11 September 2007

Making torture seem enjoyable

Jonathan Coe in the Observer on offerings at the Edinburgh Film Festival, highlighting the gratuitous sadism which appears to be becoming a standard feature of contemporary cinema:

I'm now sitting watching a man struggle as he is held down and his arms are repeatedly punctured with a staple gun. I avert my eyes and look down at the floor while the air continues to ring with his screams of agony. Not long ago, I saw one of his eyes being gouged out with an oyster knife. But I've been through worse. Two days before this, it was a man being tied to his chair while a deranged woman hammered nails into his fingers and smashed his kneecaps with a sledgehammer. ...

On Sunday, it was 'Extraordinary Rendition', Jim Threapleton's debut feature about a college lecturer who is abducted by the CIA and spirited off to a remote detention centre until a confession has been tortured out of him. I seem to remember some fingernail agony in this one, although again I had my eyes closed for most of the time. ...

A mediocracy prides itself on its unshockability. Torture, unusual types of sex, bodily fluids, decapitation, painful death — such things are deemed acceptable material for representations, and one is expected to be able to stomach them.

So-called 'realism' is a form of aggression against those members of the audience who find its presentations offensive. However, the aggression is 'legitimised' by reference to the fact that the sensibilities being offended can be regarded as bourgeois. The point is not to make people more aware of reality, but to make them feel hopeless and degraded. A dejected person is more likely to surrender to the collective, and is therefore more useful to mediocracy.

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