Sunday, September 12, 2010

MI-5, 7/7, 9/11, 3 or 4,000 at Ground Zero: It's about numbers.

About one year ago, I wrote a critical review of the popular BBC drama Spooks (or MI-5 as it is known in the U.S.A.). At that point, I had only seen the first season and two episodes of the second season.

By now, I have watched all the seasons clear up through the end of season 7.
At the time of my critical review, I saw a dismaying pattern to the plots and scripts of this show intended to be a gritty, cutting-edge action show about a leading counter-terrorism unit: Instead of focusing on the actual terrorism of the daily news -- Islamic terrorism -- the show consistently deflected that in order to uncover the supposedly "real" terrorism between the lines. Consequently, every terrorist and terrorist organization under the sun except Islamic was trotted out to flesh out the plots -- Russian terrorists, shadowy Euro businessmen terrorists, environmental nutjob terrorists, right-wing Christian terrorists; and, of course, the always reliable (but increasingly irrelevant) IRA terrorists. On the rare occasions when the story line revolved around a Muslim terrorist plot, the Muslims were carefully framed as a "tiny minority of extremists" (often contrasted with one or more token "moderate Muslims"), and invariably the players were discovered to be pawns in the deadly game of some sinister non-Muslim cabal who were thus the "real" danger.

As I wrote a year ago:

I will continue to watch this series, and will issue a follow-up report on whether the writers of the show have demonstrated any kind of a rational learning curve about Islamic terrorism.

Well, I can report to my readers that seasons 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 have all showed a pathetic deficiency in progressing along that learning curve. In fact, even that is too kind: All these seasons of Spooks have shown an apparently willful desire to artfully obfuscate the role and significance of Islamic terrorism, through weaving all sorts of plots in which it figures at best tangentially, and most of the time, at worst, as a positive decoy for the "real" dangers our societies "really" face from various dastardly non-Muslim groups and individuals out there (including from within our very own institutions at the highest levels) far deadlier -- the message being telegraphed is clear -- than Muslims. I recall, as I began to watch season 2 and into season 3 last year, expecting that the real event of the London bombing in 2005 would surely have had an impact on the show's scripts. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, that devastating atrocity caused barely a blip in the show's flatline resistance to a learning curve about Islamic terror. If anything, in the months and years after 7/7 -- London's 9/11 -- the show appeared to redouble its efforts to bury its head in the sand while it ramped up its hyperventilating obsession with all forms of terrorism non-Islamic.

is not singular in this regard. All TV shows and movies thus far produced in the West that may have any content relevant to the issue of terrorism and/or Islam manifest this same dynamic -- almost as though they were following approximately the same template. Indeed, they are following the same template: the PC MC template. (One movie I have not yet seen may be an exception that proves the rule -- The Siege, which came out in 1998, starring Denzel Washington and Tony Shalhoub, about a Muslim terror attack against New York City.)

As I have argued before, the producers, promoters and funders of a commercially and financially successful show like Spooks in the modern West are primarily motivated by the financial bottom line. They are not ideologues, and would not risk the bottom line for the promotion of an ideological viewpoint that goes against the grain of society. The logical conclusion from this is unmistakable: it means that there must exist a sufficiently large majority of ordinary consumers who actually like this PC MC spin that characterizes Spooks (and the countless other TV shows and movies out there that touch on the issue of Islam and terrorism), or who at the very least are not repelled by it and indignant at the unconscionably ignorant and illiterate twisting of reality they represent. If it were otherwise, such TV shows and movies would not be successful, and their producers, promoters and funders would never risk producing, promoting and funding them.

And that is why we only saw, at best, 4,000 demonstrators in New York City, when by now, nine years after 9/11, we should have seen at least one million. The same bottom line that sells a TV show also could turn out crowds so large the mainstream would no longer be able to ignore them -- if those crowds existed among the people at large. It's all about the numbers.


Cyril said...

One of my favorite offenders in this is NCIS, which every once in a while has to gratuitously make some kind of ridiculous plug for Islam. In one episode, however, they tried to tell promote Islam while unwittingly telling the truth. Gibbs lets an imam deal with a murderer his own way, by honor killing.

the author said...

Interesting. I've seen a few NCIS shows. One I remember showed Gibbs ridiculously and oh-so-respectfully hand a Koran back to a veiled woman after the whole operation was over (they neglected to have him handle the Koran with gloves, per Gitmo instructions for our troops).

But I also recall an NCIS show about a Muslim-American navy man aboard a US navy ship who was suspected of being a possible terrorist, but one assumed he was wrongly suspected right to the end -- until it turned out he was in fact a terrorist. Good message.