It’s hard to get your balance these days. Turn over a bucket, hop up on it, perch there precariously, look around as the cascade of chitinous black beetles surf in on surges of liquid shit. Pull up your pantlegs as the wave breaks around you and the brown spatters fly, squeak a bit, pray that the bugs (and the rats whose glowing eyes you see in the murk around you) don’t know how to climb.
Which is a melodramatic way to say that I don’t quite know what to say. Got some outrage? Get in line, sucker. Got something to say about rapin’ and torturin’, about beheadin’? So does every other Right Thinking Citizen, and by crikey, they’re making sure that those somethings are heard.
Let’s roll. Stay the course. Bring it on. Cut and run. Never forget. I’ll be back. Duck and cover.
Wait, that last one doesn’t fit in, does it? At least not yet.
It’s getting hard to stare unflinching into the actinic glare as the doors of hell swing open these days. The impulse, even after we’ve been bombarding ourselves with images like goatse and tubgirl and Daniel Pearl and Michael Jackson’s face, graveyard-joking all the while to show how tough and desensitized we are, is to turn away. To stop tattooing those horrible pictures on the sensitive cauliflower folds.
But each new iteration exerts its sick fascination, and the rays of doomlight — shining from Lynndie England and Nick Berg, from Madrid and Kabul — glitter over our mental horizons, lighting up the whole mediated clusterfuck as it whips itself into ever-bloodier froth. The tender-fleshed, bright-eyed Friends-consumers we were only show up in the quietest moments. Our shell-shocked outrage-fatigued palimpsest faces are hanging out in the wind, just like our asses. Can’t really make out the old stories of who we were on our faces anymore, and can’t make out the new stories either, scrawled in blood and filth, littered with copyright and trademark symbols and viagra ads and homemade porn and watermarked photos of piles of naked bodies.
Not piles of corpses. At least not yet.
The impulse is to turn away. But we tell ourselves that it’s weak and unworthy to avert our gaze. We’ve been told that it’s our ethical responsibility to bear witness, to see with eyes clear the evil that’s done in our names or otherwise, to understand and remember it, to prevent it ever happening again. Possibly at the risk of losing the chance to stop it, but pay that no never mind.
We love freedom. They hate freedom. We love liberty. God bless America. Down with the Great Satan.
We’re gonna shove democracy up their asses until they love us, just like Mike Tyson.
But not turning away can lead into an addictive room of mirrors. Bearing witness changes from a duty and a rite to a habit and a vice. The feed only gets notice when we unhook it, and we’re not fed the world by our umbilicals, we’re pulled further out of it. Schroedinger’s cat doesn’t die unless we see it happen, but if we’re watching it on video, it doesn’t really matter which way it goes. Kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out.
So we watch. We stagger from table to buffet table, dyspeptic and enervated, mildly turgid under our loosened belts. We snap and grin with our cams and camphones, and our photos are products that refer to themselves, not us. Our kaleidoscopic images proxy the world, and let us maintain the illusion that we aren’t really a part of it, and that the bad things are happening over there. That those chants and tribal signifiers that make us feel so good and so strong and so right actually mean something other than ‘go team’.
Smoke ’em out. Read my lips. No blood for oil. Support the troops. Rock the vote. Not in my name.
It becomes easier when everyone else is Them. We didn’t saw off poor Nick’s head, it was those scum, those vermin, the evil-doers, those others. We didn’t stick blunt objects up prisoners’ asses, either, or rape them or set dogs on them, we didn’t rip those kids apart with our amusingly-named ordinance. That was other people, a few bad apples, and they’re not us! We’re consumers of the images, don’t you see? We didn’t make this world! We didn’t maim that boy! It was them. Them! We didn’t slit Daniel Pearl’s throat, we didn’t knock over the gravestones, we didn’t fly airplanes into the World Trade Centre! We didn’t sell arms to Saddam, we didn’t sell arms to Iran, we didn’t ask for the double-anal pissporn, we didn’t do any of that shit. We are watchers. Watching makes it real, and watching keeps it separate from us. Watching is a noble act, at least until it gives you a hardon.
The basic truth gets obscured. What’s the difference between Osama bin Laden and George Bush? There isn’t one. What’s the difference between that fucker Amrozi who set the bomb that killed my friend Rick and me? There isn’t one. What’s the difference between the animals that sawed off Nick Berg’s head and the animals that beat prisoners to death at Abu Ghraib? There isn’t one. Between the Pope and Saddam? Between that old lady in front of the TV in a trailer in Alabama and that old lady digging up roots in a field in Kazakhstan?
We are one. We are all meat and electricity. And if there is more than that, we are all equally a part of that divine More. Or none of us are.
