I’ve inveighed against TV series that deliberately inject politics into entertainment, like every part of the Law & Order franchise. Today I’m interested in something else. Shows that may be subtly subversive in terms of politics and philosophy, for good and ill. I’ll offer just three examples, but maybe you can identify others we should talk about.
Revolution. My wife and I have been watching this in its first season, albeit skeptically and critically, but wanting to see where it’s going. Some 14 episodes in, we can finally understand the mechanics of the premise, which is that quite suddenly all the lights went out on civilization. No more electrical power, meaning nothing works, not even internal combustion engines. Civil order disintegrates, and what’s left of the United States descends into a state of barbarism, brutal military regimes, torture, murder, and the massive loss of life associated with the loss of healthcare, heating, running water, technology, and education. Now we learn that the culprit is nanotechnology, a computer creation known as Nanites, which are programmed to replicate endlessly, suck up power, and become their own form of life. We’ve learned the motive, however implausible. Nanites also have the power if implanted within individual bodies to delay or cancel the effects of long-term physical illnesses, even terminal ones. So, apparently, scientists involved in developing the technology were willing to place the life of a family member or loved one above the survival of civilization itself and agree to the immolation of millions of fellow citizens. This is presented as some sort of genuine moral dilemma. One of the female heroines is specifically implicated and confessedly guilty of having made this trade consciously.
I had to explain this plot turn to my wife, who could not believe what she had heard. It was so unspeakable she couldn’t even comprehend it.
You get the feeling, though, that we’re supposed to understand and somehow sympathize with the most thoroughly self-centered monsters that ever dared to call themselves human beings.
But maybe the show is asking us to think bigger. Who knows? Maybe it’s supposed to be an argument for the collective. But maybe it’s supposed to be an argument instead for an individual sense of morality larger than that. Who knows? Or maybe who cares? It’s just a show. My secret nightmare about all the people in charge of network programming.
The Americans. A show about KGB spies actively working to destroy the United States as sleeper agents during the height of the Cold War. I couldn’t believe all the glowing reviews. Even the Breitbart reviewer seemed to like it for its close calls, action, and complex plots. All I could think was, who is it exactly who wants to watch a show like this? What’s next? Nazi Abwehr spies penetrating the FDR administration during World War II? Go, Nazis, go! The Americans has been renewed for a second season. Granted, it only takes a couple million viewers to get a show renewed, but for whom is it entertaining to root for Soviet spies who are living a middle-class American life as fake spouses and forced parents via military order yet still determined to replace that window on free life with the Gulag oppression of the failed Soviet experiment in shared poverty through terror, imprisonment, torture, and murder? We really have those people here? And an American entertainment network thinks it’s a valid exercise of their first amendment rights? Really? If the point of the show is that they’re fools, it should be a miniseries, not an open-ended let’s-root-for-them-to-the-gates-of-hell-and-beyond network dynast, even unto syndication. Somebody please explain this to me.
The Following. Watched this one too for a few (too many) episodes. Had a lot of problems with the premise. A serial killer whose charismatic personality builds a cult even while he’s behind bars. We watched initially because we liked Kyra Sedgwick, who is Kevin Bacon’s wife. Give him a chance. Maybe lightning will strike. I immediately objected to the perversion of Edgar Allan Poe’s work the series entails. But Poe is bigger than a TV series. He’ll survive the bad company. Then I got a glimmer of a subversive element. All these youngsters who buy a threadbare nihilist interpretation of a writer who is simply beyond their limited ability to comprehend. Are they not somehow a stand-in for the monster generation we are in the process of raising? Some superficial symbolism seemed to reinforce that notion. As the flawed hero, Kevin Bacon has literally broken his heart chasing down the evil of the antagonist. He remains alive only because of a pacemaker.
Then it turned into a millennial generation version of 24. Sigh. The pacemaker was just a plot device, used to put Bacon in peril almost every episode. Poe was also only a device, with no attempt of any kind made to differentiate his tragic loves from the sick twisting of his poetry into contempt for life and the elevation of death as a noble ideal to be inflicted as a sociopathic personality wills. I hung on for a couple more weeks, I admit, because I wanted to see the most malignant female personality killed as cold-bloodedly as she had killed her mother and others. Then I gave up.As far as I know, she’s a fixture signed up for a second season.
Watching no longer. But maybe my early hopes are still valid. Are we being asked to decide how nihilism as a secular presumption might be affecting our beloved kids? Don’t know. You tell me. Because I’ve stopped watching.
I welcome your thoughts. As you may understand, I’m thinking a lot right now about nihilism in all its flavors and camouflages. They are legion.