Charade Rest

Charade Rest is a piece that I started a long time ago…

I was working on it before 9/11, and after that happened, I put it on hold for a while.

as time went on, however….

….and we turned an (arguably valid) action in Afghanistan into an invasion of Iraq, I realized that the politics of the piece, and the sexual connotations involved were just as salient and appropriate as ever. As news reports about Abu Ghraib and other shady dealings on our (American) behalf started to trickle out through the press, I felt more and more vindicated about my thoughts behind the work.

In the USMC, there exists a separate vocabulary, and a separate mind-frame, that is implemented during training, to separate the marines from the rest of the world, and establish an esprit des corps. As part of a lesson in that vocabulary, a weapon is never called a “gun” it is a “piece” or a “rifle”. All the way back to WWII, Marines have chanted “This is my rifle, This is my gun- This is for fighting, This is for fun”, alternating between their rifles and their genitals. In this meme, it is perfectly reasonable to call your penis a gun, but it is considered unacceptable to refer to an M16 as a gun.

A bit of my personal history: For my entire childhood, I wanted one thing. I wanted to be a soldier, more specifically, a military pilot. Along with millions of other kids around the world, I grew up watching space shuttles blasting off and F-14s leaving carrier decks, and I was caught up in the adrenaline and testosterone of the idea of strapping yourself to a giant steel and aluminum phallus, and streaking off into the face of god, to see if you had the “right stuff”. I studied and learned about all things military, and decided to embark on a path that would hopefully someday land me in a fighter plane

The plan went something like this: Straight A’s, lots of math, Athletics, Community involvement, Pilot’s lessons, ROTC, College, Letter from a Congressman, Air Force Academy or Annapolis, enlist, train, fly, and finally, kill lots of people. It was that last bit that gave me pause. As a child, growing up during the last years of the cold war, It was understood and obvious that we were the good guys, and they (whoever they are) were the bad guys, and if they wouldn’t listen to reason, well, we would have to beat the shit out of them. As I grew up, my politics changed drastically. As I read and studied politics, I grew to embrace a world view that sought to reject the concept of us vs. them, and try to figure out a way to get past the natural and futile human tendency to embrace violence.

Charade Rest is an attempt to explain the underlying narrative that was sold to me as a child, the concept that physical (and sexual) superiority, and superior application of violence, is the ultimate measure of manliness and self-worth. It is a world view that must be instilled early, and protected from too much curiosity about it’s veracity. The power structures that exist in the world understand this perfectly, and have found fertile ground in the developing sexual drives of millions of teenage boys.

The evidence for this is everywhere. Play any online video game, and in a short time, you’ll hear countless adolescent online-tough-guys, protected by an internet firewall, rattle off a verbal onslaught of faggots, bitches, and queers, to establish mental dominance in an otherwise civil dialog. Some of these games are in fact sponsored and underwritten by branches of the US military. Our most revered silver screen legends are towering pillars of unbridled male virility. (would James Bond be a franchise if he were just as strong, twice as clever, and gay?) They have smeared the line between sexuality and violence intentionally, in order to conflate the two ideas, and appeal to an innate and perfectly natural drive that occurs within almost all young men. As an interesting side note, as the diversity of the US military is expanding, these concepts are increasingly being exposed outside their institutions. I think that as time goes on, they will be adjusted and hopefully discarded.

Ask yourself if the pictures that came floating out of Abu Ghraib weren’t at least partially influenced by this confused philosophy. When sexual masculinity and military superiority are conflated, sexual humiliation can be seen as an effective interrogation technique. The repercussions of these misguided actions will be with us for years to come, and I think the philosophy behind them is at the root of the problem.

When I discuss this piece with people, I am sometimes accused of being naive, that dominance and a certain amount of violence are inherent in human sexuality. I am fully aware of this, but, as a man, I understand the difference between the gentle violence of good sex, and the animal rage that men are capable of. Sure, you can argue the existence of a gray area within that spectrum, but that is a wide gray area. It takes a lot of effort for a normal person to mentally cross that chasm. Rape is almost never about sex. It is purely an act of violence and domination. Conversely, regardless of one’s views of military conflict, in a more perfect world, modern war should have nothing to do with sex. The dominance that occurs in war is purely that: dominance. The blurring of the lines between the two ideas is fruitful for recruiters and drill sergeants, but in the end, when modern wars are based not on territorial expansion, but on ideas, and one constantly hears the phrase “hearts and minds” applied to every conflict, this antiquated attitude is less beneficial than it once was.

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