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By Chris Abani

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Arts and Culture

Blurred Vision

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Posted on Jan 23, 2012
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

My first reaction to the video released recently of the four U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans was that it was too ham-fisted and bombastic a metaphor to add anything of real value to the ongoing critique and analysis of this country’s über-mortiferous foreign policy. Similarly, if I were to see a video of a 500-pound CEO wearing a top hat, spats, a monocle and a watch chain walking through an Indonesian sweatshop while lighting a cigar with a $1,000 bill, I doubt that my disgust and outrage would have anything more substantial than an apparitional cliché into which to anchor its cleats. Watching these soldiers, deeply tanned from hours of volleyball back at the base no doubt, cheerfully peeing all over the bodies of indigenes, I felt as if I were looking at a Sue Coe painting that had been brought to life and then handed over to the Capitol Steps to assiduously overact, the stereotype of the Ugly American being turned up to 11 for those in the back of the Mark Russell Bawditorium who might be hard of sneering.

Rather than being presented with an inspirational image that rivals the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph of the five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the U.S. flag at the top of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the iGeneration is stuck with the image of four ebullient Marines outfitted with the most sophisticated weaponry available anywhere in the world, including body armor and what might be Versace sunglasses, pissing on three corpses of Taliban fighters who are all gaunt and barefoot and wearing clothes better suited for Frisbee or beach barbecue or Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

What could turn out to be the most telling detail about the entire incident is how a number of online news agencies decided to censor the stills that had been extracted from the original video by blurring out the soldiers’ penises while allowing a direct and uncompromising view of the dead bodies. Such a deliberate and widespread editorial decision provides clear insight into what the media, and therefore the dominant culture that they endeavor to reflect, consider to be obscene and what they deem to be innocuous and uncorrupting of our moral fortitude. Of course, as the proud owner of a penis myself—one that has undergone thousands of hours of excruciatingly thorough visual and tactile inspection, frank and glorious usability and withstood more rigorous endurance testing than a NASA chimp—I couldn’t help but feel a little bit perplexed by the breakdown. To me it was like trying to preserve the innocence of a child who stumbles into his parents’ bedroom while they’re having intercourse and who continue to bump and grind against each other but decide, just before climax, to throw on hats and dark glasses and fake English accents. What is the fucking point? Likewise with the micturating Marines: Are not the cadaverous human beings pictured dead on the ground sufficiently off-putting to make the whizzing—the one and only detail depicted in the news item that is so mundanely commonplace and as familiar to all of us as breathing—the least offensive element, when isolated, of the crime? After all, we’re talking about a 39-second clip that never would’ve been produced—never could’ve been produced—had we not decided as a nation to conflate invasion, occupation and mass slaughter with liberation, or foreign sovereignty with anti-Americanism, or war and murder with democracy building and peace-making, and yet what we decide to classify as being too disturbing to look at is the blatant demonstration of a bodily function that everybody and his grandmother partakes in 204,440 times over the course of a normal lifetime.

It seemed absolutely ludicrous!

Then, instead of choosing to scapegoat the blotting out of the male groins in the video on what everybody always scapegoats full frontal exposure of our human anatomy on, namely our oh-so preciously Victorian mores, I decided to consider an alternative explanation that was much less condescending of our character and much more deferential toward our intellectual moxie. I began to wonder if I wasn’t, in fact, witnessing the censorship of an enlightening fact rather than the shutting down of mere prurience. What if we were being encouraged to be afraid not of what these peckers might reduce us to but rather to what heights they might elevate our comprehension of ourselves as sentient beings?

Deciding to seek the grounding counsel of personal experience to further stoke my growing suspicions, I suddenly recalled some writing that I’d done on the subject of penile erudition back in 1986 and I reached for a journal that I had to blow the dust off of before handling.

When I was 19 years old, I posed naked for a life drawing class at Rutgers University and had this to say to what I imagined would be eager and receptive future generations afterward:

How did this happen? How did my pecker end up at the tip of 30 slow-moving pencils? More to the point, what business does my pecker have in defining for a bunch of teenagers what art is? That’s like bringing Adolf Hitler into the room and asking him to teach the fox trot, or it’s like handing somebody a fistful of hundred dollar bills and asking him to appreciate the fine art of portraiture engraving. You’d think that a pecker in a classroom, set like a tiny basket of fruit before a sleepy mod of freshmen boys and girls, is a little bit like a gnu forced to rest its great horned head on a filthy drain behind bars and before a wall painted to look like the African Savanna. Rather than gaining some useful knowledge about the wonders of nature or the breathtaking majesty of the animal kingdom, one can only come away from gawking at such a spectacle a little bit dumber about the interconnectedness of man and beast.

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, January 28, 2012 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

It is kind of funny, but reading your article made me forget all about the marines peeing on Afghan corpses.

I don’t know if it is funny HaHa or it smells funny, or I am just funny in the head.

Actually I am pretty sure it is not funny HaHa.

I blame you Mr. Fish.

What the hell is going on???

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EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, January 28, 2012 at 4:15 am Link to this comment

I never attended art school, but I went to life drawing sessions 3 times a week for almost a year, and to be perfectly honest, I was always disappointed when the model was a male.

Whatever the sex, I always did my duty, but I must say, peckers are easy enough to draw.

It seems there are a lot of strange dynamics going on in such a situation, often a little creepy depending on the venue, and just as often, somewhat annoying depending on the attendees (I hate being chatted up when I am trying to concentrate), but mostly, as the drawer, I succeeded in tuning them out.

I am sure nude modeling is an entirely different experience and might cause one to do a lot of tripping out on the state of his pecker, or so I can easily imagine.

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By Squaresville, January 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment

I’ve always thought that the majority of people I went to college with needed to mask their mediocrity by wrapping their frank absence of a personality in a piece of rolled and ribboned parchment paper that had been offered up as some sort of triumphant proof that they could memorize shit and repeat it back, their hollowness made somehow whole by the addition of an academic echo.

Thanks for the +1 (and for stating it so succinctly)

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kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, January 26, 2012 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

I still wonder what purpose artists can have in this society… or any society, really.  What use can our talents have in the world?  Creative visualization, color sense, imagination, feeling for form…

It can’t be to make commercials, sitcoms, or magazine illustrations, can it?

Funny that these skills/talents/ways of beings seem to destroy successful integration into the world at large, too.

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Arabian Sinbad's avatar

By Arabian Sinbad, January 24, 2012 at 3:37 am Link to this comment

Excellent piece indeed Mr. Fish! Blurred Vision indeed is one description of what you talk about, but it is more than Blurred Vision; it is SPLIT VISION.

Though an educator myself who went through many years of formal education to acquire a PhD. I particularly enjoyed the quotation you included in your article about formal higher learning education.

Since your article Mr. Fish is a little lengthy for those who don’t appreciate and enjoy reading, it worth highlighting what I consider the most important part of your piece, which goes as following:

“After all, we’re talking about a 39-second clip that never would’ve been produced—never could’ve been produced—had we not decided as a nation to conflate invasion, occupation and mass slaughter with liberation, or foreign sovereignty with anti-Americanism, or war and murder with democracy building and peace-making, and yet what we decide to classify as being too disturbing to look at is the blatant demonstration of a bodily function that everybody and his grandmother partakes in 204,440 times over the course of a normal lifetime.”

“It seemed absolutely ludicrous!”

Thank you Mr. Fish for being both an excellent artist and an excellent writer, employing both in the service of truth, justice and the edification of humanity in general!

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By rumblingspire, January 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ricky Nelson - Mad Mad World

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