Normalizing torture
February 27, 2014 8:13 AM   Subscribe

"Fringe is a modern reincarnation of the X-Files. . . However one major difference that jumps out when you compare them is the huge amount of torture that happens in Fringe compared to the X-Files . . . Everywhere you see it it promotes the lie that torture works."
posted by tippiedog (79 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
This article has no context. Not even an episode title.
posted by lumensimus at 8:15 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hold on. Are they accusing a Fox TV program of endorsing torture? Who ever heard of such a thing?
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2014


Singling out Fringe for normalizing torture would seem to be willfully ignoring the immense elephant in the room that is 24.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2014 [34 favorites]


Unlike, say, "24".
posted by TDavis at 8:20 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also 24.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 8:22 AM on February 27, 2014


I hear 24 likes the torture.
posted by schwa at 8:23 AM on February 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


And furthermore, what a few screengrabs illustrate here is not torture, per se, but a painful form of actual memory scanning. It hurts, yes, but it works not because it's torture, but because it's actually searching for concrete thoughts. Come on now.
posted by lumensimus at 8:23 AM on February 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


What an awful article. Has this person actually seen either show?
posted by HumanComplex at 8:23 AM on February 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


"When you start actively watching out for it the prevalence of these scenes is shocking."

Says it all right there.
posted by smackfu at 8:24 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Isn't the whole premise of the show "Here's some shit that doesn't work in the real world, but does here"?

I don't think the idea that we're more comfortable with these scenes these days is completely nuts, though.
posted by ODiV at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't know that this person has ever actually watched Fringe.
posted by Jairus at 8:31 AM on February 27, 2014


I agree with the premise that torture is often mis-represented on TV as an effective way to get intel, but I don't think Fringe is a good show to pick for this thesis.
posted by muddgirl at 8:33 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow, this really, really reads like a college sophomore's homework assignment for POLI 203: Politics in Film and Television. One that got a particularly poor grade because it's just Fervent Opinions on the media's depiction of torture and not particularly related to the source material which was the point of the exercise to begin with.

That and there's a whole lot of scenes on Fringe that appear to be torture if you're watching the show out of the corner of your eye in a bar, but it turns out they're consensual (and, admittedly, extraordinarily painful) scientific procedures devised by Walter during this one time in the 1980s when Belly and I were tripping our balls off on 5-MeO-DiPT and phased a live goat through a barn door.
posted by griphus at 8:35 AM on February 27, 2014 [37 favorites]


I'm not a Fringe watcher, but I think the author's main thesis regarding the normalization of torture in popular culture is so clearly true that I can live with any unfair harm to one television program.
posted by bowline at 8:36 AM on February 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


If you're going to throw a show under the bus, at least actually, you know, throw the show under the bus and not just point to a show and to a bus and then ramble on about the ongoing epidemic of bus under-throwings without linking the two in any coherent manner.
posted by griphus at 8:39 AM on February 27, 2014 [30 favorites]


I'm not a Fringe watcher, but I think the author's main thesis regarding the normalization of torture in popular culture is so clearly true that I can live with any unfair harm to one television program.

I'm trying and failing to decide if this comment is supposed to be amusing or serious. (Parody of "good end justifies any means" thinking.)
posted by aught at 8:40 AM on February 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


Sure, but there's a much better FPP and discussion to have on torture on TV than an improper application for a specific TV show.

On preview: griphus said it better.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:41 AM on February 27, 2014


If you're going to throw a show under the bus, at least actually, you know, throw the show under the bus and not just point to a show and to a bus and then ramble on about the ongoing epidemic of bus under-throwings without linking the two in any coherent manner.

Prof. Griphus, why are you such a hard grader?? You're class is to hard, they told me TV in Society was suppose to be a gut!!
posted by aught at 8:44 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Never seen Fringe, but I refuse to watch Homeland because if the damage that Gordon and Gansa, via 24, did to America[1]. My little stand against injustice.

1: Scalia and Torture
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The biggest actual difference between the two is that the X-Files is, at heart, a show about the ways in which our tiny local cultures and traditions were finally turned into a single national culture by the end of the twentieth century. Even what should have been the last hold out, the weird ghost stories we told each other by the campfire and sometimes even half-believed, were finally collected, systematized, and categorized by the US government, and, if we were, lucky, turned into stories for the whole nation to share. In their own way, Mulder and Scully represent the last closing of the American West, only instead of being the ones to drive out stagecoaches with their newfangled cars, they're driving out the last holdout microcultural artifacts despite their own good intentions and earnest curiosity.

