News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Disneyland in Iraq

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Disneyland in Iraq

I refused to give in to peer pressure and family and child pressure when it came to taking my children to Disneyland or Disney World. While I have been the beneficiary of Mickey Mouse coulture and used to watch the Mickey Club as a child, as I grew older and educated myself about culture, I came to despise everything associated with what the East German playwright Heiner Muller once derided as America's greastest contribution to world culture.

As I say, I have benefited from Disney's worldwide attempt to monopolize the fantasies and dreams of our children. My kids spent hours watching their movies while I continued those same cultural studies alone in my bedroom. It's a tangled tapestry to unweave and perhaps overgeneralized to blame anything and everything on such cultural factors. Disnetangling the effects that consumer culture, perhaps no better epitomized than by Disney, has preoccupied me for some time now.

Is Disney the heart of Darkness, the bedizened corrupt core that we can point to when we say what's wrong with American culture? It seems that to say so in the mouth of an American can only seem a bit supercilious if not downright dishonest.

Yet, this notion in the mouth of others loses its superficiality and opens up a dimension of awareness that perhaps only suffering and its assciated emotions can evoke. The following words, therefore, are perhaps worth more than numerous essays and books that critique American culture.

In his description of the US Army's destruction of Fallujuah, Dahr Jamail quotes an Iraqi as saying:

"This is the freedom. In their Disneyland are there kids just like this?"
The last question is not rhetorical. At first reading, I thought it referred to the soldiers devastating the man's city. Just now, though, I also see that it might refer tot he man's own children, who no doubt clung to him like reeds scared by the end of the world. The end of the world that will visit their nightmares for years and years, just as it will perhaps visit the soldiers whose hearts of darkness opened so many doors to the pit of hell.

There is perhaps a bitter irony in the ambivalence about which children the man referred to. It points to the idea that we are all indeed the same, yet also so vastly different. The children bred by Disneyland visited Iraq and brought death and desolation to the land. Like some B-movie horror show, these Mickey minions roamed and marauded the desert to the bane, experts estimate, of over 1 million dead.

Yet, the mirror show does not end there. It also belies a terrible irony, one that builds on a theme that Jamail himself brings to light: the dehumanization and beggary imposed by Americans on those too distant others, too far away to be considered "thy neighbor" to fit into the category of those we must love.

Jamail writes:
None of this -- from the unending "incidents" themselves to the way the Pentagon has dominated the reporting of them -- would have been possible without a widespread dehumanization of Iraqis among American soldiers (and a deep-set, if largely unexpressed and little considered, conviction on the American "home front" that Iraqi lives are worth little). If, four decades ago, the Vietnamese were "gooks," "dinks," and "slopes," the Iraqis of the American occupation are "hajis," "sand-niggers," and "towel heads." Latent racism abets the dehumanization process, ably assisted by a mainstream media that tends, with honorable exceptions, to accept Pentagon announcements as at least an initial approximation of reality in Iraq.

Whether it was "incidents" involving helicopter strikes in which those on the ground who died were assumed to be enemy and evil, or the wholesale destruction of the city of Fallujah in 2004, or the massacre at Haditha, or a slaughtered wedding party in the western desert of Iraq that was also caught on video tape (Marine Major General James Mattis: "How many people go to the middle of the desert.... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive."), or killings at U.S. checkpoints, or even the initial invasion of Iraq itself, we find the same propaganda techniques deployed: Demonize an "enemy"; report only "fighters" being killed; stick to the story despite evidence to the contrary; if under pressure, launch an investigation; if still under pressure, bring only low-level troops up on charges; convict a few of them; sentence them lightly; repeat drill.
To think that hatred is manipulated in this way--that we buy into such hateful images of those we should call brothers and sisters--it does indeed call into question how deeply the supposed sympathy for others delves into the human soul.

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