Monday, October 10, 2005
The Networks Give the People What They Want: Even if They Want Right-Wing Jingoistic Nonsense or Fuzzy-Headed, Spiritualist Crap
Has anyone seen NBC's new show called E-Ring? (Here's a link to E-RING'S WEBSITE). I watched this show on Friday afternoon over at my folks' house. The notion of right-wing or left-wing television shows is, to me anyway, a relatively new one. It seems like there've been a lot of shows in the past with more or less conservative undercurrents running through them. Like The A-Team. On The A-Team, guns were good, government was ineffectual and often wrong-headed, and, week after week, making things right through force was the only solution. Roseanne might be considered an example of left-skewing television because the show depicted the life and times of a working class family dealing realistically with issues like premarital sex and how people live just above the poverty line. (The show skewed left because conservatives generally prefer to ignore those issues in the hopes they'll go away). But these shows seemed less about creating Culture War Propaganda for one side or the other than about trying to make television people wanted to watch. They just happen to skew a certain way. These days, everything I see is through a Red State/Blue State prism. SUVs and trucks are Red State, cars are Blue State. Dr. Phil is Red State, Oprah is Blue State. SpikeTV is Red State, Comedy Central is Blue State. Blah blah, blah, Bob Lablaw. This divisive perspective has dropped over my eyes, I think, in part, because of the Uniter we currently have in the White House, as well as all the Uniters we have in the Congress (at least until '06). Sometimes, I admit, I'm just reading too deeply into a show or a phenomenon or whatever; but other times, the political bent implicit in whatever I'm viewing is slapping me in the face. An example of this face-slapping political bent is NBC's E-Ring, the most Ultra-Right-Wing television show I have ever seen.
The show follows JT (played by Benjamin Bratt) who's just been promoted to working in the upper echelons of the Pentagon, which I guess is probably in the Pentagon's E-ring. JT works under Colonel McNulty (Dennis Hopper). In the episode I watched, a terrorist has been spotted by the CIA somewhere in Afghanistan and JT has to assign his own buddies, the guys he just left to work at the Pentagon, the task of "taking him down". In order for JT to do this, he has to fight his way through so many liberal obstacles, a non-political viewer might wonder why these military guys don't just delete all of these pesky rules and jail these hemmers and hawers so that they can just go kill terrorists with impunity. The writers and producers of E-Ring are so blatantly producing right-wing, Bush Administration propaganda, I half-suspect them of writing E-Ring as satire. But since nothing else in or around the show (the marketing, the dialogue, Benjamin Bratt) is remotely intelligent, I'm going to assume it's not satire, and that NBC is just out to make a buck in the same way Fox News is: by appealing to a broad segment of the population that likes their worldview simple and wants that worldview reinforced, not challenged. And MAN does E-Ring reinforce a simplistic worldview. Here a few of the most egregious examples of left-hating jingoism from ONE EPISODE:
1) Col. Dennis Hopper has to move an aircraft carrier out of a body of water that's currently blocked by a barge piloted not just by environmentalists, but French environmentalists. Hopper calls in the French ambassador who is predictably unhelpful and arrogant. At the end of the short meeting, Hopper tells the ambassador that he didn't expect him to be helpful, but that he was merely going through the proper channels before he took more "direct action" (read: awesome black ops that don't require boring pie-hole flapping). The French ambassador looks satisfyingly rattled as he's ushered out of the office. Later, shouting into a phone as JT enters the room, we hear Hopper shouting something dirisive about saving the "French gay whales!" At the end of the episode, Hopper uses a FROG team to go and disable the environmentalist's barge's engines. How satisfying this must have been for die hard Bush voters.
2) All US soldiers are saints. When JT phones his buds back in Afghanistan to tell them the bad news about their new assignment, we see them jovial though exhausted. They are, to a man, smiling, good-looking and well-adjusted. Happy to do a day's work for the US military. Sure they're scared they might get killed, but there's no worry whether what they're doing is right, or even if what they're doing has a purpose. You or me or anyone would be hard-pressed to find a memoir of war written by a real soldier that was content to hover over the surface of life in-country the way E-Ring is. I know it's essentially a brainless action show, and so they can't really be expected to delve too deeply into character, but the fact that these characters are waiting for their orders at the base in Bagram, the same place still uncounted Afghan prisoners were tortured to death by US soldiers, makes their sunlit good-humor a little galling all the same.
3) JT gets a photo of a terrorist baddy who wants to use a nuke on soldiers in Iraq. The computers offer only 60% certainty that the photo is of the terrorist baddy in question. When Bratt takes this to the hot 32-year old blonde woman who is, of course, "one of the most powerful people working in the Pentagon", and tells her he's ready to go to grab the guy, she says no. She is now the show's bitchy antagonist. Poor Benjamin Bratt, we think. Why can't he send his friends into Pakistan to kill whomever he wants? He's probably right, right? And he sure means well, doesn't he?
