In the beginning I did not realize how important to my own days, this way of talking, this immediate shaping of thoughts, of responses would be. So much I read and see breaks the heart, but words, these public-private words, shape the wrenching visions into something else. Last night, after La Profesora and I had eaten the special meal I had prepared to congratulate her on the end of her week of intensive teaching, I sat down to finish the blanket I was knitting, watching the American tv series NCIS. I watched this show a few months ago and became familiar with the woman character who is an Israeli-trained special agent--and wondered at how just the word "Israeli" has become a metaphor for useful brutality--you don't fool with this woman; she in fact is the show's torturer. Last night she is told to get the information out of a suspect in the way she knows how to do it--torture, she says, half a question. The next scene we see her with a gun to the bad guy's head threatening to kill him; the other episode I watched the first time, she is told again to use her expertise to get information and she answers just give me five minutes, I know a special place on the side of the neck that will make anyone talk. Here I am, at the other end of the world, watching a popular American TV drama where torture is part of the story line, in fact is part of the appeal of one of the characters, what you expect to see. How did this happen--how did torture become an acceptable plot device, a Deus ex machina of the 21st American century? As La Profesora has taught me, and Naomi Kline as well, norms shift in times deemed extreme and they do not usually shift back--particularly if the national power blocks like the new terrain. So first the unacceptable becomes a sad faced possiblity and then entertainment. The next show, also an American import, Numbers, opened with an image of student antiwar activist from the 60s now labeled a terrorist by an aging government agent. That was the end, I thought, until this morning when I was trying to get news and paused at the Fox Channel--there was O'Reilly showing grainy pictures of a new generation of young anti-Iraq war demonstrators shouting as he does that these were far left terrorists.
And the last image of the night, one that has haunted me even more then the others--an oil drenched sea bird, its features gone in a coat of suffocating oil, trying to open its beak, a black mass trying to breath, drops of oil falling from its open mouth. I think of all it needed to live--the sea and air--and how we have not allowed even this minimal habitat to be safe--in some way, it all connected for me--we are our own torturers and not all the money and armies and duplexes and country estates and stock investments will cleanse our air of broken bodies.