Winter Blog 3: Entertainment: The Desensitizer of Torture

Recently in my Humanities Core class, we learned about torture, what it means to be tortured, and the forms of torture taking place often without our knowledge. While I discussed slavery as a form of torture in my last blog post, I did not discuss how torture plays into our everyday lives, even though it often goes unnoticed. Before taking Humanities Core, I knew torture was a real occurrence, but I never understood the true implications of torture or when and where it might occur in the real world. Rather, my views were mediated by what the entertainment industry revealed through movies and television series, creating a sort of mystical view of the subject and distancing me from the true realities of this kind of abuse. While some of us may see through the haze the entertainment industry puts over our eyes, many of us, including myself, are still left with a distorted view of torture due to the way Hollywood depicts it.

In his first lecture on torture, Professor Lazo said, “Images desensitize us to torture,” however not just images, but depictions of torture in the media also desensitize us. One of my favorite television series, NCIS, usually contains an interrogation room scene, typical of many crime shows, in each episode. However, in the episode “Out of the Frying Pan,” the interrogation goes too far for my liking, and an innocent yet troubled boy, accused of killing his father, is tortured. The boy is left in an interrogation room surrounded by images of the father he hates, and is forced to watch reruns of home videos; he is also confronted with the alleged murder weapon, an ax, which is thrown down on the interrogation table onto a picture of his father. This experience causes the boy severe mental pain and suffering by a public official, which from my perspective seems inhumane and cruel, and would also be considered torture under the UN Torture Convention. However, this instance is not treated as torture, but rather as “enhanced interrogation” where the “good guys,” the investigators, are seeking justice for the death of the boy’s father. This torture scene tricked me into believing the investigators are “good” because they are seeking justice and portrays them as the heroes. However, now that I have a better understanding of “torturetainment,” I personally believe it is horrible to portray “enhanced interrogation” as something that is tolerable during investigations because torture should never be used as a form of entertainment. 


Interrogation room or torture chamber?

In my opinion, the TV show not only desensitizes us by justifying torture because it is being used as a means for a greater good, justice, it also desensitizes us by blinding us from the reality of torture. As the audience, we know the show is fictional, which separates us from the reality of torture. We do not view the scene as real, so we are not as disgusted by its implications, allowing us to avoid confronting torture’s hard truths.

While most people have not experienced torture, I have realized references to torture are heavily present in our lives. The word torture has even become a part of our everyday speech. There are times when I walk out of class and complain, “That was torture,” but it wasn’t, nor was it anything remotely close to the true horrors that take place when someone is tortured. I feel the media’s use of torture scenes and our “everyday” uses of the word have desensitized us to the true nature of the word, which implies the infliction of “severe pain and suffering” (UN Convention Against Torture). There are real instances of torture that are occurring or have occurred around the world, such as the torture of innocent prisoners of Middle Eastern descent at Guantanamo Bay. I have come to the conclusion that if we continue to allow the media to mediate our understanding of torture, we will continue to be mystified and will never begin to perceive the huge violations of human rights taking place.

Works Cited

gregbarblog. “Interrogation Room.” Photograph. gregbarblog, 23 April 2016. Web. 28 February 2016.

JosieFB. “NCIS 8.18 ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ Promo.” Video. YouTube. 16 March 2011. Web. 27 February 2016.

Lazo, Rodrigo. “Argentina’s Dirty War.” University of California, Irvine. Humanities Instructional Building 100, Irvine, California. 9 February 2016. Lecture.

United States. United Nations Headquarters. United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment. New York: 1985. Print

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