Tyranny, Dostoyevsky warns us, begins as a habit and ends up as a disease. Not unlike golf.
The same thing seems to be happening with torture. Before September 11th, no one was torturing. ("Torture? Please! That's sooo fifteen centuries ago!") Now it's everywhere. From the invitation-only black sites of New Europe to the hottest slasher movies at the multiplex to the sizzling new season of 24. Say it with me: Torture is hot.
I said, say it.
Torture is sweeping America. At least, we hope that's what it's planning to do with that broom.
But trends are fleeting by their very nature. You see it happen all the time in Hollywood. You're a habit, you're a disease, you turn around and you're Jason Biggs.
Which has got some entertainment insiders asking: How long can attaching wires to people stay wired?
Here's Howard Gordon:
"What was once an extraordinary or exceptional moment is starting to feel a little trite. The idea of physical coercion or torture is no longer a novelty or surprise."
And Howard Gordon isn't just some man or person who repeats or rephrases every second word he says or states. He's the executive producer of 24.
He's in a position to know. Between 1996 to 2001 there were about 100 torture scenes on television. Since 2001, there have been 624. Sixty-seven of them have been on his show.
Yes, they've actually taken beating people to death and beaten it to death.
They've also been getting a certain amount of flak about it, from human rights whiners and, you know, generals, but Gordon has an answer for anyone who would take away his artistic freedom to depict torture and repeat himself.
"We're not going to be handcuffed or hamstrung."
I swear I'm not making that up. It's in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer. The same place where I cribbed the paragraph with the statistics.
Now, I've never met Howard Gordon, so I feel obliged to give him the benefit of a doubt and assume he's not the stupidest human on earth. He finds his way to the office, right? And when he hears a ringing noise, he knows it's the phone. He must have basic brain functions, or they wouldn't let him do press.
So he must be making a joke, right? He doesn't think 24's critics literally want to bind his hands and hobble him by cutting the tendons in his legs. He just likes the sound of the words "handcuffed" and "hamstrung" because he thinks they're synonyms, and one's a cliché, and the other is also a cliché.
But like I said, I've never met the guy. For all I know, Howard Gordon has a Nabokovian gift for wordplay. Honed by those seasons on Angel.
One way you can tell that a trend has crested is when amateurs start screwing it up and ending up in People magazine, in the "Trouble" department, with quotes from former neighbors about how they never saw it coming, and picture captions with the phrase "in happier times." The moment torture jumped the shark came last week, when Captain Lisa Nowak packed latex gloves, a knife, mace, rubber hose and a hammer, put on a diaper, and drove to Orlando to ask Colleen Shipman a few questions.
The same thing happened with voguing. Once working moms in Houston are doing it, it's over.
Jason Biggs? Yes you do. The kid from American Pie. Sort of looked like a cross between David Schwimmer and a monkey? Nothing? Never mind.
David Schwimmer. The guy from Friends. Yes you do.
Hey Larry King fans!
Which of these observations is the freshest and most daring?
"... Barack Obama is all sizzle and no steak ..."
"... Anna Nicole Smith was less Marilyn Monroe (whom she idolized) than Jayne Mansfield ..."
"... John Edwards is a ferocious, knife-sharp debater with foxy, seat-of-the-pants smarts ..."
"... People who know Matt Drudge simply through his Web site are clueless about his eclectic musical sensibility ..."
"... Nancy Pelosi is brass knuckles in a velvet glove, and I'm loving every minute of it! ..."
Answer? They're all from this week, they're all equally embarrassing, and they're all from Camille Paglia. She's doing her column in Salon again. Welcome back! No, I'm not coming over there to give my old granny a kiss. We both know what happened last time.