Can We Torture Them For You Retail?

by Phil Rockstroh

May 24, 2004   


Pic: "Abu Ghraib*Mart" - "America exports Freedom and Liberty the Wal-Mart way." - Graphic, © Angela Tyler-Rockstroh 2004. All rights reserved. (Please, do not steal.) - size 46kb
"Abu Ghraib*Mart," by Angela Tyler-Rockstroh; a Phil Rockstroh conception
© Angela Tyler-Rockstroh 2004. All rights reserved.

"The story of Wal-Mart exemplifies some of the very best qualities in our country -- hard work, the spirit of enterprise, fair dealing, and integrity."
—Dick Cheney
"To all of us who have been charged, we all agree that we don't feel like we were doing things that we weren't supposed to, because we were told to do them. We think everything was justified, because we were instructed to do this and to do that."
—Lynndie R. England

When Saddam was forced to close shop due to the fierce competitive practices of Bush Inc. -- the world witnessed the Wal-Martization of torture.

Private First Class Lynndie R. England, with her gamine grin and imbecilic thumbs-up gesticulations, is the corporatist/military equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter... In other words, she was who the customer (the Iraqi prisoners) had first contact with when they entered the store -- but, in reality, she had no more say over the practices of the corporation than the men's room attendant at Enron had in bilking the state of California during the heyday of its energy manipulation scams.

In the age of the Holy Corporatist Empire, accountability at the top is as non-existent as the use of table settings and salad forks during a feeding frenzy of Great White Sharks. But unlike the impersonal appetites of nature's flesh-eaters, our predatory class of the privileged seems to harbor disdain for those they prey upon.

Their thinking seems to go something like this:

"Those at the bottom must be the ones who are at fault -- for why else would they be on the bottom? If they had any sense of decency and self-worth they would have been born into privilege like all the fine people we know.

"But don't think for a moment we're not on to them: That sneaky way they have of positioning themselves in lowly positions that are devoid of power -- that is such a transparent ruse -- because we all know: Wars are lost by privates; economies are wrecked by the greed of minimum wage workers; and, of course, we all know that ships are sunk by insufficient mopping of her deck by indolent deck crews.

"This is precisely why we must put Private England on trial -- because she's tarnishing the sparkling image of our glorious war machine... she's breaking our adamantine resolve... she's just plain bad for business.

"For the business of the United States of America is war, and she's making the whole thing seem outright ugly.

"This episode is not playing well with key demographic groups of consumers... We are losing brand loyalty; al Qaeda stock is way up...

"Memo to the corporate board: Private Lynndie England is a terrible corporate icon for the company. Tell me: Can you get the Olson Twins? Or the Snuggle Bear? Or the Keebler Elves? We are in need of a cute and cuddly Muppet-like image for our detention complexes -- a sort of a Torture-Me-Elmo corporate spokes-puppet.

"Or, maybe, we can use some real-life greeter from Wal-Mart, a real person to front the product -- like Jared Fogle, that ex-fat fellow from the Subway sandwich ads...

"How about if we use a retarded greeter? You know to show that we're a war machine with a big heart... No, on second thought -- scratch the 'tard idea -- George W. is close enough to that -- and the latest market surveys reveal his brand is on the decline.

"Now, John Kerry is endowed with a kind of rubbery, stretchable Gumby appeal and he could prove useful to us.

"And Ralph Nader can be marketed as a form of Geek Cool -- but, my God, that titanic ego of his... The only things worse than a couple of frat boys drunk with privilege is a nerd tweaked on power. (Though his relationship to power might prove profitable for us -- because like the old truism about nerds and sex: That given the chance they prove the best lovers, because they've spent so much time alone thinking about it.)"

So much for the palaver of the head cases at the home office of the Wal-Mart Nation.

But how did this situation come to be? How was the United States transformed from a republic conceived to be governed by way of democratic discourse into a shabby-ass, centerless archipelago of shopping malls, devoid of a public square, dominated by a cultural narrative of marketing platitudes and the collective, sound-bite psychosis of corporatist mantras?

