What is Torture?
This will be an overview of the project, giving a summary of historical background that lead to this project, an overview theoretical and methodological models that I will be using as well as a summary of 24, Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars
Chapter 1: A Recent history of torture
Chapter 1 will present a historiography of torture as it concerns this project. Starting with the Geneva Conventions and moving forward, this chapter will look at how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ratified in 1948) and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment have impacted current debates about torture.
Finally this subsection will look at current issues surrounding the use of torture following the September 11 terror attacks and the Iraq War. Because the majority of the project will focus on television programs that premiered after the September 11 terror attacks, I feel that it is important to root that analysis within a contemporary context. This section will look at a range of incidence of torture (or the suspected use of torture) including the recovery effort of PFC Jessica Lynch (she had to save her before she could be raped or tortured), Abu Ghraib, and the Guantanamo detention center. This chapter will rely heavily on accounts published in popular news source. However, I will use this historiography to introduce key theoretical research about torture.
Chapter 2: How often does Torture Really Work in 24 and does it Really Matter.
Starting in February 2007, I began to rewatch the fifth season of 24 for a related project. As I was watching, I made myself a cheat-sheet listing which episodes featured torture, and whether that torture was effective. After a few episodes, my notes became messy, and hard to read, so I began plugging my information into a spreadsheet. I quickly noticed that torture, at least when used by the show's hero Jack Bauer, did not seem to be as effective as the shows supporters made it out to be. Across the 24 episodes in the fifth season, Jack Bauer uses torture seven times. Only three of these seven times, Bauer is able to get accurate information. That is about a 42% success rate. The numbers for government-sponsored torture (normally pharmaceutical torture or sensory deprivation) has an even lower success rate on 24; government sponsored torture works 1 of 4 times. Perhaps the most surprising thing that this brief survey found was torture when conducted by terrorists worked nearly 60% of the time. While these numbers are still inflated (many experts argue that torture never works), they seem to show that torture might not be as effective on 24 as many pro-torture advocates claim. The question that began to form in my mind as I began to fill in more numbers on my spreadsheet was: Does it really matter that torture almost never works on 24? These statistics will act as a framework as I look at the way that torture is presented across the show's six seasons. I will examine a range of incidence covering government sanctioned torture, torture carried out by terrorist and torture carried out by Jack Bauer. Why do some torture scenes stand out, while others do not? Do a handful of successful torture-heavy interrogations outweigh all of interrogations that failed? How does that actual success rate compare with the media discourse about 24? I will go to great lengths in this chapter to compare pro-torture advocates talking about 24 in the mainstream media to the way torture really functions within 24. In doing so, I hope to show how pro-torture advocates try to shape and reconstruct the program's discourse of torture to suit their own ideological goals.
In a profile in the New Yorker, 24's creator Joel Surnow talked about how he wanted to create a conservative television program. He already stood out in the largely liberal entertainment industry, and he was interested in putting together a television show that would resist Hollywood's liberalism. Since it began airing in the late fall of 2001, Surnow has found a large group of conservative supporters. In June 2006, the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation sponsored a round table entitled "24 and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?" Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh moderated the roundtable. The panel featured a number of 24 cast members and producers and academics that study counter-terrorism. The panel opened with a keynote speech by Secretary Michael Chertoff from The Department of Homeland Security. The audience was filled with a number of other political celebrities including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and is wife. Events on the show were also used to frame news reports on Fox News's The Big Story with John Gibson. These things work to construct a dominant normalizing ideological reading that 24 is, as Secretary Chertoff remarked in his opening statement to The Haritage Foundation:In simple terms…they're [the characters in the show] always trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options, where there is no clear magic bullet to solve the problem, and you have to weigh the costs and benefits of a series of unpalatable alternatives. And I think people are attracted to that because, frankly, it reflects real life .
In other words, what the viewer sees when she or he watches 24 is an accurate representation of counter terrorism. This argument was taken further on September 13, 2006 on The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. Speaking to Bill O'Reilly, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham said, "The average American out there loves the show 24. OK? They love Jack Bauer. They love 24. In my mind, that's as close to a national referendum that it's OK to use tough tactics against high-level Al Qaeda operatives as we're going to get," (Media Matters for America).
