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Damages—In Fiction and In Life

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Patty Hewes

Patty Hewes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been renting and watching the TV drama Damages, starring a brilliant Glenn Close. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen on the small screen, and I getan immediate rush whenever that red envelope appears in my mailbox. I especially like watching four or five episodes in one delicious sitting, rather than waiting a dreary week in between each. Patty Hewes, the main character played by Close, is a Class A bitch and hard to like—some might say impossible to like. I’ve worked at liking her, though: as cruel as Patty can be, underneath beats a clichéd heart of gold. The stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold is outdated: of course whores have hearts of gold; these days they’re the girls next door. Hewes is an attorney: a lawyer with a heart of gold is so rare she cannot be classified a stereotype.

No matter what intricate evil plots Patty arranges to manipulate the people around her, though, she hasn’t tortured anyone physically, nor has she ordered torture be done in her name. (Murder, sure; torture, never!) In the fourth season, however, the plot incorporates the war in Afghanistan, and in the first episode the audience is treated to scenes of torture—nothing involving Patty, thank god. During the first four eps, I actually had to leave the room, and I’m seriously questioning whether or not to skip this season (the show went five years, so that’d leave me with just one more season).

Standing by on a hilltop, Soldiers with the 10...

The 101st Division Special Troops Battalion watch as helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008 after searching a small village in the valley below for IED materials and facilities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my philosophy on depictions of cruelty:

When I saw Schindler’s List—which I cannot believe came out over 20 {gasp} years ago—I went to the bathroom midway through. Unlike the frantic race I usually run to pee and get back to a movie quickly, this time I lingered. I saw the harrowed look on my face in the mirror, and vowed inwardly to never again see a Holocaust movie. A few years later, watching Amistad, I made the same vow regarding slavery—and extended these vows to books. The way I figure it, by now I know enough, certainly a great deal, about both horrendous subjects; in fact, when I was young and just learning world history, I was inexplicably drawn to stories of human cruelty, and I devoured books and movies about the epic tragedies of history. By now, however, with cruelty still going strong, and between my own pain and suffering and that of people I love, I’ve

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

witnessed enough for one lifetime. I don’t want or need to fill my eyes with hideous visions, or my head and heart with the agony that runs rampant through the human story. I’m well aware that horrid things are being done to people even as I write these words; I don’t need to be reminded. Thus, I made those vows and never looked back–except, perhaps, for a painful book or three. A serious reader can’t avoid, nor would I want to, books that include pain and suffering.

In the case of Damages, however, I feel a bit uneasy–not full-blown guilty, just somewhat uneasy—turning my back on Season 4 and its terrorist/torture plot. (Each season focuses on one central plotline from first to last episode.) That would be refusing to acknowledge what the United States, of which I am a natural born citizen, is doing to people in my name. Some even accuse those of us who don’t protest of giving the government our tacit approval of their heinous deeds.

I already know what the U.S. is doing, whether I watch the show or not. I listen to or watch Democracy Now almost every day, I read progressive magazine articles, and I’m on nearly every left-wing group’s spam list. I listen to NPR and KPFA. I’ve also seen other TV shows, like Law & Order, that weave stories of “The War on Terror” into their plots—I could tell you exactly what’s going to happen in Damages Season 4, so similar is it to other programs on the subject. In other words, I do know what’s going on, and I’m doing nothing about it. I walked around Market Street objecting to war several times during the past decade. Didn’t stop the wars. Of course, I didn’t expect it to: when I march I do it for solidarity with other protesters, and to express my disapproval.

The U.S. is supposed to be leaving Afghanistan now—but that’s not the issue. The “takeaway” issue of this war turns out to be torture. Now that the U.S. has crossed that line they’re very likely to do so again. Does that mean I have to watch depictions of it? WTF am I supposed to do about it? What do Americans with a conscience do? What do you do?


One response »

  1. I get out and vote. Call my leaders and let my voice be heard. I also talk to my friends about the topics. I refuse to watch channels like Fox News who are know for manipulating the news to fit their political needs. The best news comes from the BBC.

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