Adrin Neatrour, 7 June 04
Abu Ghraib all in the Mind’s Eye - an American movie on release everywhere.
Events at Abu Ghraib are represented by the US President as being anomalous out of the ordinary events - caused by a few bad people. The form taken by the abuse - photographed and videoed sexual torture, reveals deeper evolving processes endemic not only in US culture but also that of the UK.
Each culture will bring its own particular twisted psychic development to the perpetuation of atrocity. Atrocity is something that is prone to happen in war. Either because the combatants are stripped of normal restraints by the shock terror and degrading aspects of combat; or in territorial disputes the intensity of desire to intimidate conquer and occupy acts as a justifying disinhibitor; or war in its outcomes offers opportunities to those who win to take control and power of life and death over those delivered into their hands. In this latter instance war corresponds to situations in prisons labour camps or any sort of closed physically bound institution in which a powerful few exercise total power over those in their charge, and where the detained are dependent on cultural rather than legal protective mechanisms.
The form of abusive sexual humiliation and torture to which the Iraqi prisoners are/were subjected obviously is/was sanctioned by US high command - General Sanchez was aware of and approved the treatment of the Abu Ghraib inmates. And in the same way that the SS generals could give genocidal and murderous commands to their troops with the knowledge that the men were socially and culturally primed to execute the orders, so with like confidence American command could order and approve a prisoner regime that centred on the genitals of their prisoners. The pornographic admixture of sexual physical torture humiliation and degradation is now endemic to the mainstream American culture, accompanied by its validifying process, the objectification of the subjective through use of imagery in the form of video or photos.
Susan Sontag thinks that the pictorial has come to the fore because it rests on the use of images as repositories for memory: she says that major events ‘lay down tracks ‘ governing how important events are remembered, ‘The memory museum is now a visual one.’ I believe that the culturally engrained use of photo video and sound image effects a deeper part of the way in which we experience the world than memory alone. I think that replicated images effect the nature of our consciousness as we engage with the world. The use of replicated picture and sound imagery is central to how we experience the living of our lives: consciousness.
We are born into an immersion of manufactured images comprising both picture and sound, mostly idealised and continuously assimilated as part of our being. As we develop, a significant part of consciousness which determines and directs our psychic functioning is absorbed from this world of projections - sound and image - and our behaviour comes to mimic these forms. We start to live the movies we project in our heads. We experience the world as a projection of our internalised idealised sounds and images. And when we make our own mechanical or digital replications of the sound and visual images - video photographs sound tapes such as staged dialogues - an important part of their purpose is to be external validifiers of the inner experience. To give objectivity to the subjectivity.
The past 100 years or so have seen the USA increasingly subjected to a cosmic storm of moving image particles that penetrated first through the shield of public consciousness and then with the arrival of TV and video through the defences of the private domain. In a shifting deracinated melting pot culture, this total imagery, comprising from the 1930’s onwards moving picture and fluid sound, was increasingly taken up as a model for individual actions defining: pose - verbal cues - and attitude - all attributes relating to the individual’s identity. A central aspect of the movie video and music action imagery, that is critical to the provision of a psychic identity, is that everything in mechanically produced forms has a script: everything has a beginning middle end.
The notion quickly develops that if you, in your outer expression of subjectivity take on the outer symbolic signifiers assimilated from the moving image (sound and/or picture) experience, then your internal scripting can run the desired course. You can live the film that you shoot in your head. Desires material, desires carnal are the drivers of the internalised moving image life in a culture increasingly defined by desire. And what is it we most desire: control over destiny, the script. With the invasion of desires film was no longer restricted to something seen on a screen or monitor. We live with movies we project in our minds; complete scripted sequences with music and sound in which each individual is an actor/director. In those societies defined by the inflation of infinite multiplications of image, our consciousness seems to draw on two track perception: one track is switched to the movie channel where we live the script of our desires; the other track deals with actuality in which we have to live through the real with all its difficulties and frustrations.
Of course the movie channel’s ambition is to realise the movie completely. And using selective perception of the actual and intensified projection of desire, the conscious mind can experience the feeling of achieving the scripted outcome. Some groups are in particular structural positions to make real the movie: individuals with social power who can impose their movie on underlings; and socially isolated individuals. Both US society in particular and British society are defined in this respect by the relative social isolation of individuals. People who are alone or in small nuclear groupings are not subject to collective forms of psychic correction and containment of internalised movie fantasies.
The problem remains for consciousness that it is often aware that there is a lack of tangibility in its perceptions. At this point the culture has provided cheap and readily available forms of technology that allow easy mechanical replication of ‘experience’ to all. The digital camera and video are everywhere available to give objectivity to the subjectivity so that consciousness in its various psychic operations has objective tangible proof that the script works. Film and video, cheap digital images allow everyone access to proving that the movie is going OK and that it is going according to the script. Of course the images objectively captured have to cover short strips of action or truncated sequences evidencing simple gratifications; longer scripts involving more subtle play are difficult. The realm of sex is perfect for photography and video. It’s a contained bounded realm, an activity that can be treated as discrete to power and gratification, and the pay offs-hard-ons, ejaculations, grunts and groans, simple role play/acting involving parameters of dominance/subjection and allied posturing - are easily captured objective proof on tape disc or film, of the individuals power to realise the objects of their desire. They objectify that we’re having fun in our movie.
In the USA the sex/pornography industry is vast and in the fertile soil of American psychic needs has spread everywhere interpenetrating consciousness and legitimising and fixating carnal and sexual desire in all its forms. The question is why simple sex scripts should have taken such a dominant defining part of American consciousness. The prime social experience for many Americans seems to be powerlessness and isolation. Characterising features of social and economic experience are large corporations and small nuclear groups. Within the large corporation most people exist to sustain the projections of the bosses and managers; and the nuclear family grouping is too small to sustain a power/ status system as witness the interdependence of men and women and the separation of the generations.
There are strong forces at work, particularly in the USA but also in the UK promoting the heightened social isolation of individuals whilst at the same time projecting sound movie images celebrating individual power and control. But Hollywood projects mythical realms - Middle Earths, Normandy Beaches, Hogwarts. The porn industry advertises a real achievable realm that you can get your hands on and hard on and in which you can be king or queen for a day. A realm where the individual can play out the movie without interruption. In a society defined by social isolation carnal sex becomes an issue of power; power over the flesh, both of the self and others, and as such drifts naturally towards the domains of sadism masochism and torture. Sex mutates into a discrete power gratification zone. A zone which takes us straight to the action(sic) at Abu Ghraib. A familiar movie to the American participants who want to have fun and objectify their roles in so doing. © Adrin Neatrour