Rob Reviews ‘Hostel’

Rob here, to provide my first review for tdaxp. I regret the film I must review, but it’s the latest thing I’ve seen theatrically since ‘King Kong’. The film in question today (Friday the 13th, I might add) is ‘Hostel’ from Eli Roth, of ‘Cabin Fever’ fame. Quentin Tarantino put some money up for the film, but it’s Eli Roth’s piece. Disclaimer: I did not see ‘Cabin Fever’ and I have a general distaste for horror films in general. ‘Signs’ is probably my favorite horror/thriller style film. For me, it’s believable and sophisticated. Oh, and many people can’t figure out why ‘Hostel’ is spelled wrong. The audience that’s attracted to this film probably doesn’t know what a hostel is, so it’s an odd choice for the film’s title. Even though it’s a nice play on words.

I didn’t know anything about this film going into it other than it was supposed to be gory. One of my friends convinced me to go and actually paid my way, so I didn’t mind seeing it. The budget for this film was around $5 million, which is dirt-cheap. Opening weekend pulled just under $20 million. The biggest problem I have with films like this is that people actually want to see them. What about this film draws an audience? Why do people want to see it? A strong ‘R’ rating goes a long way today. The promise of over-the-top gore is becoming the strategy for a successful horror film. And this film has wall-to-wall tits and blood. I’m 24, with a beard, and got carded. That’s good to see because I don’t want anybody seeing this film, let alone underage kids. An example of the violence: a man takes a blow torch to a woman’s face, melting away the face so an eye dangles by it’s nerves. Our ‘hero’ clips the eye from the socket to help the woman escape. Puss ensues. So it goes.

I’m generally a pretty technical guy when it comes to reviewing films. I am able to pay attention to everything a normal person watches, but also the camerawork, lighting, and editing. All of that stuff was par for course in this film, it’s not interesting enough to mention when I have so many other things to say about it. Moving along.

The story is slow in building. I’m more than happy to give a few minor spoilers because I don’t want you to see this film. It follows a few college kids on a drug and sex induced trip across Europe. They stumble across a secret group of rich people that pays big bucks to torture/kill people. Different races cost different amounts to kill. Obviously Americans being the most expensive since, as we all know, everyone hates Americans (?). I am quite sure this film wasn’t written with a message in mind, but I took several disturbing things from it. They are as follows.

The characters are immediately shown getting high and looking for as much random sex as possible, even if they have to pay for it. There is mention of being able to ‘do whatever you want to these women.’ The red light district they enter is a tamer version of what they’ll be seeing later. They are paying for exploitation, just at a different level. The juxtaposition is interesting. Much of the film contains gratuitous nudity, which is disturbing. There are way too many ties between sexuality and brutal violence in this film, even though the two are never fully united. As for the characters, we immediately like them just because they are funny and fairly innocent, but they partake in ‘sin’ so later we are a little okay with them being tortured or killed. Had the writer made these people saints from the get-go, audiences wouldn’t tolerate them being punished.

The audience doesn’t want to see these characters tortured, but when the tables are turned on the villains, the audience loses innocence. We end up cheering on the hero as he chops fingers off. We have become the rich people paying to torture and kill. Is it okay because the people being killed are ‘bad?’ One of the villains punished even has some latent homosexuality. I won’t even go into how this seems to have been put in to make him seem more ‘evil.’ The ‘sexual deviants’ are the ones who need bloodshed to get off and so on. That would be an entirely different review. The movie ends up being about itself. Audiences are paying to see this movie for the same reasons these people are paying to maim. The men paying to torture/kill in the film are doing the same thing. And yes, it’s all men getting off at the prospect of this activity. Perhaps this film is more socially conscious than I give it credit for. Sadly, the people that really wanted to see this film probably aren’t going to come out feeling like they are bad people. And that’s the whole point of the film for me.

Embracing Profiling

The Taxonomic Obsession: Profiling as a 4GW Tactic,” by Myke Cole, On Point, 13 January 2005, http://www.uscav.com/uscavonpoint/Feature.aspx?id=149.

Myke Cole, who is, by the way, awesome, criticizes “profiling” in our global war on terrorism. He does so in the context of 4th Generation Warfare military theory, which has previously been discussed here at tdaxp. Among other other criticisms, Myke Cole argues that profiling will be ineffective because

  • the enemy is too adaptable
  • that the enemy’s network structure is not easily profiled anyway…
  • and that profiling is a unique Western “obsession.”

The first two criticisms are besides the point, and the third is a reason to profile


Is the enemy too adaptable?

