Sunday, May 17, 2009
Excellently crappy television: Oz, The Unit, and 24
The excellence here refers to the production, direction, writing and acting of these three shows. They are not all exactly equal in excellence, of course. In my estimation, The Unit is the best of these three, though I also enjoy the other two.
All three are also immensely popular and therefore influential in our pop culture, though again, they may be stratified: 24 is easily the most popular, followed by Oz, and lastly by The Unit. The crappiness of them all refers to the way they handle the issue of Muslims, and/or the way they handle the issue of terrorism while ignoring the Camel in the Room. They are of course not alone in this regard among television shows (let alone among movies and broader than that, throughout Western pop culture in general, not to mention the sociopolitical culture of the West on all levels).
24 put itself on the map as a blockbuster juggernaut of a show when in its earlier seasons it dealt more directly and more thoroughly than any other TV show before (or since) with Islamic terrorism. It then revisited that in its sixth season. I won’t recount here the many twists and turns of the long arc of plot that lasted many seasons (a discussion of it may be read on a previous essay I wrote here.) Today, I want to briefly describe how in the latest season the interconnected episodes integrate Islam, but more pertinently avoid Islam, in their plot which, as usual, involves a massive and complex plan by some nefarious organization to mass-murder Americans using WMDs.
In this latest season, this time with a female President of the United States at the helm instead of a black President, there unfolds a dastardly plot to mass-murder Americans. The first few episodes lead the viewer to believe that a renegade black African guerilla leader is behind this plot. His motivation for the most part seems to be that America has been supporting with money and arms the government of the African nation he wants to take over as dictator. Of course, none of the black Africans are Muslims, reflecting the common myopia Westerners have about the massively destabilizing and deleterious role that Muslims—both black African themselves as well as Arab—have played throughout Africa not only in our time but for centuries going back to at least the 8th century, centuries before Western Colonialists were even in diapers. But starting the show off with a bang with black African terrorists gives the show the deceptive appearance of being boldly politically incorrect.
As the plot unfolds further in subsequent episodes, it becomes clear that these black African rogue terrorists, while depicted as evil themselves (e.g., willing to use a chemical WMD against their own people as an experiment to fine-tune its effectiveness), were really just pawns of a shadowy cabal comprised totally of evil white businessmen and politicians, headed by Jonas Hodges, a character played by actor Jon Voight. Hodges is depicted as a patriotic American who has created an organization of well-trained mercenaries to help the U.S. military around the world, with the motive to protect American interests. His motive for mass-murdering fellow Americans in terrorist attacks that will be mistakenly attributed to non-Americans (such as the black African rebel leader) becomes clear: he has a neo-con view of the American government being too liberal and weak in the face of growing terrorist dangers, and so he wants to provoke that liberal government and its intelligentsia into becoming more militarily hawk-like through the horror of several actual massive attacks on American citizens. This motive of his not only has the amorphous expectation that the liberal government will become tougher, but the more concrete expectation that once they do get tougher, they will be more eager and willing to avail themselves of his help and the use of his organization of mercenaries, which he wants the government to integrate into its policy-making procedures (as is revealed in one tête-à-tête he has with the “Madame President” where, after his complicity has become known, he tries to extort her with the implicit threat of the WMD attacks).
Thus, what is being telegraphed here by the writers of 24 is that the danger of powerful white neo-cons like Jonas Hodges who would deploy a terrorist attack against America—themselves motivated by a fear of terrorism against America (read between the lines, Islamic terrorism)—is a more exigent possibility and threat than Islamic terrorism. After Jack Bauer successfully foils the plot by Jonas Hodges and his organization to deploy the chemical WND in numerous American cities and Hodges is placed in custody, it becomes revealed that Hodges himself was just one cog in a larger, deeper, even more shadowy cabal of evil businessmen (and women) and politicians—all white, of course, and all non-Muslims.
Where I stopped watching, a couple of weeks ago, because I simply could not stand it any longer, involved a further preposterous turning of the PC MC screw in the plot: this more sinister cabal somehow was able to salvage enough of the chemical WMD that Jack Bauer thought he had neutralized to threaten more terrorist attacks. This time, they were going to set up an elaborate ruse and use a Muslim-American as a pawn: they kidnap some unwitting, harmless Muslim-American and force him to play along by threatening to kill one or more relatives of his. The actor playing the Muslim-American and the director pluck at every heartstring of the bleeding heart PC MC to communicate the awful spectacle of abusing such a harmless, decent young man and exploiting our general bigoted Islamophobia in order to readily blame Muslims for an imminent horrific attack on Americans.
The message being telegraphed here is that shadowy white neo-con cabals can use Muslims—and have already been so using them? wink-wink—as terrorist pawns and dupes to make the general public think mistakenly that the terrorism is Islamic, when it is really the devilish work of ultra-patriotic white neo-cons. This is nothing less than Trutherism being sold to the American public with a major popular show, with billions in advertising revenue, and big-name stars promoting and supporting it. My consistent theme on my blog, however, is that this massively mainstream travesty would not be possible were the vast majority of the populace -- ordinary people and "elites" alike -- not already more or less PC MC themselves, and thus willing, irresponsibly, to indulge in fantasy suspicions about their own government (ironically mirroring, if only in a "Lite" and decaffeinated way with extra cream and sugar, the anti-government paranoia of the "ultra right wingers").
