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From Abu Ghraib to Werribee (it's not that far)

Stephen Smith is a regular Webdiarist. His last piece was 9/11 – fear on film.

By Stephen Smith

"This is a soft fascism, like the consumer landscape. No goose-stepping, no jackboots, but the same emotions and the same aggression." - J G Ballard – "Kingdom Come"

‘The DVD that disgusted a city’ was one of the news headlines in the shocking case of a DVD produced and sold in Melbourne’s outer west by the self-styled "teenage kings of Werribee". What at first looked like a Jackass-style prank posted on YouTube, police are now investigating as sexual assault involving up to 12 youths. Sadly, amid the media storm, the trauma goes beyond that of the victim. Students from one of the district schools named by the media have had passers-by spit at them in the street. This degree of public hate contains an irony we shall examine.

For it appears that the public’s consumption of news media about the whole incident is part of a cycle of action and reaction. Here, it is the ‘bent’ turn of consumerism that is precisely the problem. For what lies on the other side of easy blame is a desensitisation to violence in our midst.

After all, the most compelling aspect of the DVD is that its makers see it as a commercial product – a consumer item.

In a sense the ‘Werribee 12’ have become independent of the mass media. With their cameras they are the new media; and they produce and distribute their own content. Although they are backyard media producers, what we see in their product is very much a reflection of the perverse direction of consumer culture. It has an obsession with violence, and in particular, ritual humiliation. While the technology is new, the values on display are not.

Bullying and abuse are a part of the dark side of the Aussie mateship myth. Here, it includes a dose of humiliation as part of its ritual. What has changed is that digital and mobile phone cameras allow the sharing of images beyond the initial group involved. On YouTube the three video clips by the Werribee teens were uploaded more than three months ago and had accrued more than 9,000 viewings. With access to the site’s endless stream of content, we can only wonder how the YouTube audience can distinguish fake from fear in the reactions exhibited by the ‘subject’ (victim).

This dilemma has also been seen in another much publicised clip that turned up on YouTube. In it, Australian soldiers in Iraq pointed a pistol at the head of a fellow soldier dressed in Arab headdress. John Howard said that the soldiers needed to "let off a bit of steam". Writing in The Australian, Greg Sheridan was even more tolerant of what he saw as a natural part of Australian ritual. "It’s not surprising that, like any group of spirited young men, they get up to some silliness", he said. "Just spend some time around any football club, or a Year 12 on muck up day."

The problem with such excuses is how web users perceive these gonzo style clips. In viewing clips by the Werribee 12 or the Aussie Diggers in Iraq, the context is unknown; and it may not be so clear as to where play acting or skylarking end and abuse or assault begin. Clips from the Werribee DVD had existed on YouTube for months and as one posting on The Age web forum commented:

"It's just another digital piece of information that will make its way through the huge world wide web to the point that the initial crime is devoid of a human reference."

Images become their own justification and consumption of them requires no context. We no longer allow ourselves to reflect upon what images might depict. Instead, the media transfers violence into images that we consume with no other thought but how such desire might be next gratified. To this extent, a critic in the UK, Paul Taylor, has observed:

"Everything becomes a potential image for the voyeuristic gaze and less and less is ruled out on grounds of taste or any other consideration."

With this aspect of culture in mind, let us return to the offending DVD.

First of all, what the camera seeks is to capture shots as ‘souvenirs’ of the event. They choose their victims so that fear or humiliation captured on film becomes a trophy for the group and its admirers; and it is a way of instilling respect (or fear) among their peers.

The world, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, is a global village. The vile acts portrayed on the DVD and its souvenir element is reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib photos. Yet this is not a direct comparison - we do not suggest a simple 'copy cat' style. What links them is the way in which the media has desensitised the torture at Abu Ghraib, and further, how commercialisation became part of normalising it.

In consuming these Abu Ghraib photos, as they first appeared, does this imply consent for what has taken place? We are revolted more by the images themselves rather than by what they depict.

As we now realise, the Abu Ghraib photos created a dilemma for how we consume news content. A moral threshold is crossed. The horror of what we see is normalised by the way in which later associations take place to transform the images into a consumer product. In the case of Abu Ghraib, one such transfer took place in the glossy pages of Vogue Italia. (Discussion of the images in the photo shoot also occurs here.) Once absorbed into consumerism, this association also invites us to change our moral outlook. In her response to Italian Vogue, Joanna Bourke makes this comment in The Guardian:

"The most disturbing thing about these photographs, however, is that they have taken their inspiration from the torture photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq. The visual titillation of suffering, dogs primed to attack people, and women who inflict pain - these have become some of the most common images of the war on terror. In these fashion photographs, we see how those images of torture have been translated into consumer products. Torture has not only become normalised, it has been integrated into one of the most glamorous forms of consumer culture - high fashion."

