Saturday, February 19, 2011

POST of the Week: The Judge and Saddam and Terror Stories

Welcome back to Post of the Week. This time, I am posting two responses. The first is from Peter Newman, His thoughts provide an interesting take on the "real vs. fake" violence issue that we'll be discussing more and more as the semester creeps forward. The second, written by Andrew Ehrlich is not exactly in antagonism with the first but does call to mind the surreality of documentary violence.


"The Judge and Saddam" by Peter Newman

Throughout Blood Meridian, the Judge terrorizes countless numbers of people varying in gender, ethnicity, and social roles. When encountering bands of Apache Indians, he is ruthless and barbaric. Strolling into a bar, his actions are about as explosive and uncertain as a terrorist bomber. The judge has the capability of walking away from a heated situation or destroying every living creature in the bar. Sometimes he is not the one to initiate contact but rather the instigator within his gang, provoking others to do the dirty work for him. The violence demonstrated by terrorists or terrorist like governments echoes the same imagery in how they handle affairs. Furthermore, I decided to watch hanging of Saddam Hussein and after viewing it I regretted it. The video basically shows everything from being roped, to the floor dropping, and finally showing his face afterwards. Although this was not an act of terrorism but a court ordered decision, it does reflect the violence in Middle East and how they handle situations quite differently. For instance stealing can result in your hand being chopped of rather than a slap on the wrist.

Near the end of the novel, we observe the Kid taking a different approach to his feelings of what the Judge has done. Suddenly the Kid views the Judge as a terrorist, wreaking havoc unexpectedly and bringing down entire towns. Saddam Hussein basically brought down a whole country and established firm control by also using terrorist tactics of his own. A glance of what Saddam was accused of begins with the killing of 148 Shiites, the killing of political parties, the killing of religious figures, the displacement of Kurds, the invasion of Kuwait, and a poison gas attack in Halabja. I could replace Shiites with Apaches and Kuwait with Chihuahua and we have the same person.

However, the Judge was a fictitious character and his bloody imagery does not have the same emotional impact as the video of Saddam being hung. Even how the violence was delivered to me has a much stronger impact. Watching a video tells me what to think while reading words promotes the use of my imagination. The video hit me with such force that I was momentarily stunned, thinking to myself, “Did I really just witness that?” On the other hand, reading the novel provoked very little response besides for, “Well that’s gross.” There is little debate in my mind that realty overshadows fiction. In addition to, video makes it feel that your witnessing the act in real time while writing creates a cushion between the character and the reader.


"Terror Stories" by Andrew Ehrlich

Humans make sense of physical objects and the progression of time by constructing stories. Stories are made to have a “point” or “moral.” They are used formally to educate and informally to make an argument or derive pieces of knowledge by connecting a series of events.

The 9/11 footage looks like a movie. The images of the two jet planes hitting the world trade center look surreal. By definition terrorism is dramatic. People commit terrorism to attract attention and demonstrate power. People can kill each other in simple and efficient ways but they choose to scalp each other to send a message. For the same reason, terrorists use dramatic routes to kill people. The planes hitting the world trade center sent the message that no American is safe. The World Trade Center is a symbol of capitalism and Western philosophy. It was chosen as a symbolic target. In Blood Meridian the Judge chooses to take scalps as a symbol of his power.

Terrorism is often random and sudden. That sends the message that if an attack can occur any time in any place, no one is safe. The Judge uses this tactic when he plays with the Apache boys and then suddenly kills them. His friends and enemies are equally scared by the unprovoked and unpredictable violent.

Finally, the anonymity of the killer is a tool for generating fear. When the Kid passes a tree with dead babies hanging from the branches, the reader is afraid because the perpetrator is unknown. Similarly, terrorism can be anonymous if it will supplement the fear. The group Anonymous carries out denial of service attacks and other online terror attacks against organizations like Fox News and Scientology. The Unabomber mailed bombs through US postal service anonymously before his capture.

When I watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center I could not shake the feeling that I was in a story. Just like Blood Meridian, the feelings of loss of control and anonymous, senseless violence created a shroud of unreal-ness that was not only horrifying and disturbing but exciting and surreal.

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