Over the weekend I went to see Invincble at the Orange Tree in Richmond, a new play by Torben Betts. Its the kind of theatre I prefer: intimiate scenes in-the-round, teasing apart something relevant about contemporary life.
This one centres on an upper middle-class couple, Oliver and Emily, with a tragedy in their past and an warped sense of social responsibility. They have chosen to live among ‘ordinary’ people in the North of England. Rather than live in a middle-class ghetto and contribute to the extortionate London housing bubble, they profess a desire to improve this community. Emily plans to become a school governor and says she is setting up an Amnesty group and an artists’ collective.
But its all a facade. Their neighbour Alan has a cat, which they hate and eventually murder. Thry cringe at Alan’s love of beer and football. They are at first patronising, and then incredibly snide about his attempts to paint. Quickly, they alienate themselves from the community they hoped to improve.
The couple eventually come into an inheritance, and immediately make the selfish choice to leave. Even Emily, the righteous, organic fair trade Amnesty arts collective school governor daughter of Quakers, needs barely any persuasion to abandon her communitarian principles and move to Highgate, where the schools are better. Alan and his wife Dawn are abandoned to their preordained fate: spiralling credit card debt, monotony at work. For their son in the army, death awaits on the streets of Kabul.
The question Torben Bett’s puts to the audience is whether we would do any different. Probably not. What parent would choose to risk their kids’ education on a failing school. What mother would approve of her son being sent to die in Afghanistan? Like the rest of us, neither Alan or Emily are inclined to abandon their culture or their comfort for an ideal that the political system will not support. Ultimately, its an argument for socialism—some things we support in principle we’re just too selfish (or perhaps, self-interested) to do in practice, so we need the collective power of the state to create a better environment for us.
Ugh. I just unwhittingly clicked on a YouTube video showing the immediate aftermath of the assasination of Ahmed Al-Jabari in Gaza. A passer-by drags out dead body from the car… and half of it is missing. It is sickening and certainly Not Safe For Work or children. I wonder how long it will remain live on YouTube before the company removes it for being too graphic.
The video is a huge contrast to the clinical black and white footage distributed by the Israeli Defence Force. Ever since Operation Desert Storm there has been discussion of the way in which TV pictures frame our view of war, sanitising the horror. In recent years there has also been much analysis of the ‘gamification’ of war, as soldiers brough-up on video games join the army and begin shooting real people. The two contrasting images of the same incident speak to that dehumanising tendency.
The gruesome, visceral aftermath also provides some understanding of the hatred towards Israel that steams out of Palestine. In the background of the video you can see children observing the scene. I am glad that I never saw such sights in my childhood. Is it any surprise that those who experience such visual traumas grow up to hate those responsible? Time and again, I find my thoughts returning to this 2005 essay by Laurie King on the symbolism of the body in war, occupation and resistance:
These violations [at Sabra and Shatila] of individual bodies were not haphazard or random acts carried out in the heat of murderous rage, but rather, part of a grammar of political exclusivity, a systemic and coherent — though certainly deranged — message that an entire group could be violated, perhaps even eradicated, with impunity. The message of that massacre endures and echoes a quarter of a century later. Its scars are social, physical, and symbolic, and are felt far beyond the scene of the crime.
So what we have here are different methods of dehumanisation. The fact that these people we fight against are our fellow humans is forgotten in the melee and the maelstrom. Some comments psoted below the video of the half-body:
Lol, not much of him left, and nice slug trail to boot (link)
I wish wars still involved swordmanship and valor but now we got this lame no effort shit. Oh well. (link)
Where’s the rest of him? Ah well…One less scum bag polluting the world (link)
These are not the comments of those who see the other side as human.
See also: Twitter and the anti-Playstation effect on war coverage.