Friday, May 21, 2004

Orientalist Torture, Cont'd

George Neumayr wrote in The American Spectator: "Had Robert Mapplethorpe snapped the photos at Abu Ghraib, the Senate might have given him a government grant" ("The Abu Ghraib Collection," May 12, 2004). The outrageous equation of photographic evidence of prison torture in the real world with works of art that stage scenes of S/M (which is itself a kind of theater for its practitioners) has since been picked up and gleefully mass-marketed by Rush Limbaugh: "I would love to be able to claim the line that George Neumayr used, I can't claim it because George Neumayr used it first in the American Spectator. Neumayr said, 'If these prison photos had been taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, the very senators condemning them would have funded the exhibit at the National Endowment for the Arts'" (May 14, 2004). What is useful about the right is that they tend to bring out a subtext in the dominant discourse in the liberal media, radically exaggerate it, and thereby make it visible to all. The subtext in question is the idea that the main problem of torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib is that it was sexual and therefore "particularly humiliating in 'Arab culture,'" rather than the presence of compulsion and absence of consent that distinguish rape and torture from consensual acts of sex in any culture.

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