When the reasonable viewer turns off the TV and sits back to think about it and let it settle in, it dawns on him that this is an astoundingly, outrageously treasonous premise, considering our actual context in the real world where we are increasingly in peril from a global revival of supremacist expansionist fanatically anti-liberal Islam. It is no less astounding and outrageous than previous seasons, where it was revealed that the President of the U.S.A. himself—of course, the white guy who became President after the impeccably virtuous black President had been assassinated—was part of the cabal using Muslim pawns and dupes to attack Americans and which included the assassination of the previous black President! Were Abraham Lincoln alive today, he might well shut down 24 and even have its producers and writers arrested.
For a wicked satire of 24, see this piece by Diana West.
I wasn't even going to give Oz the chance I gave 24. I decided at one point to stop watching it midway in the first season, after it became clear that their whitewash of Muslims was not going to be leavened with even a drop of common sense or elementary knowledge of the facts. Oz comports itself as a tough, gritty, brutally honest dramatic depiction of prison life in a maximum-security prison, salted and peppered with grimly sarcastic black humor. However, I relented, and later on resumed watching it pretty much to the bitter end.
As part of Oz's brutally honest portrayal of hard time, the show does dip its toes into the waters of political incorrectness by showing black prisoners behaving routinely in thuggish and violent ways—both in prison and in flashbacks to the violence they committed that got them sent away in the first place. When it comes to the black Muslim prisoners, however, the show consistently depicts them as model prisoners, behaving in mature and calm manner when they are not exercising their right to spread out their prayer rugs and prostrate to Allah. Concerning this latter behavior, the only prisoners who show mocking disgust at this display of Islamic religiousity are those white prisoners who belong to the clique of racist white Aryans.
While there is a confrontation early on between one leader of the non-Muslim blacks and the leader of the Muslim blacks, the show does not depict the non-Muslim blacks, nor any other prisoners, expressing anything more than a kind of baffled yet resigned diffidence with regard to the Muslims—and indeed, more often than not there is a kind of implicit if grudging admiration for their apparent “discipline”. Furthermore, the aforementioned confontation between the non-Muslim blacks and the Muslim blacks concerned the former’s anger at the latter’s attempts to dissuade other prisoners (including blacks) from taking and trafficking in drugs. The simple yet massive fact that al Qaeda and the Taliban account for a major part of the worldwide heroin and opium market and in fact explicitly use the drug trade to further their Islamic jihad shoots this preposterous notion out of the water.
Certainly, there has been PR propaganda in the general media about the Nation of Islam sect (which is considered heresy by mainstream Muslims whom al Qaeda and the Taliban represent) being fastidiously abstemious about drugs, but the Muslims in Oz are not explicitly designated as Nation of Islam and no mention is made of Nation of Islam on the show. From their behaviors and language they appear to be simply American blacks who have latched on to Sunni Islam. With regard to both Sunni Islam and the heretical offshoot Nation of Islam, their apparent puritanism about things like alcohol, tobacco and drugs as well as for example fornication and homosexuality (not to mention cultivating violence, radicalization and extremism) turns out to be regularly flouted in the breech through a complex culture of schizophrenic loopholes derived from the simultaneously and schizophrenically puritanical-yet-depraved Mohammed whose 1,001 sayings constitute the Sunna.
If this were all that Oz does with its Muslim characters, it wouldn’t be so bad. They go further and depict the revered leader of the black Muslim prisoners -- one "Kareem Said", dramatized all too unctuously well by actor Eamonn Walker -- as a noble, virtuous, Ghandi-esque figure who may burn with indignation at the “injustice” of the system that is “oppressing” his “brothers“ but never in terms of physical violence. Indeed, the show depicts him regularly counseling others against violence and toward “peace” and even has him physically intervening once or twice to prevent violence. He is so widely regarded as a man of peace, in fact, that the prison warden and other officials ask him privately to help them manage an escalating problem of a cycle of revenge violence going on in the prison, and he grudgingly acquiesces in their deeply polite and respectful request. At least from the episodes I saw, the black Muslim and his followers are depicted as the only prisoners who seem well-behaved and civilized.
What took the cake for me, after all this nauseatingly preposterous propaganda in the guise of art, was a scene where the black Muslim leader vehemently stays the homophobic ire of an influential black gangster who has shown interest in possibly joining Islam. The non-Muslim black has a blood brother who is gay, and one thing leading to another, he comes to a point in his homophobic anger where he wants to kill his own brother—and then the black Muslim Wise Man takes a hold of his arm and in vividly strenuous language tells him that this is not the right way, that he must be patient and loving with his brother and slowly show him the error of his ways. The spectacle of seeing a Muslim counsel a non-Muslim against homophobia and toward a more “patient” and peaceful resolution of the problem—when we know that Mohammed himself according to a canonical Hadith explicitly advises Muslims to kill homosexuals who commit homosexual sex—was just too much cognitive dissonance for me to tolerate. I had to stop watching it then and there.