4) Later, when JT gets 86% certainty on his terrorist baddy, he gives a heartfelt speech to the Pentagon people gathered (who, because they talk a lot, are a lot more wishy-washy than JT is), that I'm pretty sure Bush has given about 400 times. I've forgotten it already because I can't bear to keep that sort of bullshit in my head for any time at all. Anyway, his speech is so good apparently, that it brings bitchy antagonist woman around, and she consents to the "op", though warily -- she is, after all, still a liberal who only cares about that whole "rule of law" thing. After the meeting, the Head of the Joint Chiefs comes around, asks a couple questions, and then says, "Kick ass." He really says, "Kick ass." I'm not making that up.
The show ends with a sequence that was hilariously reminiscent of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's brilliant puppet movie, Team America. The soldiers in E-Ring go into a very shady-looking Pakistani bazaar filled with outrageously-long-bearded terrorists who are all making crazy eyes at each other to show off their zeal for killing infidels. It would be really funny if they didn't mean it seriously, which I think they did. So it's kind of disturbing.
The show's terrible, but I think it may be a harbinger of things to come. 24, the action-show on Fox, does some of the same things that E-Ring does (villainizing liberal organizations like Amnesty International by depicting them as bull-headed troublemakers out to make America less safe), but that's been a fairly recent development on that show, and it's not really what the show's about (then again, maybe it is). But all those people who say that Hollywood is the leftist bastion of hedonists who want to spread their gospel of secular government and uninhibited sexuality now officially have nothing to complain about. For a long time Christian zealots and right-wingers had Touched By An Angel, Seventh Heaven, Joan of Arcadia, and Jag (among others) to hold up as exemplars of "good" television. Crossing Jordan, Medium, and The Ghost Whisperer, are among the new "Christian-friendly" shows that adhere to spiritual, non-secular outlooks and through their premises, tacitly state that there is an afterlife. Now, the values and beliefs of those kinds of viewers are being embraced by supposedly mainstream shows that aren't even specifically targeting the "family values" crowd.
My Name Is Earl is an example of this new philosophy in television. These network heads think, "If you can get a spiritual, monotheistic message into your show without being so obvious as to alienate your non-religious viewers, why not do it? That's where the country's going, isn't it?" So in a show that supposedly skews young and urban, as My Name is Earl is supposed to do, a spiritual bent is a central part of the show. Earl, the central lunkhead of the show, wins $100,000 on a scratch-off. He does a bad thing and loses it. When he does good again, he gets it back again, miraculously. I think he even uses the word "miracle" (Born Agains love stuff like that). Because Earl heard Carson Daly call the phenomenon "karma", that's what he calls it himself in all subsequent episodes. But it's not really karma. It's the Righteous Hand of God Himself entering into the narrative to reward good and punish evil. In each show, the bad people (namely Earl's ex-wife) get their just desserts, and the good ones, because they do good and mean well, always have a happy ending. Though Earl calls it karma, that weirdo Hindu thing, he's not too bright, so he can be forgiven for mistaking the benevolent spirit of Jesus for some far-east nonsense. Simplicity. Complexity is bad. That's what HBO's for. ABC is now doing its part to make one of my favorite shows, Lost, into a somewhat more Christian-friendly show. In just the most recent episode, Locke, the un-Locke-ian spiritualist on the show, forces Jack, the island's resident Empiricist, to make a "leap of faith" and press some button that may or may not save the world from an unknown, but dire fate. "Have faith", Locke tells Jack. A message any good Christian viewer (the kind who normally stays away from anything but Seventh Heaven and The 700 Club) can happily get behind. So Jack does push the button and the world, we are to assume, has been saved, because the Believer took charge and had faith that the Empiricist would embrace his better angels and do the right thing. Take the "leap of faith" and all that. Even if this isn't an out-and-out cynical grab for Christian viewers, even if it's just television writers playing with issues of spirituality that interest them, what these shows ARE DOING is furthering the cause of magical thinking and setting back the cause of reality-based judgment and thought; these shows foster simple solutions to complex problems and make it all the easier for a populace to elect someone like George W. Bush not once, but twice. I know tv is just a part of the problem, but it does seem to be getting worse, and it makes me uneasy.
Anyway. Monday blogs are always too long; sorry about that. Here's a question for my readers who also use Blogger: How do you post a picture at the end of a post (or even in the middle?) I can only get photos to load at the top. I'm trying to break up the monotony of these long and wordy posts with a few mind-soothing images interspersed throughout. Lemme know. Happy Columbus Day er'rybody!