One of the great advantages to working in academia comes from what you can learn just chatting with a colleague. A few weeks ago one of my colleagues explained to me what he learned from a moslem member of his department: What green means. In a discussion about the use of the word "green" in the U.S. (and enthusiastically adopted by our workplace) to mean "environmentally friendly" he told me that in the Islamic world, green is the symbolic color of Islam itself. "Going green" in that context means becoming more Islamic, more religious.
In the news reports about the political unrest in Iran following an obviously (and sloppily) rigged election, I have yet to find any news outlet that points out the symbolic meaning of the green head gear, green flags, green banners, etc. that we see on the TV. Maybe someone did explain and I just missed it. Nonetheless, the idea of right-wing bloggers changing their color schemes on their blogs in support of the protesters in Iran makes me chuckle a bit. Nevermind, that only a short time ago (a couple of years) Senator McCain made a tasteless joke about killing Iranian en masse ("Bomb, Bomb, Bomb... Bomb, Bomb Iran"). I have grown accustomed to the ease with which ideologues can turn on a dime. But I digress...
I read this morning two items that have coalesced in my head, and hope to do justice to that here. Glenn Greenwald on salon.com discussed the hypocrisy we witnessed when the President sang the praises of the power of the visual image to reveal the violence and brutality of the Iranian regime while chuckling at the reporter who asked about the suppression of the torture pictures by the same President (The Neda video, Torture and the truth-revealing power of images). Evidently not only right-wing ideologues turn on a dime - lots of people have that talent these days. And Greenwald gives us more scary for the day: a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that support for torturing "terrorist" suspects stands at about 50% (?!). I realize that no empirical evidence could ever tie this to the 7 seasons of torture porn broadcast as the television series 24, but I believe that popular culture, or even culture in general, has the ability to influence opinions on that most basic level: people's assumptions (assumptions are what you don't know you're making).
To make matters even more surreal, NPR (Nominally Public Radio) has made a decision to stop using the word "torture." Consider reading (or, I hope, re-reading) the essays of George Orwell (including the one at the end of 1984) about euphemism and dishonest use of language. NPR's Alicia C. Shepard writes an apologia for dropping the use of the word "torture" that reads like something out of the Ministry of Truth. I guess she would argue that it's only torture if you actually open the rat cage? Happily, many who have left comments on this atrocity have called bullshit on her. (Read about this whopper and comment as you please).
Culture and cluelessness combine in fascinating ways in Iran now, as I read an anonymous Iranian's report about how the regime has tried to keep people at home and complacent by showing them more movies that usual. To this end, they have started a Lord of the Rings marathon. I can almost imagine these imagination-challenged, ignorant, authoritarian hacks picking this out: "Oh, look. Harmless escapist fantasy, no relationship to reality here." Right. As if religions do not pillage the popular culture of the times for their holy books. These idiots never guessed that Tolkien artfully distills hundreds of characters, myths, legends, themes from around the world -- the stuff of popular culture throughout the centuries -- into an epic story that has to touch on at least some cultural references familiar to nearly any given person anywhere in the world. Not that Lord of the Rings necessarily borrows anything directly from the Koran or Iranian epic poetry (I have no idea, maybe it does?) but that (more likely) Tolkien's trilogy borrows from the same sources. In Tehran Dispatch: The regime shows us movies the anonymous Iranian explains the Iranian interpretation of the films. Please read this yourself. I will give you a spoiler, though: the Iranian regime looks a lot like Mordor. Who'd have guessed?
I can not resist mentioning my favorite of all the comments I have read thus far on Shepard's Orwellian nightmare apologia:
Don McAdam (dmc) wrote:
The next time NPR does a story on child abuse or date rape, they should refer to those immoral acts as "enhanced parenting techniques" and "harsh dating practices".
Here's someone who beat me to the punch:
Overton Glavlit (Googie) wrote:
I recognize that it's frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the number 4 to describe certain sums of 2 and 2. But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of what 2+2 equals and different feelings about what constitutes "4". NPR's job is to give listeners all perspectives, and present the news as detailed as possible and put it in context.