Cultural Reflections of Changing Views on Torture

Brita Sydhoff in Le Monde Diplomatique (English edition):

If the entertainment industry, not least Hollywood, reflects a prevailing state of mind in the United States and the West in general, torture may be steadily gaining acceptance as a means of extracting information from suspects.

Or is it just a coincidence that the entertainment industry increasingly appeals to its audience through scenes of torture and violence at just this time when politicians and intellectuals are arguing in favour of interrogation methods that amount to torture, as a countermeasure in the so-called war on terror? In an earlier season of the popular Fox television series 24, Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer fought a radical Islamist plot to cause meltdown at US nuclear power plants.

The series is highly entertaining, but it is also a test of its audience’s views on the ticking-bomb scenario: are they prepared to condone torture if thousands of innocent lives are at stake? Is it acceptable, for example, when a CTU agent tortures his colleague’s husband with electric cables in an attempt to extract the information that could possibly prevent the meltdown?