A flicker of annoyance passed over her face, then went away. “So melodramatic, Marcus. […]”
Well, Severe Haircut Lady (I’m still half-convinced that’s supposed to be a crude dogwhistle for “lesbian”) has a point. Pronounced Winston has just given the hammiest performance about “the Bill of Rights” ever, probably to match her Movie Mobster act.
What I find interesting here is this: he’s been imprisoned and brutalized for no obvious reason, and so far has just been reacting with fear and shock. But what makes him find his “spine” again is a spurious political argument about national security.
In other words, he doesn’t feel that what was done to him was unconditionally wrong. He just thinks it was done for the wrong reasons.
Am I reaching? Possibly, because that’s ascribing a lot of rationality to someone who is being traumatized practically as we speak. Still, we’re careful and experienced readers here, aren’t we? We all know about how texts are at odds with themselves.
I don’t really need to bore you with Derrida and deconstruction; just recall William Blake’s comment about Paradise Lost, that how Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it”. To convey the seductive power of evil, Milton chooses to make his Satan admirable — but can we really say, on the basis of Paradise Lost itself, that Milton was not likewise seduced? Or, in more precise terms, that the text, in the character of the androgynous Lucifer, displays an irreconcilable ambiguity at its very core? The only way to settle such ambiguities is to say — ah, but we know that the God of Protestant Christianity is good, from sources other than Paradise Lost, and because we are good Protestant Christians.
But we’re not — well, most of the people likely to read this aren’t. Apologies to any good Protestant Christians out there, for using you as a rhetorical device. I’m sure you can deal with it.
So the rift here, in Little Brother, becomes one between Marcus reacting the way he does because that’s the only thing he’s feeling sure of right now — his rights as an American — and of him reacting the way he does because of a narrative logic embedded in liberal political practice: you cannot infringe upon my rights, because there’s already a proper class of people for that, people who don’t have rights, the un-American “militants”, “enemy combatants” and “terrorists”. Go hassle one of them, that’s what my tax money is for!
So I rattled my wrists, wanting to get to my phone and unlock it for her, and she just looked at me coldly, checking her watch.
“The password,” I said, finally understanding what she wanted of me. She wanted me to say it out loud, here, where she could record it, where her pals could hear it. She didn’t want me to just unlock the phone. She wanted me to submit to her. To put her in charge of me. To give up every secret, all my privacy. “The password,” I said again, and then I told her the password. God help me, I submitted to her will.
The position of the phone in this scene is amazing. It’s like you’re reading the account of someone betraying their comrades-at-arms from the resistance after weeks of torture.
Except it’s just a phone.
Except it’s not just a phone, not for Marcus (and Cory). He loves his gadgets more than he loves any living person. As far as we can tell, anyway.
You might be wondering at this point what dark secrets I had locked away on my phone and memory sticks and email. I’m just a kid, after all.
The truth is that I had everything to hide, and nothing. Between my phone and my memory sticks, you could get a pretty good idea of who my friends were, what I thought of them, all the goofy things we’d done. You could read the transcripts of the electronic arguments we’d carried out and the electronic reconciliations we’d arrived at.
See, he’s right. Pronounced Winston’s condition — and ours out here in the real world, arguably — is that of cyborgs, our flesh and minds intertwined with electronics, social networking accounts and all sorts of machines that make our current way of life possible. It is a serious violation.
There’s something really liberating about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you. It’s a little like nudity or taking a dump. Everyone gets naked every once in a while. Everyone has to squat on the toilet. There’s nothing shameful, deviant or weird about either of them. But what if I decreed that from now on, every time you went to evacuate some solid waste, you’d have to do it in a glass room perched in the middle of Times Square, and you’d be buck naked?
Even if you’ve got nothing wrong or weird with your body — and how many of us can say that? — you’d have to be pretty strange to like that idea. Most of us would run screaming. Most of us would hold it in until we exploded.
It’s not about doing something shameful. It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you.
I don’t have a critique of the concept of privacy. I don’t think a critique of the concept of privacy is necessary. Call it a bourgeois weakness in my otherwise total rejection of individualism or something.
Maybe it’s to do with my personal history, and with the fact that I’ve been deprived of privacy and self-determination for pretty long periods of time. I don’t know. I’d be happy to talk about it if you want, and figure out my position in greater detail. But as it is, I agree with Marcus.
