Abu Ghraib and Lynching Photographs
Good article in the Chronicle of Higher Education comparing pornography and the Abu Ghraib photos.
Of course, sexual expression can be a wonderful, life-affirming thing, and certainly not all that is currently labeled “pornography” is “sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.” Surely one advantage of our culture over that promoted by Islamic fundamentalism is that women, as well as men, are able to celebrate their sexuality. But a disturbing amount of hard-core porn produced in the West is based on the view that violently degrading others is arousing, and we need to begin to question the assumption that whatever some people find arousing should be tolerated by the rest of us.
Nonetheless, I find the comparison more than a little stretched, and perhaps even distastefully opportunistic; the Abu Ghraib tragedy shouldn’t be understood primarily as a chance to bring the porn industries abuses to light.
Subtler, and more interesting to me, is the comparison of Abu Ghraib photos and historic photos of lynchings.
In spite of Secretary Rumsfeld’s pronouncement en route to Iraq this month that “the real problem is not the photographs — the real problems are the actions taken to harm the detainees,” we — and the rest of the world — are also bothered by the fact that the U.S. soldiers in the pictures (and presumably those taking the pictures) clearly got a kick out of what they were doing. In this respect, these photos resemble the postcards circulating in the United States in the early 20th century showing white people smiling and cheering at the lynchings of black men (and sometimes women) — the photos that showed us that racial animus can amount to a kind of giddy arousal. What revolts us now is not just that black men were lynched, not just that white spectators on the scene were smiling and laughing at the murders of their fellow human beings, but that the people sending the postcards could assume (and rightly so) that their recipients would also get a charge out of the images.
Read the whole.
- Body and Soul on Abu Ghraib
- A brief comment on Abu Ghraib