In contrast, Fringe (from what I can tell from having watched a few episodes) is more about a mad scientist. The key difference is that Mulder and Scully travel around the country finding weirdos and strange phenomena instead of producing the weird stuff and strange phenomena themselves.
posted by Copronymus at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2014 [25 favorites]


They wouldn't let me try the onion soup, but it looked so delicious. That was torture.
posted by gimonca at 8:52 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I refuse to watch Homeland because of the damage that Gordon and Gansa, via 24, did to America

You should avoid it. 24 and Homeland followed the exact same arc regarding torture. The shows start out not really addressing a viewpoint on torture directly and are both very interesting conceptually, then steer themselves very firmly and blatantly to "torture works as a tool for getting information to save lives", which is repugnant.

I'm super, super done with those show creators. Permanent blacklist.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:52 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not a Fringe watcher, but I think the author's main thesis regarding the normalization of torture in popular culture is so clearly true that I can live with any unfair harm to one television program.

Not to pile on, but this is a very, very, very dangerous attitude. Because what happens is that when people can pretty easily demonstrate that the example being given for a particular idea is specious, they can very easily conclude that there are ulterior motives for offering a specious example, or that the whole thing is a lot of hooey, and they can wind up writing off the entire notion the example was being offered to support.

It's exactly when you support someone's underlying thesis that you have to be the most rigorous about not throwing your enthusiasm (or your indifference) at terrible examples. Those terrible examples, which will eventually be exposed as such, hurt the underlying argument.

Or, as one of my friends used to angrily put it when someone would make a bad argument in favor of something he believed in, "Get off my side."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2014 [24 favorites]


Also, both disgusting and unsurprising that Scalia would cite Jack Bauer as justification for torture.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:54 AM on February 27, 2014


In contrast, Fringe (from what I can tell from having watched a few episodes) is more about a mad scientist.

If you want to Wax Philosophic about it Fringe is much more personal, where X-Files was more anthropological, in the exact ways you mention. At its core, and without getting too spoiler-y, Fringe is a show about personal choices and their consequences, whereas X-Files was more a show about circumstantial events and their effect on those around them.
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2014 [12 favorites]


I would say it's not just Fringe. I'm scraping the bottom on the TV barrel on Neflix streaming and have been watching A&E's Breakout Kings, which comes down on the "yay!" side of law enforcement beating up convicts for information.

And not coincidentally, I was thinking this morning about going back to my old habits of avoiding TV shows that feature violence as their raison d'etre.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:56 AM on February 27, 2014


Jesus christ Breakout Kings is one of the biggest pieces of crap put on television in the last decade. I watched a season of it hoping there'd be a moment where everyone realizes they have to stop being the shittiest human beings they possibly can but NOPE.

It's like the writers forgot that if you're going to have severely flawed characters as your two-dimensional Heroes of the Story, you actually have to give them redeeming features beyond "they get the bad guys."
posted by griphus at 8:59 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


That was a pretty dumb article.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on February 27, 2014


This is pretty much SOP on every single procedural show out there.

Not to mention the fact that they always portray abiding by constitutional and legal restrictions as an impediment to bringing the evil doers to justice: evil doers are always obviously so, so any idea that the good guys should restrain themselves is at best bleeding heart fuzzy-headedness, and a worst a deliberate attempt to aid and abet evil.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:04 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always thought Fringe was a show, in large part, about parent-child relationships and the intergenerational nature of trauma that just happens to feature a lot of mad scientists.

I think an argument can be made that Fringe features a common type of "torture porn" that should be discouraged, not because it advocates for the position that torture works per se, but because it relies on gruesome scenes of pain to shock and arouse the audience. But that's a pretty different argument than the one in the original link.
posted by muddgirl at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


(Not arouse, like, sexually, but rather arouse their sensibilities and their interest in the show)
posted by muddgirl at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2014


Fringe has 100 episodes. How many actually have torture scenes?
posted by smackfu at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2014


I think it's a weak thesis, and not the best show to use as an example. In fact, the singular screenshot is of an episode where the antagonist uses telepathy instead via a "don't think of an elephant" mind trick.

If you're going to point to the normalization of torture, Arrow and The Blacklist are much more egregious shows that seem to never go through an episode without a torture scene. Earlier this week, I used MI3: Ghost Protocol as mindless dinnertime watching and it had two torture scenes, one played for comedy.