Our terrorist enemies have shown themselves to be media savvy and every bit as aware of current trends as we are. If we are considering narrowing our target scope to young Muslim-looking males and doing so in many public forums, then they know it. Salafi Muslims come in all shades and two genders. The notorious Azzam Al-Amriki (Azzam the American), who does not appear Middle-Eastern, is quoted on a purported Al-Qa’ida video saying “Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America’s victims.” One of the most recent terrorist threats was delivered by a man largely believed to be a white Australian. 44% of Bosnia’s over four million citizens are Muslim, most of whom do not appear Middle-Eastern. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that citizens of the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, are of Asian ethnic stock.

No. Our enemies are not nine feet tall While we should assume our enemies are smart and resourceful, major al Qaeda leaders have shown an inability to adapt in very importance battlespaces. This even goes so far as alienating natural allies. We make mistakes. So do they. We have limited resources. So do they. They will not always adapt successfully.

When we force al Qaeda to adapt, we melt them with frictional heat. We deform them into an ocean of possibilities. We mutate them, and because most mutations are harmful, we hurt them.

Are our enemies’ networks too difficult to profile?

The FTO list’s problems are manifold. First, it creates an illusion of corporate organization where none exists. Thus, the myth of Al-Qai’da as a physical group, when it is actually more of a movement, persists. Second, it fails to distinguish the manifold nature of organizations on the list, such as HAMAS or Hezbollah, both of which function as NGOs that serve their constituencies with food, medical care and a variety of community services. Many members of HAMAS and Hezbollah are doctors or political figures who do not engage in terrorist operations or material support of terrorist operations. Third, as a political tool, it lacks consistent application. Thus a currently active, highly violent group such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is not listed as an FTO, while the Kach movement is listed; even though it has done little more than organize protests and verbally harass its opponents.

No. We have much more to fear from organizations than movements Arguing that a movement is as effective as an organization falls into John Robb‘s fallacy of global guerrillaism. That sort of thing just does not work.

A mere collection of believers does not have the ability to plan massive, multi-continent operations, such as 9/11. It is easy to forget that the 9/11 Commission Report described meetings in East Asia, North America, and Europe. Organization is important, and a “movement” is not an organization. A movement has spirit, but no body: it is a ghost, not a monster.

Is profiling a Western, or American, “obsession”?

As in the profiling of individuals, the western obsession with taxonomy can disarm counter-terrorism investigators and analysts in their attempt to ascertain the nature of the real threat, by lulling them into a false sense of security that all terrorist groups in existence can be accounted for in a corporate manner by the FTO list. The FTO fails to take into account numerous NGOs that provide direct or indirect support to terrorist organizations, such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY)[16] or the Al-Haramain foundation. The very term “Foreign” sets an implication that ignores the fact that many of the most dangerous terrorist cells are operating within the borders of the US homeland. The July 7th London bombers weren’t foreign to Britain at all.

Yes. That’s why we should run towards it. When I discussed the sex politics of Jesusism-Paulism, I observed what Paul noted as the unique weaknesses of men and women, and that “to a netstruggle strategist, it is a description of the warriors and an opportunity.”

And in a review of Blueprint for Action I wrote:

that things that go against our core competencies are core incompetencies.

If Americans are natural taxonomers — if we want to organize people into groups — this is an opportunity. If we are not good at avoiding taxonomy, then avoiding categorization is a weakness we should avoid.

4GW theory teaches us, just as Sun Tzu and Mao said before, that we must flow away from things that are hard to things that are easy. If Americans want to categorize, it is not enough to call it an “obsession” and avoid it. Rather, strategies should be built that encourage us to categorize, and profile more effectively than ever.

Modern genetics promises to make profiling more effective than ever. Earlier on this blog I discussed lecture by geneticist-political-scientists Dr. Hibbing and Dr. Kurzban Just listening to these men allows all sorts of “profiling” ideas to emerge. For instance, if political attitudes and political behavior are both influenced by genetics but through different genes (as it appears), a powerful rule-set of a SysAdmin force would be

  • Enter a country, widely distributing food, money, or other goods at mobile stations
  • At every station collect a DNA sample (hair, skin, etc) from every recipient
  • Running this information through a computer, it should be easily to determine the 10,000 men aged 15-35 most likely to fight the initial stages of an insurgency
  • Protect those men in state facilities (“draft,” “imprison” them) for 18 months, while taking steps to minimize resentment (pay a salary at the end of the term, etc)

We should not blindly or stupidly profile. But profiling will not be automatically overcome by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations without significant difficulty and significant damage. Our desire to profile shows means that politically it is wise to employ. And new technologies will soon make profiling wiser than ever.

We must embrace victory. To do that, we should embrace profiling.

Update: Mark Safranski thinks deeper