These ones go to 11.
I remember standing when I was maybe 14 in a circle of faces in the icy parking lot of the only arcade in town, out in front of what used to be Sonny’s hardware store. It was snowing, and I was in my shirtsleeves. Someone had yelled fight! and we’d all tumbled out past the steamed-up windows, out of the humid warmth into the snow. I can’t remember the names of the two combatants, but I can remember their faces. And I can remember the faces of the people watching. They were avid. Grinning. This was different from the clumsy, reluctant pecking-order school fights I’d seen (or been a part of) before. This was the real thing. One of the two was already down on the ice, on his back, eyes unfocused, by the time I took up a position on the outer edges of the ring of spectators. He was clearly finished. That didn’t matter, apparently. The victor hauled back his heavy winter boot and kicked the prone one in the head. I remember most clearly the sound, and the way that the head moved on the slack neck, and the colour of the blood on the ice. One kick, two, three, then someone at the front of the ring stepped in to stop the fun.
The look I saw on many of the bright tight faces was disappointment. That was the first of many fights I saw in my violent little hometown over the years, and the pattern was never different, except that in later years the fights were always fueled by alcohol. You go down, you get boot-fucked. It was a thing common enough that we had created a special name for it. Some people died, some needed reconstructive surgery, some were barred from entering the village limits. Being big and strong and stronger still of liver, and having good friends around at all times, I never got bootfucked. Being me, I never bootfucked anyone, though lord knows I there were times that I wanted to. In a legendarily violent town of 3000 people, you quickly understand the rules of retribution and revenge.
When I was in 17, I read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. It hurt. It put images in my head that I didn’t want in there, that are still in there more than 20 years later, and I hated him for it. The abstraction of brutality, the matter-of-fact articling of such utterly transgressive violence twisted my melon and started me wondering where it might lead.
Well, now we know.
Even back then, even as a callow teen, I defended his right to have written it, though I was inclined to want to punch him in the face for having done so, were I ever to meet him. Growing up media-starved (and smart, drunk and angry) in a town where you could choose between two CanCon television channels, where there was no movie theatre, no bookstore, only a tiny library and not even the dream that such a thing as the internet might ever exist, it was a rapid education I received in those three years between my freshman witnessing of my first bootfucking and the graduation ceremony of reading Ellis’s deadpan fantasia of dismemberment and death. The first lessons stay with you the longest.
Today I can find movies and photos and paintings and stories of the same and worse, three clicks away, without even breaking a sweat. And as often as not, these things really happened.
My impulse to turn away usually wins out these days. This may be the wrong thing to do. When a puppy shits on the floor, we rub his nose in it (or at least we used to, in less kind, gentle days) for a reason.
But I guess I realized at some point that there is something I can do about a man who starts a war, perhaps, but there is little I can do about a man who kills and dismembers another person, unless that person is me. And there’s still less I can do about a man who aquires money or fame writing about it.
Or, you know, a woman.
I also realized somewhere down the road that whether it’s fiction or photo, documentary or gore-flick, fake or genuine, no representation of violence is anything like the real thing. Our frisson of revulsion, our predictable and pointless anger at the perpetrator, our self-serving hollow vows of ‘never again’, our demonization of the other who would so transgress those ethical standards we hold out as self-evident, our self-congratulatory conviction that we‘d never do anything like that, and our complacence in the face of the indisputable fact that everyone, everywhere seems to be doing it anyway…. well, what are you going to do? Cheer the killer monkeys on? “We are nihilists, Lebowski. We believe in nothink!” Been there, done that, and it’s a dead end too.
I haven’t got any answers. But I am pretty sure that regardless of whether you have nightmares about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre) or the horrors of Abu Ghraib, no matter how accurately and horribly that fact or fiction is captured and portrayed for you, these things are to the real experience of violence as American beer is to the real thing. fucking close to water.
No wait. I mean – ‘a weak approximation’.
But the killer monkeys just won’t stop. And sometimes, you just have to turn away, all the while realizing that if you haven’t got the stomach for the imagery, you would be destroyed by the reality.

