One example is the best selling Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road. This book depicts a destroyed America wallowing in barbarism. Or NBC's TV show “Heroes”, where Poniewozik says Manhattan is destroyed (we haven't watched it). On the Sci Fi network “Battlestar Galactica” deals with the after effects of the nuclear destruction of almost the entire human race. And he concludes by noting that CBS's Jericho features a Kansas town alone and cut off after a nuclear catastrophe has destroyed the rest of the country. Had he gone back last year he could have added the Cruise “War of the Worlds”, ABC's “Invasion”, and the CBS alien invasion series “Threshold”.
Is he right that American popular culture is newly fascinated with with apocalypse? We remain unconvinced. But if he is correct, what if any are the social-political linkages? In the past, with the benefit of hindsight, booms such as invasion/creature movies during the new Atomic Age and McCarthy era acted out new tensions and fears. One might draw the same conclusion about the spate of disaster movies and novels of the 1970s accompanying collapse in Vietnam and Watergate at home. At first glance Zelazny's Damnation Alley from the 1970s doesn't seem all that different from 2006's The Road. And Skynet from 1984's “Terminator” gave California a new governor.
Whether Poniewozik is right overall, we think he is on to one thing: popular imaginings of apocalypse in 2006 defintely have a post-Katrina, Jerry Bremer sensibility — government incompetence. In the non-Rapture end times, the government is feckless, impotent and/or irrelevant. Although “Galactica” is obviously an offspring of 9/11 being written in 2002, the other offerings today are more likely as not driven by Iraq and Katrina.
How damaging to the American psyche is defeat in Iraq? The most technologically dominant army in the world, unconstrained by a Superpower patronage ala Hanoi, will leave in defeat. If the Asian debacle was the beginning of the shift to the coming Asian ascendancy, here the West as personified by the United States is humbled by another rising ecumenae. No wonder the Yeatsian center feels it can not hold.
Bush's presidency may effectively end in three weeks. Perhaps we may see the light at the end of the tunnel and bring to a close this anti-Enlightenment Age of Ideology and Belief. Perhaps post November 2006 we can begin the long march back to empirical rationality. If the Time essay is right, that may also have an impact on the pop culture merchandising of apocalypse.
“But all that said [about the nature of heroism], is there a hunger among Americans for heroic behavior? I think there is a hunger. I think that most people would love to see a heroic figure step forward. I can almost sound like one of those Christian-right guys: Where is the Messiah?”
In other words, apocalypse may be here but at least we are competent.
That unfortunately sounds alot like an invitation for McCain and “National Greatness”.
Judt was silenced by ADL pressure because he criticizes Administration and current Israeli policies and the Americans promoting them. Mere disagreement even among Jews now constitutes unacceptable “defamation”. Perhaps Judt can be thankful that the ADL is not “necklacing” him yet.
The Stiftung finds intriguing the cartoonish extremes Likud-esque proponents will go to muffle debate here in the States. Even during the hey day of Clyde Prestowitz's frantic warnings about Japanese domination and Crichton's Rising Sun, the Japanese never went to such frenzied clumsy limits. And Sumitomo, Nomura and others then really were literally buying up the cash starved policy community for a song.
We think there is fear of brittleness behind such censorship — not the cheap AgitProp smears of “anti-Semitism” — but recognition that the policies pushed on U.S. simply will not withstand objective analysis and criticism. This latest “triumph” has the whiff of being a rear guard action even so. Merely postponing, not preventing that day.
The Stiftung supports Israel. Until 2001-2006 we thought we were even a friend of Israel. But apparently any divergence of opinion is not permissable anymore. How odd to see the healthy debate on these very subjects in Israel itself — yet that is not permissable here.
A tough case for the Stiftung for a variety of reasons. We are actually sympathetic to the Agency's efforts to dial back the cashing in by officers and their books, movie deals and the like. In addition to the green badge revolving door we've written about here long before it became vogue to do so in the “traditional media”, no organization can function when personnel seek to create personal branding opportunities and merchandize their careers.
Yet what can one do? Witness John McClaughlin for example as he sits by the phone like a high school junior waiting for Wolf to call him once more into the absurdly branded “The Situation Room” (God help us). And he is only one of many.
Why permit some to morph into cable news Paris Hiltons opining on all kinds of national security matters (even outside their professional purview)and hinder marketing by others? We believe Berntsen's basic concerns (no we didn't bother reading his book). Back in the day (this is dating the Stiftung a bit), Stansfield Turner had a similar problem with his book after his disasterous tenure. We even spoke to him about the process afterwards and there is little doubt that the system was gamed.
Until this Administration we did not truly sympathize with the profound cynicism of the Le Carre classic trilogy (Tinker - People). The notion that a clandestine service is a window into a Nation's subconscious is not wholly without merit. The commodification of careers says alot about us all.
Which brings us to the pop culture moment, supra. As you probably have noticed, there is a growing chorus of acclaim for a show remaking the original Glenn Larson Battlestar Galactica from the 1970s. Back then, the Stiftung recalls Pravda (or was it Izvestia, we forget) denouncing that cheesey show's premise of a sneak attack against humanity by the evil Cylons as promoting hostility to peace-loving Soviet intentions and ratification of SALT II.
The new show seems to have its admirers from Salon to Entertainment Weekly. We don't share the embrace. But this is relevant to our post today, we promise.
First A Little TV Criticism Before The Main Point
As entertainment the show is actually middling, hype notwithstanding. Ron Moore, the creator, continues a trend of refining concepts largely “borrowed” from and explored first by other series such as Bablylon 5. Moore rode B5's pioneering efforts with his efforts on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The derivative nature of that series took almost entire portions from B5 — from the then pioneering idea of multi-season plot arcs involving war and spies within, strong female characters, etc. In fact, the entire premise of Bablylon 5 was famously “lifted” from a pitch meeting made to Paramount and thus was born Star Trek Deep Space Nine. (B5 was a space station and then suddenly lo and behold, so was Deep Space Nine, etc.) Blood was so bad that Gene Roddenberry's wife guest starred on B5 as a gesture of good will and unification of fans.
Battlestar ultimately fails because like “24” it is almost entirely a joyless plot driven soap opera. Once an episode has been seen, there is almost no point or fun in ever seeing it again. But “24” is expertly crafted adrenlin overload. Battlestar is middlebrow Falcon Crest with the now tiresome Canadian production values. There is no humor. Here, Moore would do well to see how Whedon, a far better screenwriter, could segue effortlessly among horror, comedy and drama within a single hour. Which is why a Whedon series is always re-watchable multiple times.
Battlestar's Link to Judt
New season three depicts humanity under Cylon occupation. Moore pulls no punches in the first episode.
Only here in the ghetto of genre basic cable programming can we explore openly what drives a resistance movement such as in Gaza and Iraq. Could Americans ever be suicide bombers? They are here. How a resistance movement is seen from their perspective, how collaborators are seen and feel, etc. — their debates, priorities, conflicting objectives, etc. And how populations loathe the local “police” standing up and want to see them lie down in a pool of blood.
Pathetic that this Nation, under the yoke of the ADL, AJC, The Corner and their AgitProp bretheren banishes such conversations to the dark corner of the Sci Fi Channel. This too says alot about us.
Still may not be great TV. But it hints at serious issues. And without censorship. So far.