I begin my analysis of torture in post-9/11 television with 24 because it is the most visible of the shows that will be highlighted in this study, but also it is because most well known. During the show's six seasons, it has been nominated for, and won many top industry awards. It also gets about 13 million weekly viewers (Hollywood Reporter). Using Hall and Fiske's model, I will unpack the ideological message of the show. In so doing I hope to be able to answer the following questions: How does the ideological message of the show relate to on screen representation of torture? Does it matter that torture sanctioned by the government does not work while Jack Bauer's does? How does the high success rate of torture cared out by terrorist play into the show's ideology?
Chapter 3: Is it Rape when the Victim is not human: Sexual torture in Battlestar Galactica
Over the course of it's three seasons Battlestar Galactica has been noted for the way it has realistically dealt with issues related to the War on Terror. Coming out of the same cultural milieu of 24, contrasting these two shows seems to reveal much more than the shows do by themselves. If one believes that 24 is forwarding an ideology that supports the use of torture, then Battlestar Galactica goes to great lengths to problematize the role that torture plays in countering terrorism. Over the course of three seasons, the show's producers have placed the main characters in both the role of torturer and tortured to great effect. In an essay posted on the fan site "Battlestar Wiki", the show's creator Ron Moore writers, "It is about people. Real people that the audience can identify with and become engaged in. It is not a show about hardware or bizarre alien cultures. It is a show about us. It is an allegory for our own society, our own people and it should be immediately recognizable to any member of the audience," (Moore). To this end, the show attempts to show not just how torture affects the people involved at the moment of torture, but the long-term effect torture.
To this end, there are a number of questions that need to be answered about the role of torture in Battlestar Galactica. How is the discourse of torture different or the same as 24? One of the major differences between 24 and Battlestar Galactica is that torture is cross gender. Along those same lines, torture takes on a far more sexual role. How does this reinforce or challenge the ideas about torture? To complicate torture in Battlestar Galactica further, not all the characters are human.
Keeping these issues in mind, this chapter will focus on the role sexual torture plays within the context of Battlestar Galactica. Repeatedly sex, often times rape, is used as a primary means of coercion. In the second season Lieutenant Alastair Thorne, the chief interrogator on Battlestar Pegasus, rapes Sharon "Athena" Agathon (one of the copies of the Cylon Number Eight) in order to find out more about a reconnaissance photo. In the same episode it is revealed that the crew of the Pegasus has systematically raped a copy of Number 6 (known as Gina). While on New Caprica, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace is held captive by Cylon named Leoben. Leoben forces her to live as if they were married. To keep her complacent, she is given a small child that she believes is her daughter (Thrace's ovaries are removed while she is being held captive by the Cylon's in an earlier episode). During the third season, while being held captive by the Cylons, Gaius Baltar is tortured by Captrica-Six and Number Three. These scenes cut back and forth between images of Balter strapped to a table being electrocuted and screaming with images of Balter fantasizing about having sex with Number Six. These incidents play out against a backdrop of genocide, suicide bombings, and food riots. What I hope to show in this chapter is that by incorporating sex and sexual violence into torture scenes in Battlestar Galactica, its producer's hope to further demystify torture as it is portrayed in post 9/11 television.
Chapter 4: Naturalizing Torture in Veronica Mars.
Perhaps one of Veronica Mars's greatest assents when the show premiered in 2004 was that it was on UPN, a network with relatively few viewers. Free from high expectations it would have in it's third season on The CW, Veronica Mars did not have to play by the rules of most television programs. The show depicted a strong, independent female lead that was free from the social expectations often placed on young women on television. In her school life she rejected the standard paths to popularity and actively battled against social forces within the school. Outside the school she battled the police and patriarchal establishment of Neptune, California's wealthy ruling class.
