That's Entrail-Tainment!

What's worse—getting tortured at Abu Ghraib, or volunteering for Fear Factor?

"Donald Rumsfeld," wrote some cretin for a big newspaper a few weeks ago, "told American forces in Baghdad that Abu Ghraib 'doesn't represent America. It doesn't represent American values.' . . . Western morality, embodied in its highest contemporary form in America, is [fill in your favorite besotted-with-ourselves platitude here] . . . "

How much time does anyone think it would take to recruit reality-show contestants in any town in America willing to disrobe, wear a hood, and put their head in the crotch of another contestant for a prime-time audience? To be wired to an electrical outlet? Or to even volunteer for a beating from some goons if there was a 1-in-20 chance it would kill them and they would be displayed on camera swaddled in Saran Wrap?

That prisoners in Abu Ghraib didn't have a choice in humiliating punishments meted out by Americans is only a trifling distinction. We will routinely torture each other and even consent to the same for any number of reasons, quickly dispensing with common sense and basic decency as long as we can assure ourselves it's for money, entertainment, job, love of country, or because someone in authority told us it was a capital character-building thing to do.

A midsummer night's scream: Fear Factor
photo: Byron Cohen/NBC
A midsummer night's scream: Fear Factor

Where I grew up, being a vile wretch was hoisted to the level of civic duty for over half a century. It came in the form of a Labor Day pigeon shoot in Pennsylvania's Hegins Valley, an event billed as family-friendly entertainment that earned money for the local community. Gunners shot thousands of pigeons, loaded into boxes and ejected at point-blank range over the course of a day. Boys rushed onto the shooting range to gather up the dead birds, wringing their necks or ripping off their heads if they were still half alive, and tossing them into garbage bins. With so many birds, there were many partial kills. The bleeding animals would fly into the trees, raining blood and feathers on the crowd. All day, dead or near-dead birds would fall from the branches, to be set upon by members of the crowd who would dispatch them in a variety of ways: stomping, kicking, or even playing Hacky Sack with them.

The festival reached its zenith in the last 10 years of its existence, when animal-cruelty protesters began storming it. Although it was finally put down by decree in 1999, during its run crowds became bigger and more boisterous, the behavior more abominable. During one a band called Crimson Country played dance music, including "Red River Rock." Much additional local attraction came from joy over the revulsion of the protesters, along with the opportunity to dish out beatings and trouble to them.

Why it never made it to DVD or just held on long enough for TV to catch up to it is beyond me. Getting a trio of young competitors to spend a few hours ripping the heads off birds that are dying anyway would only be natural.

George Smith has written frequently about national security and rock music.

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