Daily Archives: December 12, 2014

Collect ‘Em! Trade ‘Em!

Getting back to the usual inanity, have you heard about the clever way JJ Abrams revealed the names of some of the new characters we’ll be seeing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? He had his marketing people take screen grabs from the trailer and mock up eight virtual “trading cards” in the same style as the classic card sets manufactured by the Topps company in the late ’70s, right down to the fuzzy image reproduction, the dust speckles, and the texture of the card stock… all the flaws that lent those old cards so much of their retro charm:

star-wars_ep-7_trading-card-mockups

There is a cynical part of me that’s concerned JJ is pressing the nostalgia button a little too hard, and that trying to pastiche the original trilogy too thoroughly is going to backfire on him. I get the motivation — one of the complaints many people had with the prequels was that the look and tone of them was too different from the originals — but it’s not 1977 or even 1999 anymore, and basing too much of his sales pitch on the notion that he’s recaptured the experience we had back then is only going to set us all up for a massive letdown. At the very least, he might be doing his film a disservice by not letting it become a Star Wars for the 20-teens… by not allowing it to find its own identity. (“He’s got to follow his own path, no one can choose it for him.”)

And then on the other hand, my inner ten-year-old is hopping up and down and squealing, “Cool! Topps cards! They look like old Topps cards!” I’ve always loved those vintage trading cards — I still have all the random ones I collected as a kid, as well as complete sets I bought years later, and of all the vast quantities of Star Wars-themed junk I’ve amassed over the last 37 years, they remain among my very favorite items. I’m actually hoping these Force Awakens mock-ups get produced as a genuine, physical card set I can add to the collection. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s already in the works.)

To see the other four mock-ups (there are eight total), go here… and may the Force be with you!

 

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One More

Noah Millman of The American Conservative has a slightly different take from Jim Wright’s on the motivations behind the American torture program:

I believe that our reasons [for torturing detainees] were far less rational [than the reasons of the Nazi or Soviet regimes].

 

I’ve written before about the overwhelming fear that afflicted the country in the wake of 9-11, and how, perversely, exaggerating the severity of the threat from al Qaeda helped address that fear, because it made it acceptable to contemplate more extreme actions in response. If al Qaeda was really just a band of lunatics who got lucky, then 3,000 died because, well, because that’s the kind of thing that can happen. If al Qaeda was the leading edge of a worldwide Islamo-fascist movement with the real potential to destroy the West, then we would be justified in nuking Mecca in response. Next to that kind of response, torture seems moderate.

 

Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. It certainly wasn’t about instilling fear or extracting false confessions – these would not have served American purposes. It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.

 

In other words, being down with a little of the old ultra-violence was the same difference as the stupid shit teenage boys to convince each other — and themselves — that they’re real men. You know, a little grab-ass when you’re getting pumped up for the big game. Two for flinchin’. Holding your hand over a lighter to demonstrate how tough you are. To put it more crassly, measuring each other’s dicks.

Honestly, I wish this line of thought didn’t sound so plausible, because I think I prefer good old-fashioned bloodlust as an explanation than this… puerile macho bullshit. “Proving one’s seriousness.” God. That’s a really good reason for shredding the agreed-upon standards of civilization and honor.

Look, I know four blog posts in a row on the same thing is tiresome. And I know this isn’t a pleasant subject, especially for people who only come here to read about pop culture or a warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia piece, so I apologize for belaboring the point. But this issue is hugely important to me. And hugely traumatic. Because it cuts the heart out of my identity as an American. Despite having been told for years that I “hate America” because I dare to criticize its flaws, I’ve nevertheless clung to one central ideal: that America is basically a decent country, and Americans are basically decent people. That we are the good guys. Or at least we try to be. In spite of our tendency to meddle in the affairs of others, in spite of our regrettable history of genocide and slavery, the overall arc of our history, as I’ve always understood it, has been one of gradual progress toward justice, equality, and greater dignity — greater humanity — for everyone. It hasn’t been a smooth arc, to be sure. It’s stuttered at times, slowed to a crawl, sometimes even appeared to drift backwards. I know there have been abominable things in our past — blankets infested with smallpox and Jim Crow and the My Lai massacre — but I have always believed these were aberrations. That, at its core, in our institutions and our ideals, this country was good, and striving to be better. And that there are some things the good guys just do not do. Some lines that they simply do not cross.

So to learn that Americans did things to human beings in U.S. custody that the Gestapo would’ve been all too familiar with, things that we would completely lose our shit over if they were done to Americans… to learn that this activity was not perpetrated by some rogue agents but was part of a defined, sanctioned government program… to learn that fully a quarter of the people subjected to this treatment were innocent, and that some of them were in fact CIA assets… well, let’s just say it’s pretty disillusioning. Of all the bullshit things America has done since 9/11 in the name of “security,” this is the one that simply cannot be excused. Or forgiven.

I am sickened by what the CIA did in our name. I am depressed that there will likely be no consequences for those who planned, approved, and carried out this program of horror. But the thing that really has me reeling, that fills me with impotent anger and disgust and sorrow, is that a hell of a lot of my fellow Americans… are perfectly fine with it. They either don’t care what the CIA interrogators did or they outright approve of it. Judging from the comments I’ve been reading (I know, I know! Never read the comments!), a lot of my countrymen wish the program was still going on. These are dark times, they say… unsavory things have to be done to keep us safe, they say… you pussy bleeding-heart liberals have no idea what goes on in the real world, they say… those guys behead people, they say, so what’s wrong with giving them a little “discomfort?” (Um… because it’s wrong?) I just don’t understand this perspective. I just don’t. Once again, it’s like I’m wandering around Bizarro World, or the Mirror Universe, or wherever the hell I ended up when I passed through that wormhole. Because the America those people are so eager to defend by any means necessary certainly isn’t an America I recognize.

But enough. I’m not going to change anybody’s mind with my screeds, assuming anyone is even reading this. You either think the torture program was immoral or you don’t, and we all know nothing is going to come of the report anyhow. A week from now, there will be some other outrage eating up all the bandwidth, and none of the stony-faced men — and I use that word very lightly — who planned and carried out this barbarism are going to face any punishment for it. But America will never again have the moral high ground in our dealings with other nations. We have forfeited our claim to being any more civilized — or rather, any less barbaric — than any place else. And I for one will never stop mourning the loss of the America I thought I knew.

 

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