Sign up Private Lynndie for Big Brother
Read spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the end of BB and the start of the Abu Ghraib trial.
Private Lynndie England has clearly missed her vocation. If the American soldier had posed for those degrading pictures in the Big Brother house rather than Abu Ghraib jail, she could now be looking forward to a short career as a ‘reality’ TV star instead of a long stretch in a military prison.
As the current British series of Big Brother finally ends, Private England appears before a US military court facing charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners. To my eye, there are striking parallels between the exhibitionist shenanigans among the Big Brother housemates, and the pictures of a grinning England pointing at a naked prisoner’s genitals or holding another on a leash. With hindsight, the grim snapshots from inside Abu Ghraib look more and more like a violent, military version of reality TV.
The question I asked myself when I first saw the photos featuring England was, why would anybody want publicly to humiliate other people and themselves in that way? Then I remembered that this is the same question I ask when I hear that the BB housemates have been filmed having sex under a table, ‘pleasuring themselves’ under a blanket, vomiting in a sink, licking jam from a transsexual’s bare breasts or chocolate from a man’s naked buttocks. It is the same question that occurs when I see somebody offering themselves, their dignity and even their stools up for sacrifice on one of television’s countless lifestyle ‘makeover’ shows. Or when somebody caught up in a private tragedy pours out their deepest feelings on the national news.
Those Abu Ghraib pictures are products of this degenerate reveal-all culture. Remember, Private England and her comrades did not abuse the Iraqi prisoners behind closed doors. The photos were not hidden camera-style exposés. The American soldiers deliberately posed with their victims for the cameras, grinning and pointing and giving the thumbs up, revelling in the physical and sexual degradation for all to see. Nor were the pictures merely intended to be sick private mementoes. They were taken to be circulated by camera phone and e-mail. It was their moment in the spotlight, like a confessional appearance on the Jerry Springer show. The difference is that, in the Iraqi war zone, there were no studio security guards on hand to stop the circus of degradation getting out of hand.
The leering Lynndie England of those pictures is the symbol of a Western culture in which there is no longer any strong sense of self-consciousness or shame about exposing oneself to the world. The line between the private and the public has been eroded to the point where it is now expected that every event and emotion must be put on display. Even dark inner secrets can be confessed and perverse fantasies played out before an audience. Many in the media presented the Abu Ghraib images like prison pornography, with a mixture of outrage and titillation, inviting us to take another voyeuristic peek into the dustbin of somebody else’s psyche.
It might sound shocking to hear courtroom evidence that the soldiers took the photos ‘for fun’ to let off steam, and ‘didn’t think it was that big a deal’. But perhaps they simply packed up our societies’ exhibitionist attitude in their kitbag and shipped it off to Iraq. It is comforting to heap all the blame for Abu Ghraib on to ‘trailer trash’ GIs. But these few marginalised individuals did not invent the idea that it is acceptable to make a degraded spectacle of yourself and others before an audience.
We await the first series of Celebrity Abu Ghraib, where fading TV personalities smear one another with ordure and get led round on a leash by Davina, Ant and Dec. Or perhaps England will make a comeback in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! live from the Big Brother military stockade.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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