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V: Tea Party TV

I didn’t watch much television as a kid. But when the miniseries “V” came out in 1983, when I was eleven years old, it was event television for the entire family. The sci-fi series used an alien invasion of Earth under friendly guise as a metaphor for fascism. Rather than Jews, the aliens targeted scientists (whose knowledge made them dangerous) as scapegoats. By the standards of early 1980s television, which were quite low, “V” was gripping drama.

Last night, ABC aired the pilot episode of a remake of “V.” I had to watch. The episode was so-so. The political drama of the original was replaced by a ham-handed metaphor for President Obama. The visitors are young, charismatic, futuristic, and have a one-worldish vision of peace. They target the young by enticing them to join an idealistic (but, in reality, sinister) youth group. A few perceptive humans warn of the dangers of hopping on the bandwagon before we know what the bandwagon is really about. The alien leader, Ana, promises to use futuristic technology to heal humans. “You mean universal health care!” gapes a reporter, who, naturally, has been co-opted by the aliens. Anna soothes skeptics by declaring that accepting change can be difficult. A small band of human resistors forms. The lead character is skeptical--what proof do you have she asks, besides some scary thing “you read on the internet.” But the seemingly hysterical message from the internet is true! The charismatic new leader is masking her true identity! The death panels are real! Etc., etc.

This is not just a right-wing worldview but the worldview of the paranoid Tea Party movement. I’m really not sure how this made it onto network television. Maybe the calculation is that Glenn Beck will start urging his viewers to watch and a ratings bonanza will ensue. (I don’t expect scientists will be the scapegoats in the new series, as the original “V” alien campaign to tar scientists as a fifth column sits uncomfortably close to the current right-wing view that the world’s leading scientific organizations are conspiring to suppress evidence that global warming is a hoax.)

No doubt the political message, blunt as it was, will pass by the vast majority of viewers. Lord knows there’s no shortage of left-wing Hollywood propaganda, most of it awful, and nearly all of it ineffectual.

Still, it’s grating that a potentially interesting concept was hijacked by right-wing political paranoia. Sci-fi battles are all interchangeable these days. What makes shows like this interesting is the social portrayal in between the battles. That social portrayal holds a lot less interest when it has sprung from the mind of Michelle Bachmann.