I’m not a real big fan of Jonah Goldberg. Oh, he’s undeniably talented as a writer. So was Upton Sinclair, but that didn’t make Sinclair any less a know-nothing, overhyped prick.
My problem with Goldberg is that he’s like the writers and producers on Star Trek: The Next Generation, compared to the original, one and only Star Trek. The writers on the original Star Trek — they were war veterans, former cops, former business owners, pilots, and engineers. They’d lived life and their scripts had a depth to them.
Meanwhile, writers for the step-child of Trek with the bald guy as captain, those writers had spent their whole lives writing for television. Thus the show was flat, predictable, entirely conventional, and — more than anything — soulless.
Which brings me full circle to Goldberg. He’s a paper-hanger parroting the neo-conservative line to the point of parody. Something really rubs me wrong about guys who spend their 20s advocating for interventionist, non-defensive wars, but they can’t be bothered to enlist.
And today he suggests that torture isn’t immoral because the good guys do it in the movies.
Really? Yes, really.
Look, I’ll skip the “it’s just a movie/TV show” response because he is right — that’s not his point.
Now, I know I will get a lot of “it’s just a movie” or “TV shows aren’t real” email from people. At least I have every other time I’ve made this point. So let me concede a point I’ve never disputed while making one these folks don’t seem to grasp. If such practices, in the contexts depicted, were as obviously and clearly evil as many on the left claim, Hollywood could never get away with having the good guys employ them. Harrison Ford in the Tom Clancy movies would never torture wholly innocent and underserving victims for the same reasons he wouldn’t beat his kids or hurl racial epithets at black people. But given sufficient time to lay out the context and inform the viewers of the stakes, as well as Ford’s motives, the audience not only understands but applauds his actions. Of course it’s just a movie. But the movie is tapping into and reflecting the popular moral sentiments. Think of these scenes as elaborate hypothetical situations in the debate about torture and interrogation that are acted out and played before focus groups of normal Americans.
No, Jonah, the problem is in real life, the certainty that Jack Bauer, Jack Ryan and Jonas Blaine operate under almost never exists. The heroes can be sure they have the right guy and that he knows where the bomb is or will answer “WHO DO YOU WORK FOR??!!!” because their world is a pocket universe with a limited cast and omniscient writers.
I’m not saying that kind of certainty never exists in the real world. I’m saying it’s as rare as neo-con who is an actual military veteran.
We all know the hypothetical. If a nuc-u-lar bomb was about to go off in a day care, and Abdul knew where it was, would we support cutting off his fingers? Sure — almost all of us would grab the snippers and do it ourselves. If that didn’t work I can promise you there are even more interesting and grisly tricks we could play with his internal organs. And few of us would shy away from doing it.
IF. WE. COULD. BE. CERTAIN.
But would you do the wetwork on Abdul if you were told, “Well, we’re pretty sure he knows. We’re almost certain he’s involved. Of course, he could be just a guy off the street. Hell, we do work for the government, you know. Have you seen our previous work samples? The mortgage crisis, dollar collapse, the imprisonment of dozens of innocents for rape, and yeah — that whole tax code? That and the post office and those levees in New Orleans? Yeah, that’s us. Congress pays our salary. We’re running GM. Go on, now — start cutting on the guy.”
That’s the problem Jonah. Scenes where the good guys break the rules are cathartic because we know they have the right guy and the stakes are that high and yeah, Jack just kneecapped the dude but we saw the dude blow up a bus of nuns, so — okay. We want that in movies because reality isn’t so certain and it’s fun to watch bad guys blow up real good.
Look, even in real life I’m not against a little roughing up of the worst of the worst. Bread and water, limited sleep, a little slapping around, hot and cold running dysentery. And when we have a real asshole we know without a doubt is guilty, I’m not going to lose sleep if we go full Jack Bauer on him. But those cases are so rare that no, it doesn’t justify systematic, sanctioned torture.
(Side note: If they want to shake up Season 8 of 24, have Jack torture someone who is categorically innocent and have to deal with the consequences beyond a whispered, “Dammit.”)
See, I can enjoy the fantasy of fiction or even approve of the very rare use of extreme methods in the very rare instances of absolute certainty. But that doesn’t make it right. Hell, I watch Doctor Who despite its regular neo-Marxist and anti-gun message. I watch porn with a whole bunch of bells and whistles — and let’s be honest, humiliating stuff — and I don’t want any of that in my bedroom for real. (Mostly.)
So no, Jonah, there’s no connection. It is just entertainment.
Oh, and by the way, your own war porn fantasies didn’t get your flabby ass to the recruiting station, Jonah, so you’re the best counter to your own argument.