Decline of the American Empire...

Most of us were shocked and revolted by the recent news of how some soldiers treated some detainees. But some of us were not surprised--the behavior is the antithesis of culture and we already knew there is darn little culture. Found this article from the Orlando Sentinel by Kathleen Parker. I would say her thesis is right on target, except that indulging uncivilized behavior starts long before college days. Certain video games, some pop music, even authentic JellyBellys with names (and flavors!) such as "earwax, boogers, vomit" are promoted (thus sold, the key here) to little children. My friends allow their kids to wallow in this stuff and smile and say, "Boys will be boys." I think Miss Manners has it right: "The fact that children do not easily take to the conventions of their society is cause for sympathy but not for letting them escape being civilized." [Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium by Judith Martin]

`Dumb and Dumber' culture has bred depravity by Kathleen Parker

When President Bush told the world that abuses at Abu Ghraib prison do not reflect American values, he was right. The best American values--in spirit, if not always in practice--respect human life, dignity and the rule of law.

But some of what happened at Abu Ghraib, specifically the sexualized humiliations, may reflect American culture--especially in the instance of the naked human pyramid which is nearly iconographic within the adolescent zeitgeist that spawned our current generation of soldiers. The images from Abu Ghraib, now irreversibly tattooed on the Arab brain, were every frat-house cliché magnified. The human pyramid, males mooning, masturbation, bags over heads. What we saw, at least in part, was "The Farrelly Brothers Do Baghdad."

How else to explain the giddy photographs of young soldiers mugging for cameras and giving the thumbs-up sign beside humiliated prisoners, naked and masturbating? Another Farrelly movie, "Dumb and Dumber," comes to mind.

I don't want to overstate my case by insisting that the culture made `em do it, but we'd be missing a few dots if we didn't admit that the culture that birthed our young soldiers has dumbed down the definition of human dignity.

The Farrelly Brothers--kings of the gross-out comedy film genre characterized by scatological humor and raunchy sex jokes--are convenient touchstones in the larger discussion about the debasing of American culture. In their side-splitter for the developmentally arrested, "There's Something About Mark," the male star gets his genitals stuck in a zipper. Later when he pleasures himself, he misplaces his "issue," which subsequently becomes hair gel for "Mary." Don't ask.

Such is what has passed for culture for many of the kids now populating our military. My point: There's not much difference between what those soldiers enacted in Abu Ghraib for digital cameras and 15 seconds of instafame back home and what America's increasingly debased culture embraces as good harmless fun.

Quickly, I want to draw a clear distinction between the photographs of naked prisoners and others reports of physical torture. There's no excuse for either--no justification, no exit from a full hearing and appropriate punishment--but there is a difference.

... Meanwhile, the other psychological tortures--the dehumanizing images of naked men forced to perform as sex slaves--have provoked the most outrage in the Arab world where men being naked in front of other men is deeply humiliating. Being forced into the posture of a woman is as bad as it gets.

Perhaps most shocking of all the photographs were those showing young female soldiers ridiculing their male captives--behind a stack of bare male bottoms, or pointing at the genitals of a masturbating prisoner.

How did such depravity come to pass? How could our bright and brave young people come to behave so stupidly? While some claim they were merely following orders, surely those orders didn't include posting for pictures. At the same time they're displaying for their pictorial diaries, the soldiers seem bereft of historical conscience, unburdened by any awareness of larger--and lethal--contexts into which their frat-house scrapbooks might be placed.

To them, it seems, Abu Ghraib was just another photo op, an after-hours party sans grown-ups to inhibit their jaunty trip through a Hieronymus Bosch garden of perverse elights. Farrelly, farrelly, farrelly, farrelly life is but a dream.

We can't blame America's culture entirely, but as we're trying to change the hearts and minds of others, we might take a closer look at our own. You can't steep a teabag in sewerage and expect it to taste like Earl Gray.


Search Contact

Sanity Island © 2010 by Harmony Workshop
May be freely copied and distributed if with attribution.