Thoughts That, If Not Deep, Are At Least Wide, Uncrappy

Join the conversation! 26 Comments

  1. i have no mouth and i must scream

    I wish I had time to collect my thoughts and words to write them down with, but I don’t right now so I’ll just point you to Stavros:It becomes easier when everyone else is Them. We didn’t saw off poor Nick’s head, it was those scum, those vermin, the e…

  2. Blogs can educate you

    I got a great post from an old classmate the other day and I read an extremely literate, honest blog about violence and our world just now. I know I’m still on a political jag, but dammit, this shit is…

  3. Eloquently put mate. Thanks.

  4. Boot-fucked?
    What world of pain.
    Nothing smart to say, sorry, ‘cept that Kilroy was here and read it.

  5. you took the words right outta my heart. amazing post, once again. thank you.

  6. Very interesting read.I have to say your beat writers have been doing an excellent job for many, many years.
    As the SUN slowly descends into another world I have to admit it is hard not to meditate in, so I guess what I’m saying is that I would really like to read more of your work as I find it fascinating.
    It’s almost as if you acquired your gifts RIGT OUT OF HEAVEN!
    I’m quite sure through further reading and correspondence there can be a mutual respect between the author and ALL of the readers.
    Looking back at all of the novels that I have read it seems that the ones that were covered in READ seem to be the ones that jump off the shelf at me.
    I have always been very interested in others as well but it seems of late the colors have changed dramatically at every book store I arrive at.I guess I have shown a hunkerin for these other novels that I just can’t put down.
    How’ever I have submitted a few offers in the past and hope to get a response soon.I hope I do because some of my portfolio has been damaged, which has really disappointed me.I hope the next novel I read doesn’t have any torn pages,as you would think the publisher would have enough respect for their consumers.
    As in the last 15 years or so beeing one of your avid readers you know that I am always looking for a happy ending through all of the books I have read.
    In closing I will look for your newest publikations but you have to understand my computer is not hooked up to DNA it is strictly through the phone line so everything is a tad pole slow.
    Double Dutch Bust

  7. I am having trouble reading the post’s could you please read and send them to me.
    Thank You,

  8. Wow, that was fucking brilliant.

  9. Beautifully Illustrated

    This is the best blog entry I’ve read in ages. It’s exactly what I wanted to say in yesterday’s post, only way better than I could ever say it. -RW out….

  10. Well said Stavros – fucking brilliant actually.
    Makes me laugh when I see stuffed shirts and talking heads state with great “authority” that blogging isn’t journalism. Journalism isn’t just reporting the news, it’s also scraping one’s nerves raw holding them up to the light and asking how did that make you feel then reporting just that. Toomany try to take the personal editorial out of journalism and make it something else – something less – too bad, it’s the best part of journalism as far as I’m concerned. And articles like this one of yours are right up there!
    Well done fellow Canuck 🙂

  11. I enjoy reading your post’s.They seem to really lighten my day. When I’m down I seem to always want to go UP!
    I have to say this this stuff must be virtual reality as I feel like there are camera’s all over me.I’m sure that I am not as recognizable as the people in these post’s but it sure feels good to be somewhat literary.
    P.S. I am thinking about going into the entertainment business just to kind of keep me busy. Do you know of a place where I could get a camera with a big battery that I could put in the floor board of my car as I move around alot.
    I would like to have something for the warm climate as my skin isn’t very thick so maybe you can recommend a film exposure suitable for this environment.
    Yours Truly,
    Buck Naked

  12. I am still young by comparison. However, I can also see the effects these types of things are having on me. The “curb stomp” sounds like what it was to me what your “boot fuck” was to you. Unfortunately I am not sure I have fully learned my lesson because I had my nose rubbed in the shit of the berg beheading video. Hopefully it is a great enough punishment and acts as a sufficient behavioral detterent next time I am tempted to watch something like that again. Thank you for your thoughts. I am going to link it to the post I wrote about the video.

