Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Women in Prison Movies

... processing ...

If you're wondering why all the sudden interest in women in prison films, I have a theory for ya.

The last eight years of the Bush Administration in particular and modern conservatism in general have been disasters for America's sense of itself as a decent society. We see the images from Abu Ghraib and we hear stories of much darker stuff going on in places like Bhagram and the CIA's secret prisons in Europe, and we wonder who the hell we are.

And then we hear grim statistics like the fact that the US has more people in jail per capita than any other country in the world, and we wonder how so many of us became the prisoners of the rest of us.

Fiction, whether books, TV or movies, serves the same function as play does for children, for adult minds. It allows us to safely process stuff we don't necessarily feel up to processing directly and consciously. As fiction, we can handle even the darkest stuff, especially if it has been transformed in some way so we aren't forced to directly confront the fact that we are dealing with stuff like Abu Ghraib.

Voila! Women in prison films! Suddenly, filmmakers want to make them and networks want to buy them. They are safely removed from the horrors of Abu Ghraib, they are sexy so they have been transformed, and yet they let us explore themes like imprisonment and cruelty and so forth in a safe manner. Like a child learning to control her body by pouring liquids from one container to another -- a safe and easy substitute for, say, making boiling hot coffee as an adult might -- so we watch women in prison movies and learn.

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