I always thought Fringe was a show, in large part, about parent-child relationships and the intergenerational nature of trauma that just happens to feature a lot of mad scientists.

What I was about to say, but a lot shorter. Even the alternate reality character arcs for Broyles and Astrid (unfortunately only one) center on family relationships.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2014


"If you're innocent, why would you ask for a lawyer?"

Every once a while I will pick up a Gabriel Allon book and holy shit. They're decent page turners, but man do they ever glamorize the hell out of that sort of thing.
posted by ODiV at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2014


Fringe has 100 episodes. How many actually have torture scenes?

That would be a good question to ask and answer if one were to write an essay on how Fringe promotes the lie that torture works.
posted by muddgirl at 9:10 AM on February 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


...evil doers are always obviously so, so any idea that the good guys should restrain themselves is at best bleeding heart fuzzy-headedness, and a worst a deliberate attempt to aid and abet evil.

Of all shows, making this particular argument against Fringe is really clear indication that you haven't actually watched Fringe. From Season 2 on, the entire show revolves around exactly that attitude making everything worse for everyone.
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on February 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


For balance Fox has agreed to produce another show in which torture is not used and the bad guys always win.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:13 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


So did anyone else flag this post?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:13 AM on February 27, 2014


The problem with TV representations of torture is that, even when presented as wrong, it's still presented as effective. That is, the bad guys may torture, but only because they lack the moral fiber of the good guys. That creates a huge opening for the like of 24 and SVU to show good guys torturing as a way of showing how "conflicted" they are, or how they get things done in a crisis.

In fact, however, torture is not only wrong (because it violates human dignity), it's pointless (because it doesn't produce reliable information) and self-perpetuating (because torture at its heart is simply the raw exercise of power). That aspect I've only ever seen portrayed once on TV, in "Chain of Command, Part 2" of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard's captor quickly progresses from trying to get information about Federation defenses to breaking down Picard's will for its own sake. If that aspect of torture were given more play, it would a welcome change, and a more dramatically interesting one, too.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:14 AM on February 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


So did anyone else flag this post?

Yes. It's a post by a longtime user, not spammy and raises some questions people seemed to be talking about. We tend to not remove posts just because the articles draw incorrect or badly-supported conclusions. As per usual if you want to talk about moderation, MetaTalk or email is the way to do it. I am answering here instead of deleting your comment, but I'd prefer to not have a metaconversation in this thread which is about something else.
posted by jessamyn at 9:25 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


the man of twists of turns: So did anyone else flag this post?

Flag? Not until I've got enough comments to finish my POLI 203 paper.
posted by dr_dank at 9:26 AM on February 27, 2014


THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:32 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ding, ding, ding! My bicycle. O_O My bicycle is blue and has a O_D little chimey bell onnit. Ding, ding, ding! X_D My bicycle is blue X_O and has a little chimey bell. I left it in the rain, and it russsted. X_X
posted by adipocere at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's weird about this to me is that Fringe seems notable among shows for really having the question of the morality of tactics be a consistent undercurrent, both in the day-to-day stuff that Walter gets up to (and at least in the early stages Peter basically exists to be horrified at Walter's lack of scientific ethics) and in the intelligence/industrial complex that Massive Dynamic (and their subsequent lack of oversight) represents.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've only watched the first season of Fringe and I don't remember much in the way of torture.

On the other hand, Supernatural has a metric fuckton of torture, and it tends to work. Then again it's generally demons being tortured, so maybe it just magically works on them.
posted by brundlefly at 9:40 AM on February 27, 2014


I think season 5 had a fair bit of torture in it, both from the big bads in the dystopian future (I guess it would still be a spoiler to new watchers to reveal who they are). And then didn't the Fringe team also get up to some more reprehensible stuff in that season? Kidnapping a guard to get info to break into somewhere, and Peter tortures someone too. But that's seen as part of the huge downward spiral that he goes through, which leads to him literally losing his humanity.
posted by themadthinker at 9:40 AM on February 27, 2014


CBrachyrhynchos:
If you're going to point to the normalization of torture, Arrow
You know, the trope of "beating the info out of the bad guys" is so ingrained into comic books that I never even noticed that this is essentially what is going on in Arrow. I had always considered as being my badwrongfun show but now I've got a new level of problematicness to deal with.
posted by charred husk at 9:49 AM on February 27, 2014


I don't remember the torture in Peter's scene in S.5 actually being effective though, for lots of spoilery reasons. So that would be an example of torture being presented as both morally wrong and ineffective.
posted by muddgirl at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's very true. It's definitely painted in an entirely negative light when he does it—but the villains manage to use it effectively, which ties in a bit to what Cash4Lead talked about above. Though they do have psychic powers as an excuse for efficacy.
posted by themadthinker at 9:55 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


In contrast, Fringe (from what I can tell from having watched a few episodes) is more about a mad scientist.

