Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Ill-conceived Utopian Vision?

Toward the beginning of Oliver Stone’s movie Platoon, Chris (the movie’s protagonist played by Charlie Sheen) informs King (another solider played by Keith David) that he was not drafted for Vietnam, but volunteered. His rationale is: “I figured why should just the poor kids go off to war, and the rich kids get away with it.” In response, King, a draftee, says: “Everybody know [sic], the poor always being fucked over by the rich. Always have, always will.” In her novel Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s protagonist, Ivon, expresses similar sentiments with regard to border-economics: “The entire border economy, from agribusiness to city hall, from restaurants to laundries, and private homes to public parks, depended on undocumented labor” (330); but these undocumented laborers, especially the women, are “underpaid, sexually exploited, forced to live in hovels made of maquiladora scrap in the middle of the desert” (331). American (or perhaps, trans-national) corporations exploit these laborers in an effort to lower expenses and raise profitability. The exploitation within Gaspar de Alba’s text manifests itself in “pornographers, gang members, serial killers, corrupt policemen…[and] immigration officers” (333) sexually abusing, then brutally murdering, young and economically deprived Mexican women. The most frightening aspect of the novel, although fictional, is the fact that it is based on “true events” related to “the serial sex crimes, or femicides, [which have] plagued the Juárez-El Paso border since 1993” (v), have resulted in the death of “over 350” women, and still continue to this day (vi). The brutal accounts of these deaths within the novel are particularly harrowing.

If the women who are murdered throughout the course of the novel can be interpreted as emblematic of all that which “poses [a threat] to ‘free trade’ revenue” (333), the question then becomes: How does one stop such atrocious exploitation of marginalized people? Or, what can be done to counteract these economically-driven hate crimes? Chela Sandoval, author of The Methodology of the Oppressed, believes that, to effectively live and survive in a postmodern, neocolonial, and transnational world, one must develop “new forms of identity, ethics, citizenship, aesthetics, and resistance” (37). One enacts her new consciousness by utilizing her methodology of the oppressed, which is a set of “skills, perceptions, theories, and methods developed under previous and modernist conditions of dispossession and colonization” that demonstrate “the most efficient and sophisticated means by which all peoples trapped as inside-outsiders in the rationality of postmodern social order can confront and retextualize consciousness into new forms of citizenship/subjectivity” (Sandoval 37). Sandoval’s methodology of the oppressed operates through a set of particular technologies, guided by “an ethical ideological code that is committed to social justice according to egalitarian redistributions of power across such differences coded as race, gender, sex, nation, culture, or class distinctions” (112). Ultimately, she theorizes that a “love that can access and guide our theoretical and political “movidas”—revolutionary maneuvers toward decolonized being” (141) mobilizes these technologies, where “love” is defined as a “hermeneutic, as a set of practices and procedures that can transit all citizen-subjects, regardless of social class, toward a differential mode of consciousness…and social movement” (140).

By developing such concepts, Sandoval creates a blueprint that will bring about a long sought after equality amongst a broad spectrum of different socio-economic groups. But the theoretical aspect of such a methodology needs to be stressed. When reading a text such as Gaspar de Alba’s Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, one must seriously consider the practicality of Sandoval’s conceptual framework in light of the following scenes:
The drug they had given her made her feel like she was underwater. She could not feel the blades slicing through her belly. She saw blood splashing, heard the tearing sound…She tried to scream, but someone hit her on the mouth again, and someone else stabbed into the bag of water and bones…They [the killers] were laughing. (1-2)
Most definitely, this is not surviving. The incident, of course, is not isolated; consider another moment in the text when:
The camera was panning up to the man’s tattooed hands wrapping the girl’s long braids around her neck and pulling. Her face puffed up with fear, tears gushing down her cheeks, she was still refusing to do what the man wanted…The man’s hands tightened around the girls neck, knuckles white, veins bulging under the green and blue ink of the tattoos as he choked her…the girl’s dead face, tongue squeezed between her teeth, head lolling to the side…This was more than pornography. This was snuff. (280-1)
One wonders how much the perpetrators of such heinous and violent acts worry about, or care for, an “egalitarian redistribution of power.” It would be safe to assume that they do not. The contention may be raised that such incidents are merely particular and that a united world populace would not stand for such atrocities. Joined together under the banner of “love” and functioning within Sandoval’s technologies, the global population would certainly eradicate such horrific acts, would they not? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Constructing parallels between the micro-level events of the novel and macro-level relations between nations in contemporary society may help to answer such a question. In the international theater of world politics, there are “enormous global imbalances…[within the] global economic environment [that] threaten immediate and longer-term growth in developing countries” (United Nations par 2). When the international community attempts to minimize disparity, such as the creation of the 2005 World Outcome Document, the results do “not fully satisfy the aspirations of any Member State or group of States” (par 6).

Why, when all it takes is “love,” do nations have such a difficult time eradicating economic and social injustice? One can simply read the United States’ response at an October 2005 United Nations assembly regarding the disparities within the global economy. In the face of 179 countries worldwide declaring the United States’ embargo of Cuba an “obsessive, criminal policy” (par 91), the U.S. representative to the U.N. claimed that “if [Cuba’s] population suffered from hunger, that was due to the failings of its own Government” (par 89) and it refused to “support an economic opening with a country with such an abysmal record on political and economic issues” (par 90). In other words, unless Cuba fundamentally altered its ideological underpinnings (i.e. discard its Marxist/Communist socio-political framework in exchange for a Capitalist ideology), the United States would not reconsider their policy. The United States, it would seem, cares less about “love” and more about strong-arming other nations into accepting its own socio-economic mythology. Snuff-film directors will satiate their sadistic desires through a fatal brutality enacted upon women’s bodies, the United States will satiate their ideological desires through economic embargos and “shock and awe” military campaigns. A methodology of the oppressed and a hermeneutics of love sound appealing, but when there are those who desire to see women “melted down to bacon” (Gapar de Alba 285), and nations who will do the same to other nations with Tomahawk cruise missiles, such theoretical stances appear to be ill-conceived utopian visions. To echo Platoon’s King once again: “Everybody know, the poor always being fucked over by the rich. Always have, always will.” In the end, unfortunately, it might take more than “love” to redistribute power.


Works Cited

Gaspar de Alba, Alicia. Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 2005.

Platoon. Dir. Oliver Stone. Perf. Charlie Sheen, William Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp, and Keith David. Orion Pictures, 1986.

Sandoval, Chela. The Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

United Nations. “Global Economy Declined in 2005 Compared to Last Year, Under-Secretary-General Says in Statement to Second Committee as It Begins General Debate.” United Nations Information Service. 4 Oct. 2005. 22 Feb. 2008 .

1 comment:

Johnny Cakes said...

Q:If the women who are murdered throughout the course of the novel...the question then becomes: How does one stop such atrocious exploitation of marginalized people?

A: We all gotta die sometime, Red. (Sgt. Barnes, Platoon)