The noble victim

March 16, 2014

We’ve all seen it: Bad Guys pound on doors, brandishing guns, yelling at the inhabitants to come out immediately. The oppressed weep silently, cower in fear, walk in groups surrounded by men with guns.

I’m sick of it.

Let me say up-front that my beef is with filmmakers, not with actual victims. What pisses me off is the continual narrative of the “noble victim.” “Those who do not fight back.”

Last night I reached my limit when I watched In the Land of Blood and Honey, Angelina Jolie’s film on the Bosnian war. It was like watching every movie I’ve ever seen about the Holocaust. At least, during the Holocaust, you could assume the oppressed weren’t resisting because no one really believed that genocide on that scale could be happening. But in a post-Holocaust world, how can anyone think they’re immune to the atrocities of civil war?

In real life, war is a messy affair. Even World War II was not always Good Guys vs Bad Guys. Some Jews collaborated with Nazis. Some Germans helped Jews. Some Americans profited from the Nazi war machine. As we can see in Syria today, the “resistance fighters” fight amongst themselves almost as much as they fight against the government. In Egypt, coup has followed coup and the US has struggled to figure out if they’re leading to democracy (good) or autocracy (bad). The law is written for this good/bad dichotomy, but public policy is much trickier than that.

In The Fifth Sacred Thing, Starhawk envisions a showdown between oppressor and oppressed where the mass of civilians goes forward to die one by one, calling out their names and the names of their families. They are telling the gun-toting oppressors that they are murdering human beings with meaningful lives, not just faceless enemies of the state. It touches the hearts of the oppressors, who can’t live with the carnage they’re creating.

While this kind of radical non-violence is unusual, it’s not completely unprecedented. It would take a lot of ground work and organization, but such a resistance movement could be organized. A little-investigated fact about the Holocaust is that mass cremation was hit upon as a solution because German soldiers were getting depressed at having to massacre so many civilians personally. It was bad for morale. So the command structure found a way to de-personalize the victims and sanitize genocide. Why doesn’t anyone look into this? It says there must be a limit to what people can stand.

After all, there are always more people to kill than people to kill them. All it would take is a coordinated effort on the part of the people without guns to overcome the people with guns. Yes, some people would die, but at least we would change the narrative and show a different side of the human spirit. At least we would see that there is a cost to rounding up civilians.

In the movie last night, there’s a scene where the Orthodox Christian Serbs are approaching a Muslim-held shack while holding Muslim women as human shields. The Christians are holding the women in place in front of their bodies, one at a time, with one hand on the arm of the woman in front of them. The Christians call out to the partisans to drop their weapons and come out. There’s a typical “tense” standoff—what will happen? Don’t we already know? Haven’t we seen this movie countless times?

All the women have to do is drop to the ground. Drop to the ground and let the partisans shoot the Serbs. Problem solved. But of course that doesn’t happen. Because the Muslims are the victims, the Muslims get shot.

Again, I’m irritated by the filmmakers, not by the actual people to whom this sort of thing happens in real life. Because I think this endless parade of noble victims trains us to be passive in the face of weaponry and thuggery. Not passive in the sense of “passive resistance,” but “victims of fate.” But it’s not fate. We can fight back. We can run. And yes, we can die because of it, but is it better to be brutalized and scarred so that life afterwards is hardly worth living?

Obviously I live in a privileged position where it’s unlikely I’ll have to deal with much of this. I’ve been in several mass protests with heavy police presence and the threat of violence in the air, and I’ve been sexually abused, but it’s unlikely I’ll be faced with civil war or invasion. I know that in the times that I’ve been threatened, I’ve relied primarily on cunning to get myself out of it. I go on intuition and instinct to identify danger and then I use my brain to figure out a way out/around. I resist, though not violently. I walk away, but I do not run. I change the script. Isn’t that potentially more interesting than passively being rounded up like sheep?

In the movie Stage Beauty, Claire Danes’ character criticizes Billy Crudup’s portrayal of Desdemona in the murder scene with Othello, saying it’s all wrong because any woman would fight. This leads to the best playing of the murder scene I’ve seen on film, but you’ll have to check that out for yourself. My point is, that’s what I want to see. Fight—rise up. Like the people on United Flight 93, rise up and fight back. I’ll watch a righteous death over a zombie life any day.