This actually helps the narrative, a lot, in comparison to the X-Files. The mad scientist is pretty crazy and you can understand why the things he says are treated with skepticism even when some things he claims turn out to be true. On the other hand, Scully's skepticism with Mulder's far-fetched theories that were right 99% of the time became inexplicable fairly early in the show's run.

Of all shows, making this particular argument against Fringe is really clear indication that you haven't actually watched Fringe. From Season 2 on, the entire show revolves around exactly that attitude making everything worse for everyone.

Holy shit yes, this. I mean, how anyone could look at the alternate timeline as "things being done RIGHT" is beyond me.
posted by Hoopo at 9:59 AM on February 27, 2014




"Managers know better than to fuck around, so if you get one that's giving you static, he probably thinks he's a real cowboy, so you gotta break that son of a bitch in two. If you wanna know something and he won't tell you, cut off one of his fingers. The little one. Then tell him his thumb's next. After that he'll tell you if he wears ladies underwear. I'm hungry. Let's get a taco."

-Mr. White
posted by Splunge at 10:07 AM on February 27, 2014


And then there's Teen Wolf where the villains doen't really care if torture works or not - they all just want to string Tyler Hoechlin up like this.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:08 AM on February 27, 2014


that's umm prettyuh... ummm
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:12 AM on February 27, 2014


understandable?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:14 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


The purpose of torture is really not usually to coerce people to give up information. It's done to hurt, destroy, and humiliate victims, and to intimidate populations that may dissent from or oppose a government. It works great.
posted by thelonius at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Fringe has 100 episodes. How many actually have torture scenes?

Dunno because I lost interest after about ten. But the amount of gross, gratuitous violence in the program was what I found the most off-putting about it.
posted by Rash at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh sure, but there was gross, gratuitous violence in the X-Files as well. Body Horror is a huge part of the genre. That wouldn't support a thesis about how the X-Files and Fringe display different sensibilities of the US through time.
posted by muddgirl at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I kind of want to say mandatory, MCMN.

To the original point of the thread, though: I'm not actually 100% sure there's really been that much of a rise, proportionally speaking, in pro-torture writing for TV and film. Reservoir Dogs has already been mentioned. Boondock Saints comes to mind. A goodly number of L&O episodes, from the very beginning, included more-or-less explicit threats of (or actual) violence in the service of obtaining a confession. SVU especially trod that path a lot.

I mean basically every police procedural I've ever seen includes violence or threats of violence against suspects to make them talk. And they always do.

Small wonder that low-information voters and politicians come out in favour. It works on screen, of course it works on real people.

I think that may be one of the more insidious effects of the conservative split from the reality-based community. With fewer people willing to employ critical thinking and interacting with reality, television and film provide models to live by. So torture works, the guy always gets the girl, 90% of everyone everywhere is white, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:32 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Scully's skepticism with Mulder's far-fetched theories that were right 99% of the time became inexplicable fairly early in the show's run.

I rewatched through season 7 last year and this was my main gripe. At some point very early on in the series, Scully the skeptic turned into Scully the willfully obtuse. I could never figure out if that was intentional or not on the part of the writers and producers.
posted by echocollate at 11:01 AM on February 27, 2014


Perhaps she was Scully-who-can't-let-go-of-her-belief-system the same way Mulder couldn't let go of his? The story was largely about "SCIENCE!" vs "BUT ALIENS ARE REAL"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:04 AM on February 27, 2014


The most striking thing to me about Fringe, where violence was concerned, was the character of Olivia Dunham. Typically, for dramatic purposes, when a law enforcement character is faced with a split second decision whether to shoot, they dither, they deliberate, they hesitate. Entire plotlines could be resolved in seconds with a single well-placed shot. But on Fringe, whenever the moment comes that you think, "Shoot the bastard!" Olivia Dunham shoots the bastard. Every. Single. Time. Not in a vindictive way or a callous Dirty Harry way. No, what she has is a total confidence of purpose.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about Chicago PD.
posted by rhizome at 11:31 AM on February 27, 2014


