Reading The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. The book is filled with these many wonderful cultural details that strike a westerner as odd. Example: The New York Timeshas opened its Baghdad office at the start of the Iraq invasion. Iraqis have been hired. One day our narrator comes into work and several Iraqis are gathered around a television watching, without sound, a video in which a man is being tortured. Hammers smashing the victim’s arm to bits, that kind of thing, the sounds of screams muted. We learn videos like this are popular street merch, can be bought downtown Baghdad the way you’d buy a pirated DVD on Canal Street.
Filkins writes that “murder, torture, and sadism” are part of the Iraqi people’s brains, their psyche. Murder, torture, sadism – these have become an entertainment.
When Hostelcame out, wasn’t what made it something other than the usual exploitation films that come and go each year the fact that it seemed to comment on this idea of sadism as entertainment? This movie came out right as Abu Ghraib was breaking, as news broke of “black sites” and outsourced torture and Marines Gone Wold. Roth has sort of continued the ruination of his genre by showing too much, and but still there is a danger to his work (besides all the misogyny and homophobia and fratboy glee and etc.), and that danger, why Hostel lingers, is that maybe in a way we didn’t immediately see Roth had made a sort of Zeitgeist-defining thing of the mid-Bush years, in which, yes, murder, torture, and sadism have become our entertainments, too.
Horror has always had much too teach. “One of us, one of us,” said The Freaks all the way back in 1932.