The Moment of Truth — May 15, 2004

Sense and Sensationalism

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the alternate ending to the Frasier finale in which John Mahoney marries Harvey Fierstein.

John McCain was on David Letterman a couple nights ago, and in answering one question he seemed to indicate that Ho Chi Minh treated him better than Donald Rumsfeld is treating Iraqi POWs right now. He said something like, “Well, I was in isolation, and friends of mine were killed and injured, but we were never sexually humiliated.” McCain’s feelings about what kind of torture is worse than which probably stem from a discomfort with his own genitalia. And in this I can see where he’s coming from. I’m not comfortable with the idea that John McCain has genitalia either. Of course he was always understood to have them, but it was an unspoken understanding, as it should be. And to have a window to understanding how John McCain feels about his genitals is simply to have more window than we need. There should rather be a nice load-bearing wall there.

But this whole torture scandal is about too much window. The video of that Pennsylvanian entrepreneur getting decapitated was one window too many. Even Al-Jazeera thought so. And no one needed to see that pimply skank giving the thumbs up in all those pictures of Iraqi men forming naked pyramids. Bad enough to see the abuse, but then to have some idiot giving the thumbs up “to have the window into her attitude” was just too much. I mean, in the decapitation, there was a horrific solemnity, and if you’re chopping off an innocent person’s head, I think horrific solemnity is the appropriate attitude, if there is such a thing in that case. But, in any case, those are psychos, people we don’t like and who are against us, who avowedly want to kill us. This thumbs up soldier is on OUR side. She’s someone you might have to meet at a party one day. And she reminds me of nothing so much as the happy lynch mobs posing proudly for pictures next to murdered mutilated black people.

Just like I wonder with the lynching postcards, “Who were they sending these cards to who would be happy to see their friends or family standing proudly, displaying the human they mutilated?” I think, “Who does thumbs-up skank think is going to share her glee?” And the sickening suspicion is that there are a whole lot of people who might share it. People one might meet traveling around in one’s own culture. Not crazies who are destined to end up in the Jeffrey Dahmer section of the detention industry. Thumbs-up skank and happy lynch mob—these are people so certain what they’re doing is normal and correct and even super-duper, that there has to be some kind of supporting community in which they are at home. There’s a whole network of people who think the way they do. And these aren’t people you might end up being captured by if you ill-advisedly went off on your own to start an electronics business in a war-torn region full of terrorists who hate your country. These are people whom you might find yourself surrounded by at Old Country Buffet. And the only way you’d know it is if you happened to be at their mercy one day in a right-and-wrong or law enforcement situation. Which god forbid should ever happen.

It’s not so much the cruelty. Anyone who doesn’t expect cruelty from the human species must have had quite a rarified upbringing. It’s that, here’s a person fighting for our country, I guess. And thinking she’s just got the world by the tail, having forced naked men to do humiliating things. And she just has it so wrong. I swallowed a lot about human rights growing up, and one would think an ostensibly more patriotic person would have assimilated even more about equality and other late-eighteenth-century values.

It’s easy to co-exist with racists. We do it all the time. But I think we do it by kidding ourselves, imagining this racism is simmering on a mainly attitudinal level. Like, if the racist were to reveal herself, she would probably just say something really inappropriate, or maybe try to keep you from buying a house. But to be reminded that racism is a framework in which physical abuse is integral, and to realize THAT’s what’s simmering beneath the surface in the crowd around you—that’s really too much window.

And then to hear Rumself bitch about the PRESS, for god’s sake. And to have him go to the troops and make out like it’s the NEWSPAPERS’ fault, like if they would shut up and let the military handle it, everything would be okay. How dare they insult the troops by reporting on the abuse of prisoners? Don’t they know how such reporting reflects on soldiers not involved in that abuse? Rumsfeld is just not going to read the papers anymore, that’s all he can do to keep his spirits up and get through this ordeal. Poor Rumsfeld! What he’s going through! He’s as beleaguered as Jesus. This is Rumsfeld: “I can take it, I’m tough, but why should a great man like me with such an important job have to be annoyed by these buzzing gnats?” That’s Rumsfeld. He’s like: “Why does the press have to offer events up for public discussion? What a bunch of pests.”

I remember hearing a putz say, a few months after 9-11, referring to how airport security was going to be operating, “Listen, these guys are Arabs, and we can’t be politically correct at this point. If it seems like racial profiling, too bad. I mean, to hell with the ACLU.” Now, no one had mentioned the ACLU, but to airport security putz, this was no non sequitur.