Yeah, if you want to get into a discussion of torture on TV, it's the police procedurals and action shows that really normalize it. Way back on NYPD Blue (long before 9/11) there was always tension when Sipowicz interrogated suspects, an implied threat that he'd stop being gentle and "get serious" if they didn't confess.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The story was largely about "SCIENCE!" vs "BUT ALIENS ARE REAL"

There was the "Scully is religious" arc too.
posted by Hoopo at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2014


I know the common wisdom is that 24 was pro-torture, but I watched a bunch of it and while it wasn't a super-sophisticated take on the issue, it might not have been quite that simple. A lot of the people that Jack Bauer tortured turned out to be innocent or at least to not give him any useful information. And knowing that damaged him. (Not as much as the people he tortured, of course.)
posted by jjwiseman at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2014


MULDER: Five years together, Scully. How many times have I been wrong? Never! ... Not driving, anyway.
The X-Files (movie)
posted by mbrubeck at 12:59 PM on February 27, 2014


A lot of the people that Jack Bauer tortured turned out to be innocent or at least to not give him any useful information. And knowing that damaged him. (Not as much as the people he tortured, of course.)

The notion of torture as a tactic that can have innocent victims and still be employed by the righteous doesn't seem so much nuanced as um..y'know..even more massively fucked up. What it does is normalise the idea that torture is an information gathering tool, that while it has its unfortunate downside, sometimes it's necessary. This is a lie. Torture is, in the real world, a technique of oppression, not investigation, because it does not and cannot work as the latter.
posted by howfar at 2:07 PM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


The purpose of torture is really not usually to coerce people to give up information. It's done to hurt, destroy, and humiliate victims, and to intimidate populations that may dissent from or oppose a government. It works great.

I think the real motivation for torture is a kind of self-justification, where the torturer is trying to convince himself of a (false) innate superiority over his victim. One sees torture most often in situations where small groups of people are trying very hard to assert a moral authority on dubious grounds. "People with bad consciences live in fear, and they hate most those whom they have wronged."

The internal link in the original article to skeptics was interesting.
posted by ovvl at 5:27 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


You know, the trope of "beating the info out of the bad guys" is so ingrained into comic books that I never even noticed that this is essentially what is going on in Arrow.

Unfortunately, this is really part of the grim 'n' gritty trend which began in the mid-eighties and really hasn't left, although it got a bit of a boost post-9/11. It's worth comparing Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns on this; in the former, Rorschach tortures two people (a random guy at a bar and Moloch, a retired villain), but gets no info in the first case and it's obviously unnecessary in the second--he does it because, well, he's Rorschach. Batman, on the other hand, gets quick and complete answers simply by hanging a guy from a skyscraper by his heels. That's the difference between Alan Moore and Frank Miller, even back then, in a nutshell. (Not that Moore is completely loathe to have one of his "good" guys abuse prisoners; V in V for Vendetta deliberately psychologically "breaks" one of his prisoners, but that's more of a poetic justice/let-the-punishment-fit-the-crime sort of thing. Then there's what happens to Evie, which is shown as ultimately being an intentional growth experience, which one might see as, well, problematic.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:08 PM on February 27, 2014


I'm pretty surprised no one has mentioned Person of Interest...which I love, but which I feel like has gone even more disturbingly down the "torture consistently begets information" road. I'm not sure what to think of it. One could make the argument that the show does intentionally make you question what it means to be a bad guy or good guy, and allows its lead characters to do questionable things without justifying them--which is also something that distinguishes it (the one perhaps unambiguously good character got killed off, so what does that tell you).

That said, in the recent episode I watched last night, they seemed to be making light of it in a way I hadn't remembered them doing in the past, which I found disappointing.

On a related note, interesting that Jim Caviezel seems to have a career with such prominently torture-related roles.

And ditto on this article completely missing the boat with regards to Fringe not being a good example to support the author's thesis. Kinda pissed me off when I saw this pop up on Hacker News a month or so back.
posted by dubitable at 8:32 PM on February 27, 2014


One could make the argument that the show does intentionally make you question what it means to be a bad guy or good guy,

"Maybe there are no good people. Maybe there are only good decisions."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:52 PM on February 27, 2014


Lots of people (especially Griphus) have done an admirable job of pointing out how badly this applies to Fringe and how many other shows have been worse about this. So instead I'll just mention how amusing I found the reversal in an episode of Black Sails where John Silver avoids being tortured by freely admitting: “Torture won’t help you. I mean, I have an exceptionally low tolerance for pain, I’ll say anything to make it stop.”