The group known as the Werribee 12 may not stand at the top end glamour of consumer culture. But at $5 a pop their DVD is just another mindless item for their mates to consume. Just as at Abu Ghraib - where US soldier Lynndie England was only the most direct perpetrator - we need to look further up the ‘chain of command’ in the case of this DVD from suburbia. We need to realise how violence has become part of consumerism. It seems that such measured doses of violence are now an inescapable part of our culture. In this respect we must face the possibility that consumerism has become what amounts to ‘soft fascism’. In this state we now enter a society that craves the image but at the cost of a loss of care and responsibility for the type of reality being represented.


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The high moral ground

 Solomon Wakeling: "Jay, of course there aren't any Hilaly defenders. Even Sheik Mohammed Omran didn't defend him. You are seeing phantom leftists. Vultures, vultures everywhere."

"This followed a statement from a WA-based cleric who said women that expose themselves will attract evil men, and Melbourne's Sheik Mohammed Omran who suggested Muslims attract harsher jail terms for rape."

- Herald report.

"I can tell you on the basis of my experience that a lot of women manufacture a lot of stories against men."

- Pat O'Shane, discussing rape.

Another funny thing about television is how in all American hospitals the Chief of Surgery is an Afro-American.

Also, every white supremacist will eventually find himself in court before a middle aged, Afro-American female judge.

Never fails.

By contrast, in Summer Bay, the fictitious location for the Australian drama 'Home and Away', there is not a single non-White to be seen anywhere.

Ever. Even in the background of crowd scenes.

Given that the series is actually shot in Dee Why, home to a large and very active Tongan population, I can only assume the producers must round up the entire resident Polynesian community there and otherwise clear the streets and beaches before filming starts.

My favourite is the English series 'Heart Beat', though.

Not an Asian, Afro-Caribbean or other non-White ever to be seen.


Odd, too, to see the recent re-runs of Fawlty Towers in which Indian people are actually mocked - and in which Basil faints when confronted by a black doctor.

Talking about Aussie mateship, how about those English soccer fans?

Aren't they great?

And here's a thought. Hezbollah and Hamas.


A letter from the 16th century?

mike lyvers Oh my God! That letter must be read twice to be believed.

It is indeed a sad day when I become one of the staunchest supporters of womens lib. On this thread it appears it has come to pass.

I think the entire left of politics needs to seriously sit down, work out where they are from, where they are now and where they would like to be. Seriously they are losing their way very badly.

There really seems to be something in the air effecting more than the ozone layer!

Sheik, Sheik, Sheik

Jay, of course there aren't any Hilaly defenders. Even Sheik Mohammed Omran didn't defend him. You are seeing phantom leftists. Vultures, vultures everywhere.

This piece is good. The media influences people on a see-saw effect in contrast to the extent to which they are not influenced by other things. The media won’t turn a good person bad but it can turn an empty person in to its own image. Macluhan would have said the opposite, which is that the images were an extension of ourselves, or "autoamputation". Yet, as Kurt Cobain said: "I am my own parasite: I don't need a host to live. We feed off each other, her milk is my shit, my shit is her milk.", and it works both ways.

Violent depictions does desensitise us and depictions of sexual violence can have quite damaging effects on people, especially young people. I think what is lacking in these young men is a mature comprehension and empathy for other peoples suffering. Like children, they have little concept of how other people can be hurt, and so, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, this sort of thing becomes merely a lark. They also have too much power, given to them by new media, and backed up and exploited by the mass-media, who uses this kind of ilk for entertainment.

I don't know when and where something went wrong but it is an indictment on our society that it did not pick up on any warning signs before it occurred.

"Phantom leftists"? "No one agrees with Hilali"??

Check this out, Solomon:

"I'M going for political suicide here but I’m willing to stand up with anybody else in this country who happens to agree with Sheik Hilali’s sentiments.

Not because of any emotional or religious point of view but from sheer logic. While men who want to assault women exist, there will be women who get assaulted. Unfortunately, how a woman dresses does affect her level of likeliness to be chosen. The subsequent reaction to this latest opportunity to get angry about something is the real lesson here.
Suzanne Bassette
National secretary, Australian Democrats
Clayfield, Qld"

Source: The Australian letters section today.

Dr Tanveer Ahmed: Islam And The Left

"I'm going for political suicide here but I’m willing to stand up with anybody else in this country who happens to agree with Sheik Hilali’s sentiments. "

Of course, it's a lot easier to commit suicide when you're dead already.

There is nothing surprising about this. This wing of the "left" is locked into an alliance with Islamist fascism across the spectrum and the reasons have been carefully noted. They cannot break free even if they wanted to.

