But I was also poking around online while watching, and before ER finished I stumbled across a link to the Nick Berg execution video. My curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded it -- at first thinking that the most horrendous thing about it was that it was in RealMedia format. Such attempts at pithy humor to lessen the impact of the situation failed almost immediately -- while I'll spare the most gruesome details, I'll say the film opens on the young man sitting by himself addressing the camera. He's obviously terrified. As the speaking part began, I realized I would not be able to watch this. At least, I wouldn't be able to watch it all the way through. So I skipped ahead to what all of us who watch the video are really there to see. I had to. I had to see it so I would never have to see it again.
Now those who know how I work know that I am a compulsive multitasker. While at the computer I'll have three or four different media-type things going on at once, less if I really need to concentrate on something. IM, web browser with at least five tabbed windows open at once, ssh to starchild for BBS/IRC/etc, a game, television on the set next to me, maybe WinAmp playing something if the TV bores me. So while the Nick Berg video played on my monitor, the ER finale played out to its inevitable conclusion on the TV set. A Hollywood actor was being paid to appear as if his life was in jeopardy to my left while to my right, the actual seconds of an actual man's actual life ticked away. ER set up most of its characters for failure, we already knew the guy on the right wasn't going to live this one out. While the militant extremists surrounded him, sawing clumsily at his neck and chanting "Allah Akbar", Hollywood actors shrieked and dodged and zoomed around in a brand-new Dodge humongoid SUV written in specifically as product placement ("It's got a Hemi," the proud owner exclaimed, furthering my Law of Television that states only people on television give a rat's ass what a Hemi is.)
ER finished before the actual, real, grisly deed. I only watched it once -- I did not want to go back and try and pinpoint the exact second of death. I'll let someone else ruminate on that one. I didn't really need to see it again. When the captors picked up the severed head and showed it to us in the Big Reveal (voila, we did what we said we'd do) the TV had already cut to the 11 O'Clock News promo. "Is Saturday or Sunday the best day for the beach?" they asked, while the head was featured some more. "Jim's forecast will tell all!"
There are people who are now arguing that, because of this act, we were obviously justified in doing what we did to the Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I know this because they write letters to the Boston Metro and don't mention which talk radio stooge they cribbed their rhetoric from. They see nothing wrong with prisoner torture. "If you can call a little humiliation torture," one clever fellow sneered (must've been clever enough; he got published.) "Those poor prisoners are people who, if they could, would kill you, your family, and any other American they could find." (And don't you love it when "your family" gets dragged into this?) Obviously because these jabbering, towel-headed wrong-God-fearing brown-skinned people are so nuts they'll behead some random guy just to be mean, we're thereby excused and forgiven for leading naked prisoners around on dog leashes and stuff. Oh, of course.
But we're hedging our bets, naturally -- PFC Lynndie England has come out as the Goat in the Abu Ghraib controversy, so we have a face for our hate. We don't have to hate what we as a country did to get to this destination or the prevailing attitude of those involved with the prison or the sheer unmitigated audacity that it took on the part of these people to believe that forcing prisoners to willingly violate major, major, major tenets of their chosen religion was A-OK. All we have to hate is PFC Lynndie England, some whore, some peckerwoods slut with the face of a boy and who, they'll have you believe, probably came up with the entire idea to torture the Iraqi prisoners as she was waiting to join the Army (just to have sex with guys.)
(Of course, it doesn't help that her defense, the "I was only following orders" one, has had such a spectacular track record at places like Nuremburg.)
So where does that leave us? Fucked up. I mean, seriously. I was trying to avoid profanity while writing this, but honestly, I sat back in my chair, thought about all I'd seen and read and heard today -- and the only thing I could muster up in response was "What the fuck is going on?" We're still fighting a war that was declared "over" a year ago. We react with (well, appropriate) outrage at the execution of an innocent American civilian, but we believe that when it comes to dealing with the "bad guys" we have taken prisoner, the rules laid down in the Geneva Convention don't count cause, hey, they're terrorists. (And yet we publically scorn and shame one person who took part in it.)
And a Texas oil tycoon is calling a man who married into a tycoon family "rich and out of touch with the people." In this country where it is your noble and true goal to amass as much wealth as you can, one rich man is saying another rich man is bad because he has too much money. I mean, seriously. Think about it.
Reality is happening on one side of our peripheral vision. It's ugly and there's no hiding that. But on the other side of our view, we can see someone's contrived and prefab idea of what things should look like as they happen. Unfortunately that side's a rather seductive vision. There's the promise of a happy ending, the beautiful people all getting what they want, Ross and Rachel back together forever, crime never paying, morals never challenged, and capped smiles all around.
And we'll have all the answers to life's most important questions, such as whether Saturday or Sunday is the right day for the beach. Jim's forecast is next.