Saturday, February 10, 2007

Torture and Television

The Los Angeles Times reports on a meeting between human rights activists, military interrogators and the producers of some primetime television series, looking to make torture on TV more authentic,
By that, they did not mean bloodier or more savage. Instead, they wanted "24" to show torture subjects taking weeks or months to break, spitting out false or unreliable intelligence, and even dying. As they do in the real world.
Apparently, there has been a huge increase in the quantity and quality of scenes depicting torture on television since 9/11,
From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture, according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said. "24" has accounted for 67 such scenes during its first five seasons, making it No. 1 in torture depictions, according to the watchdog group.

The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer's identity was more likely to be an American hero like "24's" Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days. The action-packed show, which drew a hefty 13.6 million viewers last week, was among the first and certainly the most prominent to have its main character choke, stab, or electrocute — among other techniques — information out of villains.

"It's unthinkable that Capt. Kirk would torture someone," said Danzig.
Just as I've followed the treatment of the death penalty in popular entertainment over the years, I had wondered how torture was being treated in television and film and how this affects public perceptions of torture. What the article points out, is that that public includes men and women serving in the military,
Even in Iraq, such series can sometimes substitute for or trump military training, and transmit a dark message to soldiers.

"Everyone wanted to be a Hollywood interrogator," said Tony Lagouranis, a former U.S. Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who spoke to the creative teams from "24" and "Lost." "That's all people did in Iraq was watch DVDs of television shows and movies. What we learned in military schools didn't apply anymore."
Human Rights First is behind this effort and has set up a website, Primetime Torture, for the initiative. The site includes clips from several televsion series, a brief interview with Tony Lagouranis and guidelines for how torture can be depicted more authentically.

For a perspective on recent films that depict torture, check out this opinion piece from A.S. Hamrah for the Los Angeles Times.
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