They were taking that from me, piece by piece. As I walked back to my cell, that feeling of deserving it came back to me. I’d broken a lot of rules all my life and I’d gotten away with it, by and large. Maybe this was justice. Maybe this was my past coming back to me. After all, I had been where I was because I’d snuck out of school.
Again, I can’t help but sympathize, which kind of goes against the purpose of this whole blog, but whatever. Anyone would feel like they must’ve deserved it somehow in this situation, when their previous vision of a basically fair and predictable world is completely shattered.
Last time, Pronounced Winston et consortes were captured by a bunch of armed assholes and dragged off to God knows where.
Vanessa looked at me and bit her lip. She was scared. So was I. So was Jolu, his eyes rolling crazily in their sockets, the whites showing. I was scared. What’s more, I had to piss like a race-horse.
Piss becomes the major theme of this segment, actually. The next bit is all about Marcus trying to convince his captors to let him go to the bathroom, which they do; they even go so far as to uncuff him. A lot of time and love went into making the pissadventures of Pronounced Winston relatable. Make of that what you will.
As my bladder cut loose, so did my eyes. I wept, crying silently and rocking back and forth while the tears and snot ran down my face. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing — I covered my mouth and held the sounds in. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Dude’s leaking fluids all over the place. Excretion is, of course, a sign of abjection: the substances we push out of our bodies are, in a very basic sense, not-ourselves, disgusting waste, reminders of our own mysterious, squishy, gurgling, churning insides, very different from the idealized view of the human creature as a noble, rational and moral being. Pronounced Winston is adrift on the limitless abhuman ocean of the Piss Dimension.
The man who came in was wearing a military uniform. A US military uniform. He saluted the people in the truck and they saluted him back and that’s when I knew that I wasn’t a prisoner of some terrorists — I was a prisoner of the United States of America.
No, Marcus, you are the terrorists.
“Hello, Marcus,” Severe Haircut woman said. “We have some questions for you.”
“Am I under arrest?” I asked. This wasn’t an idle question. If you’re not under arrest, there are limits on what the cops can and can’t do to you. For starters, they can’t hold you forever without arresting you, giving you a phone call, and letting you talk to a lawyer. And hoo-boy, was I ever going to talk to a lawyer.
Like I said, I gotta give Cory some credit here. This is perfectly consistent with what we’ve learned about Marcus: he thinks he’s the coolest and most badass kid in town, he’s got all the adults figured out, he knows how to play them like a fiddle. He’s seen all the videos on the Internet about his “constitutional rights” and what to do if a cop pulls you over. He’s gonna play hardball with these heavily armed people who’ve just kidnapped him because he’s an American, for fuck’s sake. You can’t treat an American this way.
He’s an idiot.
“Am I under arrest?” I repeated. They can’t make you answer any questions if you’re not under arrest, and when you ask if you’re under arrest, they have to answer you. It’s the rules.
See? It’s the rules.
“I’m not going to unlock my phone for you,” I said, indignant. My phone’s memory had all kinds of private stuff on it: photos, emails, little hacks and mods I’d installed. “That’s private stuff.”
“What have you got to hide?”
“I’ve got the right to my privacy,” I said. “And I want to speak to an attorney.”
“This is your last chance, kid. Honest people don’t have anything to hide.”
“I want to speak to an attorney.” My parents would pay for it. All the FAQs on getting arrested were clear on this point. Just keep asking to see an attorney, no matter what they say or do. There’s no good that comes of talking to the cops without your lawyer present. These two said they weren’t cops, but if this wasn’t an arrest, what was it?
In hindsight, maybe I should have unlocked my phone for them.
You see what I mean, right? First of all, this is in-character, and second of all — this is the first time Pronounced Winston ever admits he was wrong about something. I actually don’t have a complaint here!
Well, apart from the fact that it’s hard to even call it “wrong”. The very fact someone’s asking questions instead of just hauling him off for a 48-hour torture session just to soften him up means he’s incredibly lucky (or privileged, we might as well say). He’s not wrong about the phone and the lawyer as much as he is wrong about the entire fucking world and his place in it, and he’s about to learn that in a fairly nasty manner.
Well, how much he will actually learn is up to Cory. I’m not holding my breath.