Bright Wall/Dark Room June 2015: A History of Violence

The scaffolding around this essay is my unshakeable belief that images matter, in real time and in retrospect, because visual media can and do shape the way we see the world, frequently more than we bargained for. Does Hersh’s account transform “Zero Dark Thirty” from half fact into whole fiction? If the cinematic treatment of a supposedly true story turns out to be a lie, does that make it propaganda? To what, exactly, can we ascribe the profusion of doubt that’s accompanied this tale of sound and fury, and what does it mean that this is a story we can’t seem to tell, much less find the moral in?

I really liked this essay (and the movie).

Bright Wall/Dark Room June 2015: A History of Violence

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty. I can’t think of many movies with such a steady build-up. Really well done. Setting aside any moral/political/veracity issues you may like to bring up, what I really loved was the simplicity of the plotline. Like Steven Shaviro wisely points out (must read, I say), it’s a procedural film. There are people who want to locate a man. It’s really difficult. They spend a decade working on it. Although we have a single protagonist, there’s no love interest. There are only hints at a personal life, mostly so the possibility can be downplayed. (I actually thought some of the weakest, most embarrassing moments were when Chastain was showed some ‘tude, like in the hallway confrontation and the writing on the office window. The script just wasn’t built for it.) There’s no sabotage, no competitors, just work. Oh, and chronic failure. And somehow it didn’t feel like 2.5 hours! All the plot resistance comes from the difficulty of the task itself and bosses who like good work, sure, but demand incredibly great work. In the end, after all the collaboration, the actual fulfillment of the mission is completely out of our heroine’s hands. She just watches and listens, like us. And what’s interesting from a filmmaking standpoint, is that climax is pretty dry, detailed, by-the-book. There’s no personal bloodlust, just well-rehearsed and well-executed teamwork. The movie progress from the horrific, emotional opening, through a couple hours of procedural drudgery, to an incredibly competent raid. By the time we get to the end of the movie (sort of like how we might have felt by the end of the manhunt in real life), the ending lacks much triumph or satisfaction. Everything zipped up. On to the next. Like the heroine, I just felt drained.

While we’re on the topic, I remember the song I was listening to when I heard that Bin Laden had been killed: Marvin Gaye’s If I Should Die Tonight. It was a strange night, wasn’t it?

Rebranding is the Last Refuge of Terrorists | Mother Jones

Bin Laden’s biggest concern was al-Qaeda’s media image among Muslims. He worried that it was so tarnished that, in a draft letter probably intended for [Atiyah Abd al-Rahman], he argued that the organization should find a new name.

(via) See also William Gibson on terrorism PR:

You’re a small group with no reputation, and you start covertly blowing up or murdering the people of a big group, like a government or a nation-state or a whole race. And you can’t just do it and then go and do the next one. You have to do it, and then go and do your PR. “We just bombed your mall. It was us.” And then maybe you do it, and some other guys, these upstart assholes across town, are calling up the news and saying, “We did it! We bombed the mall!” So then you have to get your PR guy on the phone and say, “No, they’re full of shit. WE bombed the mall.” So it’s about branding to that extent.

Rebranding is the Last Refuge of Terrorists | Mother Jones

Interview with William Gibson – Viceland Today

What we call terrorism is always asymmetric warfare. You’re a small group with no reputation, and you start covertly blowing up or murdering the people of a big group, like a government or a nation-state or a whole race. And you can’t just do it and then go and do the next one. You have to do it, and then go and do your PR. “We just bombed your mall. It was us.” And then maybe you do it, and some other guys, these upstart assholes across town, are calling up the news and saying, “We did it! We bombed the mall!” So then you have to get your PR guy on the phone and say, “No, they’re full of shit. WE bombed the mall.” So it’s about branding to that extent.

Interview with William Gibson – Viceland Today

Standard Operating Procedure (review: 4/5)

standard operating procedure

If you fight terror with terror, how do you tell which is which?

By choice, I stayed ignorant of the scandals at Abu Ghraib when the news first broke. Too disgusted. Too disheartened. I didn’t want to see it or hear about it, though it seemed the photos were everywhere. I finally came around.

Philip Gourevitch wrote Standard Operating Procedure by drawing on the hundreds of hours of interviews that Errol Morris used to make his documentary film of the same name. There’s some commentary on the mind-bogglingly poor management and bureaucratic indifference (e.g. “In the course of a month five different versions of the interrogation rules had been put into circulation at Abu Ghraib,” or the topsy-turvy relationship of Military Intelligence and Military Police, or the secrecy of the International Committee of the Red Cross even after its investigation found conditions “tantamount to torture,” or the willingness of people up and down the chain of command to look the other way when they saw the photos, or even saw it in person. This stuff is insane.).

But the photographs are the centerpiece. Most of the book details the incidents around the photos with lots of recollection from the military personnel involved, and talks more broadly about the nature of the photograph. It’s the iconography, how they encourage us to interpret the scene even though we have only that slice of time to judge—I’m glad the photos don’t appear in the book.

Were there a scale for jaded political cynicism, I’d probably rank in the 90th percentile, and I still find these stories really upsetting. But I’m glad I read it.