We Have Ways
(With apologies for not offering something new, I present a piece that I wrote a few years ago for Buzzflash. Unfortunately, with only a few name changes, the article is still relevant today.)
I watched a lot of old movies on TV when I was growing up, and a lot of regular TV shows too. And one thing I remember was that torture was the exclusive province of bad guys. “We have ways of making you talk!” I don’t know when this was first said in a movie, or why it became a cliche, but it was a villain who said it. No American hero would ever be seen inflicting pain on someone who was tied down. Can you imagine John Wayne doing that, or Humphrey Bogart? That was what those Nazis did, or the Japanese, or maybe some mad scientist played by Bela Lugosi, or the evil priest in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
That’s the trouble with growing up on a diet of Hollywood movies. It left me unprepared for the real world.
Now I’ve discovered that in order to defeat the enemies of freedom, we need to declare the Geneva Conventions’ strict prohibition against torture “obsolete.” In fact, we should no longer define beatings, humiliations, the use of dogs, having naked people sit handcuffed for days without food or water, holding their heads under water for long periods, urinating on them, sticking objects up their rectums, forcing them to lick their own feces, putting bags on their heads and making them stand still, etc. as torture. (I refer you to The Logic of Torture by Mark Danner, and its accompanying documentation for these instances.)
Also, despite claims by our leaders that they disapprove of torture, we should recognize that these statements are for public consumption (the public still lives in the obsolete past, as typified by these old Hollywood movies, and thus must be placated) and do not reflect the reality of official approval of these methods at the highest level. The techniques have been consistent not only at Abu Ghraib, but elsewhere in Iraq, military intelligence was fully aware of it, and senior military officials continually discounted reports by the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.
It is clear also that Mr. Rumsfeld knew what was going on, and in fact authorized it. Reports indicate that the torture still continues. The estimable Mr. Gonzales has been rewarded by being nominated to the post of our highest law enforcement officer, so it’s evident that this is the direction we need to go in.
So I think it’s necessary to realize that we live in a brave new world and that the old ideas of good and evil presented in our movies are dangerously outmoded. In order to bring the American people into the more enlightened realm to which our fine leader and his staff are taking us, I propose that our films start showing what is really necessary in order to defeat tyranny. We should see Bruce Willis performing “waterboarding” on a suspect, and we should have films featuring Jennifer Garner setting dogs on frightened, naked men. Nicolas Cage should be depicted savagely beating a helpless prisoner with a club while other soldiers watch, laughing. Instead of his silly kung fu moves, Steven Seagal should use hooding, sleep deprivation, and the trussing of bound prisoners in painful positions.
This may not be as glamorous as the old “action” film formulas, but it will better prepare our people for the challenges we will face in the fight against tyranny. I hope our films will soon come to more accurately reflect what we really need to do in these dangerous times.
Our police films are also out of date, I’m afraid. Although we’ve made some progress in terms of showing cops using brutality and other extra-legal means to get convictions, there’s still the old-fashioned idea of the maverick police officer working within the system as an underdog. This is really kind of insulting.
In fact, as the militarization of our police forces advances in this century, we see hordes of cops dressed in very cool SWAT-style black, with visors hiding their eyes, using pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse those demonstrators who are trying to stop our leaders’ push for greater world freedom by using disruptions and anti-American slogans.
Good guys should be wearing all black now, with helmets and visors. They should appear scary and impersonal, like the Gestapo or Darth Vader. Villains should be scruffy looking people wearing sneakers & t-shirts, or little old ladies, academic types, that sort of thing. Only by being dark and scary ourselves will we defeat evil.
This is for real, folks. As the saying goes, United We Stand — so we need to start looking and behaving alike. And our movies need to reflect that. No more of this “lone hero helping the underdog” thing. Hopalong Cassidy won’t cut it any more. We’re not underdogs. We’re the United States, the greatest country in the world. We need to start acting like it, and our movies need to start reflecting that.
So the next time we hear “We have ways of making you talk” in a film, it should be said by a true-blooded American like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the audience should stand up and cheer.