The Unit is about a tight-knit unit of highly-trained secret ops soldiers who go on secret missions to clean up various messes, taking them all over the world. In this latest season, there has been a plot thread running through most of the shows involving a shadowy organization that is trying to plot horrific attacks on Americans.
In one of the shows, this nefarious organization already tested a chemical WMD on a small American community, killing many people in the process. Subsequent episodes reveal that they are dangerously close to acquiring a suitcase nuke and plan on detonating it in Washington, D.C. And what kinds of people comprise this deadly terrorist cell? Muslims? Of course not! All of them are Anglo-Saxon whites, and some of them are part of a wing of Aryan-type white power racists. The terrorists also have help from a network of rogue Russians—leading the show during one or two episodes to the preposterously anachronistic spectacle of perilous cloak-and-dagger against Russians as though we were back to the Cold War days. I think once in passing I detected a fleeting mention or two of some operative who had a Muslim name—probably just thrown in there for spice, certainly depicted as pawns in the larger terrorist game (as in 24), and only serving to highlight the non-Muslim character and complexion of the real terrorist threat.
The main message being conveyed here with this plot thread is that the real danger of deadly, horrific terrorism to America is likely to come from some cabal of evil whites and/or white power racists, not from Muslims. (It is perhaps no coincidence that the show's creator is David Mamet, whose Leftism gives off a vaguely Chomskyite vibe; even if he has supposedly had a "conservative" epiphany in latter years, sufficient to fool Lawrence Auster who, characteristically, doesn't bother to dig deeper and actually watch the propaganda -- er, I mean art -- that Mamet writes and produces.)
During the long arc of this plot thread spanning many episodes, there were a couple of episodes that branched off into temporary stories having nothing directly to do with that thread: two of them back to back involved a female soldier who gets kidnapped by Muslims in Iraq and transported to Syria—the daughter, in fact, of the sergeant in charge of the show's unit (played by the same actor, incidentally, who played the black President on 24) who, when he learns of this, goes on a lone mission under the radar to save her. As these episodes unfold, there are pointed scenes evidently calculated to offset any incipient Islamophobia that might arise due to the mere nature of depicting American soldiers fighting and shooting at Muslims.
One such scene involved an area of Iraq where “militants” were shooting at members of the unit who were trying to salvage one specific person for their mission. As the shooting went on, one Iraqi Muslim comes out of his dwelling and is caught in the crossfire. He is only trying to protect his wife and kids inside. One of the unit members gets to him and protects him, and the Muslim is oh so grateful. The message being telegraphed here is that the “extremists” are making life so terribly hard for ordinary decent Muslims, whom it is our obligation -- of course, since we doubtlessly caused the mess in the first place, being the meddling Americans we are -- to save.
Another such scene showed the unit sergeant, in his quest to save his own kidnapped daughter, taking a mosque in Syria hostage in order to force them to tell him where political prisoners and kidnap victims are normally sequestered in Damascus. When he gets the information he needs, he takes one of the hostages, a Muslim cleric, with him to ensure that he can complete his mission to infiltrate the mental hospital where prisoners are kept—and it is explicitly mentioned, tortured—so he can rescue his daughter. At one point, when he no longer needs the cleric, he lets the cleric go and even hands him his rifle. The cleric looks at the sergeant and says, “You trust me...?” The sergeant responds, brimming with PC MC self-righteousness: “You are a man of God: I know you won’t harm me.” I think at that point I lost my dinner.
Popular TV shows like these (and the majority of TV dramas show, in one way or another, a similar bias) do not merely reflect the attitudes of “elites”—the producers, directors, writers and actors involved. For one thing, people who work in all those various functions on television cannot be lumped together as “elites”, but many of them occupy various gradations between the two stratified polar opposites which are too glibly contrasted as “elites” and “ordinary people”. This is not to mention the hundreds of more obviously "ordinary" people involved in the production of such shows, many of whom work at jobs that have a decidedly blue collar air to them (grips, technicians, maintenance, craft service employees, etc.).
In addition, in free democracies operating under the free market system of capitalism, such multi-million-dollar enterprises as these shows which depend upon marketing and advertisement do not operate on the basis of pushing ideas onto the public that they think the public won’t accept: their bottom line is monetary profit, and if they thought this PC MC crap went against the general mainstream grain of the public, they wouldn’t produce it—and certainly wouldn’t produce it on such a massive scale. Thus, it is only logical to assume that the majority of the public out there is at the very least comfortable with this PC MC crap depicting Muslims.
Excellently produced, written, directed, and acted crap. But crap nonetheless.
MI-5, 911, 3 or 4,000 at Ground Zero: It's about numbers