Not that Black Sails is shy about severe physical abuse; but a show about pirates (with Michael Bay's name stamped on it, no less!) wasn't the first place I expected to see the uselessness of torture as a means of getting information getting highlighted.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:35 PM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Then there's what happens to Evie, which is shown as ultimately being an intentional growth experience, which one might see as, well, problematic.

Yeah, Moore's use of rape and creepysex as a way to deconstruct characters does get a bit old after you start noticing how frequently he goes there. But then again, I always saw V as a moral Frankenstein story.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:53 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had a weird moment once when I happened to catch on episode of this show. The nervous lady and the scowling fellow were trying to find some man who was doing something misguided, and at some point it emerged that this man was ex-military.

"My dad was a soldier," says the nervous lady, looking very intensely at the scowling fellow as if they'd just discovered the man was a nuclear bomb. "They NEVER stop being on-mission until the job is done." "Shit," said the scowling fellow, "We've gotta find this guy FAST."

A pretty minor instance of militarism, in the scheme of things, I guess I was just taken aback by how loud and clear and, I don't know, unsubtle? of a dog-whistle it was.

Anyway, carry on.
posted by Drexen at 7:54 AM on February 28, 2014


Two shows that I think handle torture in kind of interesting ways are:

Arrow, where the torture is much more Patty Hearst-style and much less Dark Knight-style. That is, it's used as a tool of oppression and brainwashing, and not as a way of getting information. It's also something that runs through the entire society on that show. The show tends to concentrate so much on how torture (and torment) change how you think over the long term, and I actually find its take pretty interesting. There's a whole lot of violence on that show, and I don't usually like a whole lot of violence and gore, but I don't think it ever devolves into torture or fascism porn.

Burn Notice, where the mains used some "enhanced interrogation techniques" that I think at the least bordered on torture (pretending to kill people, hanging people off of buildings, etc), but they almost always used it in conjunction with a "prison buddy" plant; the torture was a way to bond the "bad guy" with the "prison buddy" plant, and the expectation was always that the "bad guy" would then want to spill or help the "prison buddy." So it was a kind of circuitous way of getting information, but it was almost always successful on the show.

On the other hand, there are some shows that are seriously into "torture porn" (Vampire Diaries, in my opinion) and in which torture is presented as an incredibly useful and righteous tool in the "good guys'" tool chest (Supernatural, in my opinion). I do think that just some regular not-even-about-law-enforcement shows wouldn't always have been so blase about torture or so pro-torture as they are now. In fact, Supernatural is so old that you can see some of that evolution within the show itself. It's gone from torture being a very complicated moral issue (the climax of the first season was at least partially about that), to current episodes like the most recent one, in which characters who are considered moral compasses within the show (and one is literally an angel) torture and stab people to death.

Maybe our media/mainstream perspective on (and maybe acceptance of) torture as a good or useful tool is changing right now, though -- Arrow, for example, is only on its second season, and the Vampire Diaries spinoff, The Originals, in in its first, and they're both very interested in the emotional and moral ramifications of torture and torture is used as a tool of oppression (as opposed to a tool of law enforcement or data gathering) in both.
posted by rue72 at 2:20 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


MULDER: Five years together, Scully. How many times have I been wrong? Never! ... Not driving, anyway.
—The X-Files (movie)


And the XF movie was when I gave up watching the TV show, because of Chris Carter's continuing insistence that the characters never grow or change. Because he had his dynamic worked out and never wanted to upset it. Bad writing.
posted by crossoverman at 3:59 PM on March 2, 2014


Ouch... Glad I only just noticed this. I will say though. That I'm fully aware of loads of shows that are more tortureiffic. But I hadn't just spent a week binge watching them when I wrote that silly little (definitely not best of the web) post. And I liked Fringe. But the violence and yes, the torture, inflicted on characters feels very different than the X-Files.
posted by aychedee at 11:52 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Writing a headline critical of sci-fi shows (even from a place of love, honest) gets you shared on loads of weird religious blogs. Just an observation from looking through backlinks...
posted by aychedee at 12:01 AM on March 5, 2014


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