Just in time for a planned follow-up post to the one last week on fantasy-based politics, we have the spasm of fictionally-inspired idiocy over the Gitmo closure. Check that, according to the keyboard waggers at the New York Times, idiocy is now called a “singular political opportunity” for the Republicans.
Gitmo prisoner as envisioned by John McCain and friends
“Where are we going to send them?” Mr. McCain said in an interview on Fox News, just days after the inauguration. “That decision I would have made before I’d announced the closure.” Referring to the not-in-my-back-yard uproar over the proposed nuclear waste site in Nevada, he added: “You think Yucca Mountain is a Nimby problem? Wait until you see this one.”
. . . The conflagration has been fanned by the determined focus of Republican leaders, fed by the alarms of talk-show populists and aided by the miscalculation of a new president who set a date for a closing without announcing a detailed plan for the inmates. The debate now threatens to make it much harder for Mr. Obama to keep his campaign promise.
Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantánamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles.
Talk radio and cable news hosts warned viewers that dangerous terrorists might end up in a neighborhood jail, with Sean Hannity of Fox News even broadcasting an online video from House Republican leaders that juxtaposed the security of the detainee camps with images of the twin towers in flames. And from California and Virginia to the small town of Hardin, Mont., Democratic lawmakers began fending off questions about whether they would admit terrorism suspects into their own communities.
Since presumably not even “talk-show populists” are claiming that Obama is going to place the “detainees” as 3rd-grade teachers in those local communities, the ever-so-deep fears in question would seem to turn almost wholly on the action movie and comic books trope of the superhuman killer that no prison can hold: through some combination of manipulation, luck, and mad skills, the mad dog will get loose and continue his criminal career, wiping out all his path. (Perhaps some sort of radiation-based powers will be involved, as McCain seems to suggest. Radioactive Man from the Iron Man comics [see image] was a Chinese Communist, which is pretty much the same thing, or plays the same function, in the GOP POV.)
More likely the scenario the Republicans want to suggest is some kind of Islamist version of Con Air. Unless you assume inevitable escape, it is hard to see a mechanism by which the Gitmo prisoners would threaten any American communities where they happen to be imprisoned. By this logic small-town Americans should be horrified at the idea of building any prisons in their communities, because that would amount to bringing rapists, murderers, and child molesters to live right there in River City or “the small town of Hardin, Mont.” On the contrary, small towns all over the country have competed to get prisons built to replace lost factory jobs.
In the real-life United States, escapes by well-known criminals or mass murderers from maximum-security prisons are incredibly rare, and long-term getaways almost unknown since Dillinger. Yet in fictional melodramas spectacular escapes have become almost the norm. Melodramas are usually only as good as their villains, and good villains are very difficult to create, so they tend to get reused. The trend probably started with comic-book supervillains who constantly came back for more. Where was Batman without the Joker every six months or so? Where was Spider-Man without the Green Goblin? (Actually, recurring villains probably goes back even further than that, to adventure comic strips in newspapers and the pulp novels that inspired them.)
The jailbreak habit was picked up in the 80s by a sequel-addicted Hollywood, and since then villains (and jeopardized heroes temporarily challenged by jail time) have been escaping as a regular, expected thing, even in non-sequels and non-serials. We in the audience know that any emphasis placed on the rigorousness of the prison’s security procedures is only setting us up to be more impressed with the character who inevitably breaks out. We’re just waiting to see how they do it. One of the most indelible and influential escape scenes ever filmed came in the period I am thinking of, involving one of filmdom’s most popular supervillains. That would be Dr. Hannibal Lecter in 1991′s Silence of the Lambs. [The film clip in this post keeps disappearing. Look it up on YouTube.]
Now that I think about it, the trope of the escaping villain goes right along with the modern conservative drive to diminish everything government does, even if it is something they agree with, like punishing criminals. According to decades of conservative propaganda, reinforced by popular culture, the constitutional protections of the American legal system only serve to let clever criminals thwart justice. The elaborate prison cells that the Hannibal Lecters of fiction escape so easily serve as a semi-conscious metaphor for a democratic government’s supposed powerlessness against evil.
Next time I come back to this political fantasy theme, I promise to have an early American history angle. Certainly the problem goes all the way back, even if Jefferson and Jackson did not get their political fantasies from the movies.
Now playing: The Exploding Hearts – Boulevard Trash