As for its citizenry: Like Wal-Mart employees who are paid less than a living wage and toil without health care benefits -- but who, nevertheless, are compelled to assemble every morning before their shift, shellac a phony, so called "customer-friendly," (actually a slave's obsequious grin) across their face and chant "positive" affirmations about the power and glory of "the Wal-Mart Way" -- the American people have become a society of slaves who earnestly proclaim that their economic shackles are the very wings of freedom.

What are the origins of this Wal-Martization of the American mind? Who are these denizens of the Wal-Mart Republic, these shabby-ass, centerless citizens who unquestioningly follow the orders of immoral authority? Whether they meekly submit to toil in exploitive conditions in retail outlets or they choose one of the other (limited) life options given to them by the corporatist state, such as "volunteering" for the military, and then, as recent events have brought to light, unquestioningly following commands to torment and humiliate prisoners held in their charge, (even nonchalantly trading digital snapshots among themselves of the soul-defying deeds they committed) few Americans seem willing to stand up to the bullying corporate bosses, the depraved military brass, and the corrupt media elitists who have created this culture of cruelty and anomie. Furthermore, far too many American citizens appear to be complicit, if not outright eager accessories (or should we say "associates") to their own debasement.

What has caused this cultural loss of the ability of Americans to apprehend ethical consequence, bestow basic empathy, or even experience human resonance?

Who are these people? What do they have to say for themselves?

For this I will channel the collective spirit of the universal Wal-Mart greeter...turned corporate citizen soldier:

"Hello, Welcome to Abu Ghraib-Mart...

"Well now, we hear you're being stubborn and testy (you know.... the way godless followers of false gods often can be) about becoming an associate of democracy in the New Iraq. Well that's OK -- we'll teach you to love freedom -- no matter how long we have to torture your scrawny, brown butt to do it.

"Where's your gratitude? We're bringing you all the opportunities that I've been given as an American born in a small town. That's why I joined the military -- because I had so many opportunities: It's not like I was forced to work at the Dairy Queen back home -- There was always the Tasty Freeze -- or, if I was a twenty-year old hottie, I could have moved to Dallas or Atlanta and shake my money maker for the big bucks.

"The trouble with you towel heads is that you're just so damned prejudiced and narrow-minded about America and our love of decency and freedom. It's time you looked around and saw the big picture. And then after you do, we'll remove the blindfold from your eyes and the black hood from your head.

"But for now, you must start to regard the leash that I have around your neck as the unstoppable pull of freedom. You must stop straining against it; in fact, you must learn to love it -- for it's the Leash of Liberty that is choking you, you silly, stubborn, little sand-monkey. As soon as you learn to breathe free -- we'll remove it from your throat.

"I mean, for the love of the one and only true God, our Lord Jesus Christ, what is it gonna take to get through to all of you cruel and hateful people? What will it take to shock and awe you into having a respect for life -- like we Americans do?

"Do you Iraqis think you're the center of the universe or what? It's not like we don't have a lot of other places to drop our very expensive bombs on, thank you very much -- and maybe the next lucky people we attack will appreciate what we're trying to do for them.

"Now if it were up to me -- personally, I'd be a lot pickier about the kind of people we let into our store -- but I'm just the greeter here at Abu Ghraib-Mart -- and I'm only here to serve you, the customer.

"Even if you enter the store testy and irritable -- it's my job to smile while I degrade and humiliate you -- because it's my face the customer will remember.

"Because I'm the face of America.

"And you'll learn to love it."

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Iraq on Swans


Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).

Angela Tyler-Rockstroh is a Broadcast Designer/Animator working with major Networks such as Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, HBO Family, PBS, etc. She also creates satirical graphics for Phil Rockstroh and has recently worked with Flickerlab on the opening animation of the new Michael Moore documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." When life does not squeeze too much out of her, she finds time to produce and design a high-end line of coats and party dresses for small dogs. This is her first contribution to Swans.

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Published May 24, 2004
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