You need to go no further than this site to see this demonstrated time and time again. How often have we read apologia and outright support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iraqi "resistance", Ahmadinejad and all the others? Remember the increasingly frantic efforts to coverup the clearly stated murderous intent of the Iranian regime by claiming "mistranslation"? How could we forget.

Some interesting comments here by Dr Tanveer on The Religion Report on Radio National 1 November.


Dr Tanveer Ahmed speaks about the future of Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilaly as well as the issue of Islam and the left

Tanveer Ahmed: Thank you Stephen. Look I think one of the key things is I often get not necessarily attacked, but I often get lots of mail from very peaceful, very spiritual law-abiding Muslims saying 'Well this is not the Islam I know', and this is true. I think there needs to be said there are lots of different Islams, and this modern form, it's more about recognising that the world in many ways, the way ideas are transmitted today, are about symbols and images and almost imaginary ideas, and I compare it to a brand. And in this sense, the global Islam that many people now aspire to, particularly those of the second generation in the West, but also many others around the world, is this kind of Islam, which represents to some degree, the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden, those that don't quite belong in the mainstream white or capitalist society. And it's here that it has a ring with older views of Marxism, or the people that were attracted to Marxism, i.e. the students at University campuses, the poor around the world. If anything, it should have even a bigger ring, because Marxism wasn't familiar to large numbers of people around the world, whereas this, even before you'd begun, you've got a billion people who are familiar with Islam and its teachings.


Tanveer Ahmed: Almost everything that the left has fought for over the past century, and its biggest victories, be it on women or gays, you name it, right throughout the past century, a great deal of that Islamists would be utterly opposed to. I think where it begins primarily is the overlap with a foreign policy, the views on what's wrong with the internationalist arena, if you like. And again, this has an overlap with socialists previously who often worked against the interests of the West, through post-World War II primarily. Because they've merged there, even though I think most people I know who are progressive left, will have a sense that Yes, there would be a bit of tension if we started talking about gays in our society; it still worries me how they'll openly embrace these groups when it comes to foreign policy.


Tanveer Ahmed: Absolutely, but you can't have it. And then there's a real reaction to it, almost. And I think in some ways that's the root of it. Again, it's quite Freudian, it's very sexual. But I think that overlaps then to not being able to be part of the West, how they feel that they're being downtrodden, that they can't have the wealth, they can't live the life they see around them, and then there's a real resentment, and then suddenly they overlap, they see a link with the Palestinians not being given access to the same level as Israelis, and somehow they have a link. Yet they have more in common with the Australian in the pub across the road watching the cricket, they probably have much more in common with them, than they would the Palestinian, but they draw this imaginary link to these people beyond.

What rapists look like in the movies.

Mike Lyvers: "I guess this is appearing here now to illustrate the "white men are rapists too" theme."

Actually, in the movies rapists are always blonde and have really short hair and staring blue eyes.

They are either buffed, muscular neo-Nazi types - or otherwise wheedy little geeks who cannot otherwise get it up.

The judge sentencing them for their crimes is alway black.

And their defense attorney is always a woman.

Their last intended victim is quite often the teenaged daughter of the detective that arrested them.

The are usually arrested flagrante delicto, having merely pulled the victim's blouse away from her shoulder.

The very model of insoucient equipoise up until the final moments of the movie, they then turn into frothing maniacs.


The times are indeed changin

The Hilaly defenders and their pathetic attempts are more evidence if any was needed of the extreme right takeover of the left. Not so long ago a "religious" leader making such remarks would have been completely flayed (rightly so) by thinking leftists. How easily they throw out their principles now days.

Strange, strange times indeed. Look, look at the dopey white kids in Werribee, anything not to think about what you are giving away. Like your beliefs in secular governments, the rights of women to dress how they wish etc etc etc.......

No, Stephen Smith, John Howard did not call women "pieces of meat" nor did he accuse them of "asking for it". The person you are attempting to defend by looking for moral equivalence did.


And now to prayers…

Former SMH reporter Mike Seccombe in Martha’s Vineyard is penning strongly, one is pleased to note.

Undoubtedly the young Howard Kirribilli hoon working in the Republican Camp will be scoping up his Textor-flavoured depleted uranium bunker busters and bomblets when he come across this:

“[Congressman] William Delahunt describes himself as an eternal optimist. Still, his optimism comes easier now than it did four years ago.

“Opposition to the agenda of President Bush and, in particular, his Iraq war were not so popular back then. Today he finds himself on the right side of history and the popular mood….”

But it was Delahunt’s concluding para’s numbers which continue to take the breath away, even more than Major Mori’s revelation that a high Taliban official has attended Yale while David Hicks has rotted for five years in Ruddock and Howard’s Guantanamo Bay torture chamber hell hole.

