From the same UK channel that brought us “Banzai” and “So Graham Norton” comes the reality show that will hopefully snuff out the genre. From the Sunday Herald’s Damien Love.
Earlier this year, in an anonymous building in east London, Channel 4 set up its latest reality show house. This one did not require a hot tub or chickens, but the spirit of the original, Orwellian, Big Brother hovered around it. No-one was voted out, but three of its seven voluntary inhabitants left before the 48-hour shoot was over.
In that time, the volunteers, all men, were, to varying degrees, lightly tortured: stripped, slapped, subjected to extremes of temperature, screamed at, touched, blindfolded, shackled, forced to soil themselves, deprived of food, disoriented, isolated, intimidated, humiliated, threatened, deprived of sleep, and then put through it all again.
The first to leave was taken out after 10 hours, suffering stress and hypothermia. The last, one of the first to vomit, finally asked to be let out because he couldn™t take what was being done to him anymore. Earlier, he had become so distracted he™d failed to notice his handcuffs had cut off the blood to his hands. Interviewed later, he seemed shocked numb.
What to make of The Guantanamo Guidebook? This one-off, which recreates inside a Hackney warehouse procedures used at the US prison camp in Cuba, where œenemy combatants have been detained without charge since 2002, is the centrepiece of Channel 4™s week-long Torture strand.
The season explores a post-9/11 acceptance of, even appetite for, torture “ or, to use the Newspeak euphemism, œenhanced interrogation techniques “ within the US and UK administrations. An acceptance this has led to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and to the situation where Britain will happily use information extracted from captives in Uzbekistan, whose intelligence agencies (according to Craig Murray, our former ambassador to that country) boil their prisoners alive.
You must remember that these techniques are only the mildest of those actually employed; that these volunteers can leave at any time. Then, for it to work, you must imagine this is not the case. It teeters between documentary experiment, and some hardcore reality revival of Endurance, the famous Japanese gameshow, whose contestants won for being able to stand having their nipples burned the longest. It is easy to imagine someone watching thinking, œI could handle that. Indeed, the original adverts for volunteers asked prospective entrants how œhard they were. It unwittingly runs the risk of introducing the idea that light torture might not be so bad. But it is grim, genuinely unsettling watching, and maybe constructive. If all The Guantanamo Guidebook manages is to force us to glimpse the tip of the iceberg, then wonder more about what enormities lie beneath, it™s worthwhile.