3. Everyone over a certain age knows

that the only effective way to get a confession out of someone is to have him questioned on the witness stand by Perry Mason.

That guy could get anyone to spill the beans!



seriously, though...

I have no idea why people think torture is going to work. For one thing, what if the person being tortured really doesn't have any relevant information?

Second, if a person with information fears his own people more than he does his captors/torturers, he might very well spit up completely false information.


Anyway, I think anyone in the business of torture should experience firsthand what they're going to do to someone else. Unless that person is a complete monster, he might lose his stomach for his "job".

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 12:54 PM

4. yes - great post

Same thing with guns, war, etc: the hero always has the best weapons and wins in the end.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 01:38 PM

5. A big, fat K&R!

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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #5)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 01:49 PM

6. Thank you, CalPeg!

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 02:38 PM

7. Zactly! K&R

The entertainment industry foments and guides our national group-think and it shows.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 02:53 PM

8. it works both ways though

that viewpoint is well-represented in media because it is part of how we already think. granted, there's a nasty cultural feedback loop at work here, but rather than be revolted across the board by depictions of prisoner mistreatment we experience in fiction, we find they express something many of us already believe: that torture is effective and appropriate in at least some circumstances. such ideas wouldn't be so prevalent in mass media if they weren't already part of the zeitgeist.

part of it, i think, is some limited hypothetical identification with the prisoner: "well, if i had information and those techniques were applied to me, i would certainly spill the beans." the hypothetical never gets to the point of "even if i had no information i would say anything to make the torture stop" or "if i was already inclined to yield some information, torture would prime my resistance to and hatred of my captors."

more than that though, people really do believe that "America's enemies" deserve whatever they get, the more brutal the better. Look at how so many have responded to police violence in this country: the victim deserved to be abused or even executed, even for very minor offenses, and if we can't cook up something naughty enough to merit summary execution, well, just look at what an unsavory person they were anyway and aren't you glad they got what they had coming.

Americans have largely become, to the extent we weren't already, petty vindictive assholes.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 02:55 PM

9. We live in a propaganda state,

down to discussion boards on the internet.


But *effectiveness* is irrelevant anyway. This is a question of conscience, human decency, and morality of our nation.

Not prosecuting torture equals complicity and a clear signal that it can and will continue. Calling torturers "patriots" is the revolting flourish of moral bankruptcy.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 02:57 PM

10. Yeah that's it.

It's the fault of "the entertainment industry" for not being clever enough to understand that some people are so fucking stupid that they think what they see on a movie screen is real.

I'm more pissed because Iron Man didn't come and save us all. What an asshole that guy is.

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Response to SomethingFishy (Reply #10)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 05:09 PM

12. What other input, besides forms of entertainment, does the average person have in...

...forming an opinion on whether torture works or not?
I'm actually not trying to demonize the media here or suggest anything intentional, but if we're amazed that such a high percentage of Americans believe torture works, effectively and exclusively, I have to wonder where they got that idea and the fact is TV, movies, novels, ancient Greek theater even, almost exclusively portray it that way, making it a storytelling trope, while very little else in people's lives suggests to them otherwise.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Reply #12)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 05:15 PM

13. Common sense?

Any sane person will tell you that if you are in unimaginable pain, you will say anything they want you to say in order to make it stop.

If what you say is true and people get their information and morals from entertainment sources, then we are well and truly fucked.

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Response to SomethingFishy (Reply #13)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 05:32 PM

14. This is apart from morality.

If I've got a captured 'terrorist' and I believe I can coerce him through torture to tell me where a bomb's been planted in time to stop it (the usual Jack Bauer scenario) I can refuse to perform the torture because my moral code stops me.

And you're right, any sane person, if he stops to think about it at all, gets that most people would say what a torturer wanted to hear but that's not exclusive of believing someone would also give up the truth and as someone in one of these threads said there's a second belief that interrogators can tell when you're lying.

Finally, you're right that we probably are fucked.

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Response to Gidney N Cloyd (Original post)

Thu Dec 11, 2014, 04:16 PM

11. Who has actually read what people involved in torture have to say about it

 

I've read some Franz Fannon work about torture during the French occupation of Algeria.

In my research, I've noticed that torture doesn't just fail to produce direct results, it produces negative results (resistance) that outweigh any alleged gains. From righteous indignation driving resistance to psychologically damaging the torturers, no one benefits.

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