A comment on “Good War”

posted by Mike on April 4th, 2007

A Good War Is Hard to FindI’ve been e-mailing with my little brother Mark about David Griffith’s A Good War Is Hard to Find, and about Christopher Sorrentino’s review of the book in the New York Times.

The New York Times review bugged me, because it didn’t mention Christianity at all, while the last third was on “postmodernity.” I thought that the search for God’s grace in moments of violence was at least as important a theme in this book as Griffith’s critique of our culture. I wondered if those reading the review would think the book was some odd, secular salvo in the culture wars.

Mark straightened me out:

I read the Times review and I’m not entirely sure the Sorrentino guy paints it as a culture wars thing—I see what you mean about his desire to (maybe) justify postmodern cultural artifacts, but I think the key part is the notion that these artifacts come out of postmodernity—there’s a larger social/cultural/economic/political realm there that one might want to take on before one worries about Pulp Fiction. Or so I thought his point was.

Mark got a chance to read the first two chapters online:

I can see how one might craft a “culture wars” based discussion, at least from what I’ve seen, if Flannery O’Connor becomes the hero and Grand Theft Auto or something is the villain. But it’s not like O’Connor is some darling of conservatives, I don’t think.

I also wonder to what degree Griffith separates writing from moving images—there’s just no way written text can have the same impact in terms of violence as seeing images of war or fake war.

What I do like, and it may point more strongly to the way you’re taking up the book, is that Griffith seems to focus not on representation (as is always done in culture wars debates—Piss Christ is “offensive” because it “negatively” represents Jesus, or whatever), but on what texts do to us, on affect. If texts move us toward grace, compassion, whatever, it might not matter if they’re full of images of violence. But how often might images of violence move us that way?


Does Griffith ever invoke the whole banality of evil discussion? Seems like that might be a good approach that could probably work in conjunction with his moral/religious argument.

One other thing I was thinking about is whether he discusses images of non-Americans being brutal to other people. It was an interesting thing to consider when the Abu Ghraib mess was at its most publicly visible—no one ever really brought up the occasional images one sees of Iraqis or whoever beheading people—there seems to be an assumption that Middle Easterners do those sorts of things on a regular basis, so they aren’t expected to be held to the standard that American soldiers are held to. Also, the press seems far more reluctant to air images of Westerners being brutalized by Arabs than of Arabs being brutalized by Westerners. Not entirely sure why that is.

There were right-wing pundits who did advance an argument along the lines that, “At least we don’t saw the heads off prisoners, so why are you getting worked up about a little torture?”

Mark also responded to my review:

I like your comment about Pulp Fiction—man rape has a very different status from woman rape in our TV and movies—it’s always the butt of jokes in prison movies, and that scene in Pulp Fiction is intended at least in part to be funny. Rape in movies is a big problem, it seems to me, that people who worry about violence in the media don’t consider often or seriously enough—there’s a new book out, Watching Rape by Sarah Projansky (published by NYU Press), that takes up rape in cinema as its focus. It’s probably interesting. (Also see, apparently, Public Rape, by Tanya Horeck, Routledge.)

It’s always seemed to me that rape scenes tend to be the most violent, not in terms of content, but in terms of affect. Torture scenes (like Reservoir Dogs or horror movies) make us squirm, but rape scenes, at least for me, often feel like they’re actually beating me up, like the images themselves are being violent.

I don’t know how I felt about any of this when I was ten.

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2 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On April 5, 2007 at 08:24 Mike (Worcester) said:

    Here is a guy who agrees with me: “The New York Times I would argue forcefully denies the religious aspect of the book and misses the unique and interesting response that the book can create.”

  2. On May 4, 2007 at 22:51 Jen W said:

    Thank you captain obvious!

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