When talking about one of Mike’s favourite subjects, ethanol fuel, the candidate mentioned a flex-fuel project in his district.

“That prospect, of course, is some way off, but the optimist had a quick retort for those who would question the cost.

“ ‘Please,’ he said, ‘we're spending about $2.5 billion a week in Iraq.’ “

Geez, you could buy a lot of solar power generators and put them on top of every school flagpole in Australia for that.

And a lot of chaplains to stand beside each one, and get them to pray for rain.

Then down it would come, just like after the 1982 elections.

Please God, make it rain soon, here and in New England.

I’ll be a very good boy, God, and so will m’Jay. Or Mummy will smack him. Just make it rain. None of that Noah’s Aardvark stuff but, ay? We can’t find the bastard anywhere. Would two wallabies do?

The Dirty Dozen & Up there Hilaly

Stephen Smith: "Bullying and abuse are a part of the dark side of the Aussie mateship myth."

We're a very diverse society, however. 

We rightly criticise John Howard when he talks about "Australian values", as if there was some set of values that applied to us all.

Yet, here we are alleging some "Aussie mateship myth" that "caused" the abuse of this young woman.

At least nobody's suggesting that had she stayed indoors and kept her Hajib on, this would never have happened.

AIF Seeps Arsons: Burning the library at Allexandria !!!!

O Seep, put down those matches. Loosen those blazing faggots.

This bushfire season, couldn’t we remember with appropriate levels of pride what mateship did en route to the Dardanelles?

CEW Bean doesn’t record whether the Egyptian boy or girl prostitutes stayed in their rooms with their hejabs on (many would have been of Orthodox or Jewish backgrounds, anyway).

But it is definitely the case that the young satyrs who made the ANZAC tradition for the Howards’ New Guard gave them a whack about the chops and burned their neighbourhood down.

The noggies were charging too much, you see. And some of them had thoughtfully given back to the poxy, diseased ANZACs with fully franked, clapped out interest.

The boys got as angry as a drunken Bulldog on a rape spree, thinking of the Crow-Pappas dosh for the Rabbittohs, and done the dirty - big time - then they cut and run.

I am of that indisputably tainted blood. I had a relative or two there, rooting their lungs out for a few Egyptian Pounds and a donkey ride after.

One boy – born in Dubbo; Mentioned in Despatches, Lone Pine; started as a wool classer; elevated to Major; Killed in Action, Bullecourt.

Meaningless. Shoulda stayed home. But the Kirribillis love that kinda thing. Proud tradition. No DVD available, unfortunately. They’re still at it.

Soon Alexandria will disappear below the Mediterranean – we’ve got square at last. No need to sign Kyoto. What was Hiroshima for? Since 1945 we’re a proudly numb-nuts newk-yerlar kleen kole noodle nation. Solar and wind don’t give yer base lode. All the energy resources of Australia boyz will tell ya that.

So today, thanks to our brilliant epoch of global warming, any firebug Diggers will have to go there by a boat. I’m sure some crook at the low-rent AWB could arrange transport out of Baghdad and across Jordan, for a fee.

Try to backhand them a couple of billion litres of crude, through a Liechtenstein bank account and the Melbourne and Adelaide Clubs. Word of mouth only to Alexander and the PM. Nothing on paper. You know how it works.

Pretty transparent

I guess this is appearing here now to illustrate the "white men are rapists too" theme.


And arsonists, also, Señor Mick..remember Binh Ba, too? Ah, the smell of Centurions and Bryant and May in the morning. But try to remember, we're not ALL white.

It musta been that touch of the tarpot that done it and fully integrated us and gave us all them values. Just like WorkChumps™ and my Melbourne Cup $2 each way - not a bloody cracker in it.

Big predators' class war on bottom feeders

Maybe the Werribee Utoob exploits and all like it need a Stern-like economix audit, followed by massive armed attack on the BIG boys. A iPotemkin.

Who made money out of it? Aside from the $x/pop DVD, what about the New and Old Media profits?

Then could we get a South Park Mr Hanky-style media gang to pursue them, Latham-like, into their homes or into their kids’ swanky swish schools? Or their websites?

Or is it easier to chase Greg Sheridan’s stupid boys out to Werribee, and not to storm the North Shore, Hollywood and other enclaves of the rich and fatuous?

We aren’t game enough, are we?

We can luridly attack a silly old stumble-tongued bloke from Lakemba until the cows come home, but leave the big boys alone, because we’re a cowardly mob of pallid, furtive wankers and gutless bigots.

Each of us lovingly moulded out of Kirribilli’s massive excreta flow, then launched into the 21st Century’s heat and dust.

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