Taking all of this into account, Veronica Mars seems like an unlikely place to find torture. But through out the show's three seasons, torture is used a number of times. In fact, the first thing viewers watching the shows premier saw is the character Wallace Fennel duct-taped naked to the school's flag poll. Under the Convention Against Torture, this would be considered torture. Wallace, who is a new student at the school, is forced to stand, unable to move for hours against a flagpole, with only his genitals covered by duct-tape. When people begin arriving at school, Wallace's is fully exposed to humiliation as students take pictures of him. Regardless of Wallace's pain or humiliation no student is willing to cut him down. When Veronica arrives, she does not hesitate to push her way through the crowed and help him, despite the possible retribution from the biker gang. In the third season Wallace takes part in a "Stanford Prison Experiment"-like project for one of his classes. One of his fellow classmates transforms into a sadistic prison guard. Over the next few hours the 'guards' sadism is projected onto one student in particular. The prisoner is not allowed to go to bathroom; after he soils himself he is forced to spend the rest of the day in a small dark closet. During the first class session after the experiment ended, Wallace asks the 'prisoner' why the 'guard' had missed class. The prisoner explains that the guard was sick and that he was taking notes for him until he gets better. When Wallace questions him, the prisoner explains, "it was only a game, it didn’t mean anything."
Both of these scenes are examples of how torture is made to seem like a normal part of adolescences and do not really mean anything. This is problematic for two main reasons. First, torture has a significant psychological effect on both the torturer and the tortured. Second, while Veronica Mars might be an imperfect feminist text, this is further compromised through these representations of torture. This chapter will focus on how torture is used in a narrative that is not about, or does not reference, the War on Terror or the war in Iraq. How does the show's representation of torture related to the show's discourse about female independence? Do representations of torture take away from, or enhance the show's anti-patriarchal agenda?
Chapter 5: Black Humor in the Fan Discourse of 24
The final chapter of this project will move away from talking directly about the way torture is depicted in television, to talk about the way the television fans relate to representations of torture. I began watching 24 at the beginning of the show's fifth season. Very quickly I found myself strongly reading against the show's dominant ideological message. Myself, along with a good friend would send snarky instant messages to each other while we watched from different states. Around the same time I began reading and posting on an Internet message board mostly populated by television fans. For myself, my friend, and the people posting on the message board, we all seemed to relate the program in much the same way: Humor.
The goal of this study was to look at how fans of 24 talked about torture by analyzing posts made on an Internet message board. What I found was, when talking about torture, fans on this message board engage in black humor when talking about torture. There are a number of reasons why humor might be deployed by posters. First and most simply, it might be a reaction to the over the top, often campy version of reality portrayed on the show. This camp reading emerges out of the show's "real time" structure; characters on the show seem to have a super-human ability to go without sleep or food, or the show's protagonists are able to transport around traffic-clogged Los Angeles in minutes. The second reason humor might be so widely used is much less playful then the first: fans are uncomfortable with the way that torture is represented on the show. The show offers a rich experience regardless or the shows content. Even while the real time structure of the show open's it to a wide number of counter-hegemonic readings, it also leads to a complex story structure. Over the last 6 seasons, the show has created nearly 60 recurring characters spanning five presidential administrations, a wide array of government agencies and terrorist organizations. But perhaps the most interesting reason torture related humor plays such a major role in this online fan community is because, despite the richness of the show's narratives, fans are uncomfortable with their own fandom. Whatever reasons a fan might articulate for enjoying the show, they still have to contend with the show's right leaning, pro-war ideology.
This chapter will apply the psychoanalytic scholarship of Sigmund Freud and Alan Dundes and the sociological scholarship of Ronald G. Webb to analyze the way torture related humor functions within the context of this message board. By looking at posts made on this message board I to take the structural analysis that makes up the majority of this project and make it less abstract. The use of humor among the posters, I will argue, is telling. As many scholars have argued, humor often is used to cope with anxiety. So when a group of people begins to use humor when discussing something as contentious as torture, it seems like it ought to be explored.
Labels: torture count
Labels: torture count
Labels: torture count
"Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."