To hell with the ACLU. To hell with the press. We can tolerate them when the issues don’t matter too much. But when it finally comes down to clear issues of right and wrong, the ACLU and the press are luxuries we cannot afford. And the sick thing is, this putz and Rumsfeld and thumbs-up skank (and of course head-chopping terrorists) are ALWAYS against the things they claim to only be against when they’ve been pushed too far. Airport security putz has been sick of the ACLU all his life, and now, finally, here’s a situation so extreme and urgent that it allows him to make his feelings public, because he’s so obviously right. And Rumsfeld always hates the press. He doesn’t believe the people have a right to know what their government is doing. And now, addressing a room of supportive soldiers, in a sufficiently extreme and urgent situation, his anti-press attitude is just unassailable. It can’t be contained because it is so true. When the chips are down, the press and the ACLU reveal themselves as the screwed-up, frivolous, socially unworkable institutions they always are.

What civics classes did these people take? Cuz I didn’t go to a Communist elementary school. My early schooling was easily no less conservative than had its curriculum been designed by Ned Flanders, Gomer Pyle, or Barry Goldwater. It was way to the right of Charles M. Schulz. In the late-60s/early-70s, we were still using books written to comply with guidelines laid down by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Hayes Act, and the Comics Code of America.

Don’t get me wrong. When I say too many windows, I don’t really want the windows boarded up. It’s just that I wish I’d never seen the view. I wish the genie would go back into the bottle. I wish I’d never seen intolerance for an informed public, hatred for human rights, and John McCain’s shame over his genitals. When I look through this newly washed window and see people so ready to shake off the shackles of civil rights and a free press and the Geneva Conventions, in the name of the USA, I get really uncomfortable. And I guess what makes me uncomfortable is the questions raised, like, “How many of my fellow citizens share my understanding of US ideals? Is it a tiny minority? A viable minority? A doomed, depleted minority?”

And I can’t help thinking that the 2004 election is going to be a referendum on whether the Constitution and an overall principle of human rights and equality are understood by a viable majority of US citizens, or not. And what am I going to do if the answer is “not?”

In a way, I’m glad the issues are on the table. Awareness of John McCain’s balls and his attitude about them may not be the most pleasant of constitutional obligations, but the opinion of someone who was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese Army for six years, weighing in on abuse of Iraqi POWs, seems a relevant.

What’s irrelevant, I believe, and not a constitutional obligation, is considering the opinion of Rush Limbaugh, drug addict, hustler, and hypocrite. Where is the FCC here, to fine Rush for exposing his perverse sexual fantasies about frat boys and how much fun he believes it would be to torture naked men? It’s fun! It’s blowing off steam! Can’t we have fun anymore, forcing naked men to wear hoods and pile on top of each other? Threatening to have a vicious dog bite their balls off? Why do we need to know that Rush Limbaugh would love to be one of those Iraqi prisoners? How does it contribute to the national discussion? Why should we, the public, allow obscene talk like Rush’s to be licensed on OUR airwaves? Surely we can find someone with more important contributions to make who can fill precious and much-sought-after air time.

It’s not just the airing of his sex fantasies per se. Rush is entitled to his fantasies, certainly. More to the point, do Limbaugh’s sadomasochistic fantasies belong in a discussion about actual torture? How would we feel if Barbara Walters reported on women in the military being raped by fellow soldiers, and said, “Well, I enjoy acting out rape scenes with my sex partners. So, really, why are these women making a big deal about this getting raped business? It’s just like when I have fun and blow off steam.” Would you have a man who liked to fantasize about being a boy and getting raped by priests appear on Nightline to belittle the issue of actual molestation of children by priests? “Man, getting raped by a priest, that’s my dream come true! Why don’t these kids see how lucky they are? Ah, pedophilia is wasted on the young!”

Sure, it might be funny on Mad TV in a sick, dead-baby-joke way. But you don’t tell dead baby jokes at a baby’s funeral and try to pass it off as a brilliant eulogy or an analysis of the social ramifications of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And the public certainly should question whether it wants to license someone to market dead baby jokes as eulogies, or if it would rather discourage the practice and maybe sell the license to someone else with more valuable things to say.

But, again, the 2004 election will be a referendum on that, as well. What’s it going to be, America? A Free Press, the Constitution, and the American Way, or a sadomasochistic drug addict describing his pedophilic rape fantasies at your baby’s funeral?

The choice is yours.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!