Monday, November 13, 2006

Network TV show plots getting bold on Iraq

Front paged at Booman Tribune

We have seen this before - television shows taking on plot lines which are pretty controversial in their criticism of Iraq and the horrific results (witness last year's episode of Boston Legal as one example). But sadly, I don't recall (and it may be because my hours of TV viewing have substantially decreased over the past year or so) there being many plotlines or shows that take on the Iraq disaster since then.

That all has seemed to change lately, and last night was a perfect example of this "newfound boldness". Hopefully it is a sign of things to come, as much of `Murka doesn't react to something until they are told to react by one of the talking meatsticks, they can't ignore it any longer, it is on a reality TV show, or it impacts a celebrity's marriage. And being that a recent poll showed that 35% of American Idol voters think their vote on American Idol is as important as their vote for president, well, any help that TV or pop culture provides is more than no help (especially when there is so much outright lying, cover-ups and distortions as is).

Regardless of how pathetic the motivating factor is, the overwhelming support for some sort of withdrawal plan, coupled with the bad-situation-getting-worse in Iraq, the growing dissatisfaction for republican policies, for Bush and this administration, as well as the overwhelming victory by the Democrats could help to force the issue of withdrawing troops from Iraq even more into the mainstream.

There was much discussion about the most recent Simpsons' Halloween special which, in a "War of the Worlds" way, poked fun at or served as a critique of Iraq. That, in and of itself, isn't outrageous for the Simpsons, other than the fact that it is aired on FOX. But that really only helps show that Murdoch's main allegiance is to the dollar as opposed to his ignorant racist xenophobic employees over at Faux News.

So, where am I going with this? Well, last night (which is coincidentally the first week for new shows after the elections but certainly long after the episodes were created/written), there were two shows that hit the Iraq mess hard - and certainly hit home with a large number of viewers in different demographics (which to me is probably as important as this being a part of a plot line in general). Those shows were (once again) The Simpsons, with an episode titled "G.I (annoyed grunt)" and a new show on ABC, Brothers and Sisters, with an episode (not-so-ironically) titled "Mistakes Were Made".

The title of the Brothers and Sisters, which probably wasn't known to anyone that didn't look online, no doubt was at least a subtle smack at Rumsfeld's half-assed excuse for torture. And while the show itself is a pretty politically charged show to begin with, but even this episode sent a powerful message.

Not to give away too much of the plot in either show, but the Simpsons' episode (with 24's resident "good guy torturer" Keifer Sutherland as guest) points out the obscenity of a military occupying a town, destroying it in the name of "protecting it", and how the town bands together to defeat the occupiers. A brief synopsis of how they brilliantly skewer a horrific situation for our troops and the Iraqis:

Two Army recruiters come to Springfield elementary to sign up kids so that when they turn 18, they will automatically be enlisted. Marge insists Homer get Bart out of the commitment. However, after he does so he falls prey to the recruiters. Homer infuriates the colonel (Kiefer Sutherland) with his incredibly low test scores. Homer is assigned to the enemy unit of the Army's war games along with the rest of the recruits considered too stupid to be cannon-fodder. At the war games, where live ammo is to be tested on them, Homer accidentally blinds the army with a flare, and escapes into Springfield. The army pursues, and puts Springfield under military occupation citing the Broccoli Day law. Homer's unit hides in Moe's tavern, but Moe betrays them in exchange for a large wad of cash. Homer escapes through a hole in the floor of the basement, whilst dodging live ammo (his own gun has bubble fluid) and makes his way into his house. Shortly afterward, he is pursued through his house by a drone before destroying it with explosives a la Looney Tunes. Marge rallies the Springfield community with a phone tree to coordinate a resistance to the occupiers. They spike the town reservoir with alcohol, intoxicating the occupying force. The colonel's hangover is so great he reluctantly surrenders to Springfield, but stipulates Homer finish his service. He does so by becoming a recruiter.

Now of course, the spiking of the water and some of the other typically ridiculous parts of the episode add to the humor and absurdity, but watching it (as I am sure it is probably available on YouTube) you can't miss the overriding theme - as well as the insertion of a provision about legally being able to occupy a city based on an amendment to a completely unrelated law, as well as the "what happens when" as it relates to how people react to their city being taken over by unwanted occupiers. Plus, the stinging sarcasm and brilliant writing (can you tell that I am a Simpsons freak?) makes it all the more powerful of a statement.

As for Brothers and Sisters, well, this is a new show on ABC that I usually only end up watching since it is on right after Desperate Housewives (which the missus watches in bed on Sunday nights), and the TV stays on ABC (since I watch football all day on Sunday, I promise to only watch it on Sunday nights if it impacts my fantasy football teams). The show isn't really all that bad and the cast is pretty good too. It is politically charged in general but last night's episode was full of imagery and discussion of the aftermath of 9/11, and how its impact has torn this particular family apart.

In last night's episode, one of the brothers (who enlisted after 9/11 because his sister lived 6 blocks away from the World Trade Center and her story of the day's impact on her was so moving) got a "stop loss" letter from the military. And this gives a basic summary of the plot line:

The past played a big role in tonight's episode, as we saw in the flashbacks of September 11, the family's reactions and Justin's decision to enlist. Justin's fear of going back to war put him back on his self-destructive path, and in a matter of days he lost his girlfriend, his job and almost his life. Hearing William's [the deceased father] prayer while watching Justin get rushed to the hospital was one of the most moving moments of the series so far, and it emphasized yet again how important a part of this family William continues to be.

The episode had flashbacks to 9/11, the days after 9/11, and also had clips on the TV (nothing like watching a TV character react to events on the TV....) about all of the soldiers "killed this past week" in Iraq, as well as mentions of bombings and the horrors that are going on there. There was discussion of legal action to prevent the military from calling back the character (Justin), threats of running away to Canada or Mexico to avoid coming back as well as (what looks to be near fatal but not fatal) overdose when he realizes that he has to go back to Iraq. It looks like this is going to be a recurring theme over the next few weeks as well.

Maybe this isn't going to be a trend. Maybe this won't be the start of television shows using their plotlines to try and influence the public and keep the horrors of Iraq in the forefront. Certainly these episodes were written long before this past week's election. But with the public opinion turning, and TV certainly not hesitating to inject itself into the public consciousness in the past when it comes to political issues (too bad it is generally not for the greater good), this is a good sign.

Certainly if you want to contact ABC to show your support, you can click here. And if you want to send a note to Fox showing your support for the Simpsons, click here and scroll down to "feedback".

Let's hope that this is the start of something more frequent and that the public tide of opinion continues to turn against this horrific disaster that is ruining lives, families, our economy and the country in general.

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