  13. Heaven help us…

    Today was an awful day. Where to begin? “No place to start like the beginning,” they say. I woke up this morning and read over the usual blogs I visit once or twice a day and happened across IA’s most…

  14. Stavros TWC

    That bottom-line truth of our common humanity, our common experience, our common tendency to fuck up in a big way when stressed beyond limits… Stavros does a 360 pan around the issues of the day, reminds us that we’re watchers,

  15. Are today’s bootfuckers the bootfucked of yesteryear?
    Is that why a man bootfucks?
    Because he himself suffered a good bootfucking in his youth?
    If not, where are those bootfuckers today?
    Watching and enjoying all the bootfucking going on, endorsing all the bootfucking?
    And so we either suck up to the bootfuckers or suppress the urge to get the boots in early, give a really good bootfucking to the motherfucking bootfuckers.
    Or turn away.
    Or look obliquely as the sun is eclipsed.
    Or bootfuck.
    It’s positvely nuclear, the fuel of the eternally recurring bootfuck.

  16. How are these people concieved through my wife? Genetically or sexually? Obviously I have a problem with the latter especially with the girls.
    There has to be an option.
    I would like ALL of the mess that I seemed to have gotten myself into immediately expunjjjjjed.My FYI,probation,credit everything.
    I would also like a license and preferably an auto similar to the ones I reluctantly let go. As we all know my recent bike dilemma this must take place now.
    As, I am on call I must leave you momentarily….I am sure of more questions but maybe you will answer them for me now as my brain is fryied.

  17. Fair ’nuff. Overload is overload. But I find myself needing as much of the nasty brutal reality transmitted to me as I can get. Don’t want it in my back yard. Don’t want it in my personal space. But I can’t turn away. The everyday bullshit spin with its sparkly lip gloss pseudo reality won’t let me. It helps to differentiate the surreal in its intensity from the surreal in its intent. If I sneak off and watch someone’s head getting lopped off over lunch, I find it a lot easier to deal with the out-of-control megalomaniac who wants to drag me over the carpet for *their* mistake later in the afternoon. It helps nurture the Durdenesque ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.

  18. Just wanted to point out that the above “Buck Naked” should not be confused with Buck F. Naked, the esteemed drunkabilly chanteur. (His grammar may be distinctly hillbilly, but he does know his possessives from his plurals).

  19. The depth and cadence of the outrageousness that is morphing into our collective future is pretty weird allright.
    Like watching a really bad sci-fi movie in slow motion.

  20. Shit, man, what are you doing teaching in Korea? You can write. Even more important, you have something to say and the life experience to put things into a context that makes what you say matter even more.
    I wonder how all these “patriots” who cheer on the violence from the safety of their armchair with a beer on one hand and a remote control on the other would feel if they came across real violence in the course of their normal life. Unless you have seen the real thing up close and personal, you cannot even begin to imagine what it is really like. Photos of dead bodies or video footage of abuse do not even begin to approach the outer limits of what it is like to actually be there, in the flesh so to speak.
    Still, most people believe that they have “experienced” violence because they have seen it on TV or the ‘net. This is particularly so since the rise and rise of the Internet and its plethora of ugliness and brutality that is a few mouse clicks away. There has been a certain amount of desensitising that has lulled us into a false sense of strength. That false feeling of being tough will, for some, be tested one day and I doubt that many will rise to the task.

  21. Stavros speaks. And then some.

    This man can write. You should read his stuff and, if you can, help him with a donation….

  22. Stavros speaks. And then some.

    This man can write. You should read his stuff and, if you can, help him with a donation….

  23. Thanks, dg. As far as being in Korea goes, well, until (and if) word-putting-togethering ever puts bread on the table, I need me a dayjob!

  24. Forget about the bread, just eat cake.

  25. Blogs can educate you

    I got a great post from an old classmate the other day and I read an extremely literate, honest blog about violence and our world just now. I know I’m still on a political jag, but dammit, this shit is…

  26. Blogs can educate you

    I got a great post from an old classmate the other day and I read an extremely literate, honest blog about violence and our world just now. I know I’m still on a political jag, but dammit, this shit is…

Comments are closed.