About partway through ABC’s adaptation of the Reagan-era sci-fi drama V, an FBI counter-terrorism agent, played by Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball, kicks down a door to a suspicious rusty old shed discovered while hot on the trail of a suspected terrorist. “Nothing!”, he proclaims as the interior reveals the banal components of your average quotidian shed, wishing to seek no further.
It turns out that the FBI agent was deliberately defeatist because he didn’t want his fellow spooks sneaking into his secret lair. Still, this disavowal pretty much sums up V; a dramatic entrance (the arrival of a spaceship/flying LCD screen) and a subsequent failure to carefully examine interiors. Who would believe for one second that a counter-terrorism agent would surrender so easily on the trail of a terrorist cell recently found to be making massive purchases of C-4?
The rejection of surfaces is pretty much the thesis of V‘s first episode, but it’s a thesis upheld by the lazy sci-fi shorthand of a singular empirical reality laying beneath the surfaces. We know the good guys are good, because they know what’s really going on, whereas the suckers pledging a dogmatic “devotion” (the show’s big buzz word) to the new movement are apparently just dupes lured in by the Id-drive to fuck galactic travelers or the desperation-drive to accept anybody offering peace and prosperity in a time of turmoil.
That none of the believers are the least bit skeptical of the enigmatic visitors’ apparent mastery of the English language nor their mirror image verisimilitude to the human corpus seems to seriously underestimate the cynicism of the body politic, comfortable enough in its own parasitic corporate lizard skin to threaten its own species by exchanging complex solutions to climate, arms, and health crises with bumper-sticker-like convenience. The good guy priest in the pilot argues that the visitors have to “earn our trust” (which I believe is a direct quote from Jesus, no?), but isn’t “guilty before proven innocent” precisely the doctrine of American hegemony? Do we really accept new ideas or unknown peoples if they’re not rolled off the assembly line by our industrial overseers?
To recap on the pilot’s plot, shiny, pretty aliens come to earth and captivate with the spectacle of their newness as a group of curmudgeonly Joe Six-pack types form an underground resistance to repel their offer of peace, hope, and…I shit you not, universal health care. Of course, the big reveal of their lizard-like perniciousness is transparent from the start, but it’s tactlessly disclosed in a sermon-like exposition which, according to fans of the original mini-series (which I haven’t seen), fast-forwards through about half of the original plotline.
Some may have already heard the rumblings about V‘s alleged anti-Obama agenda. The best argument against this is probably the one posed somewhat dismissively over at Slate, which posits that in order for the show to be a critique it would need a coherent point of view. The visitors seem to be an assortment of many of our current anxieties, both misplaced (illegal immigrants, terrorists living among us, and, bafflingly enough, health care for the needy) and rightfully aimed (politicians who promise easy cures, the media’s cozy relationship to the power elite, religious fervor, and the charismatic charm of traditionally beautiful faces). Show writer Scott Peters claims that the show was conceived pre-Obama and takes no aims at any specific targets, but it’s hard not to see the president’s reflection in the androgynous post-racial face of Morena Baccarin’s Anna as she feeds off media adoration and promises to ail the sick with free health clinics. There’s even grassroots websites telling one character’s kids how to campaign on behalf of the visitors. I half-expected her to name Scott Wolf’s sellout anchor interviewer her “information czar” at one point.
V is then less a thoughtful (or parroted) critique than another piece of faux PoMo pulp that can gloss itself in well-meaning ideals, but dismiss its critics by proclaiming “oh, it’s just a spaceship show. Lighten up!”.
Peters is correct in stating that the show lacks specific targets, but he is misguided if he thinks the show’s pop values don’t matter. Sci-fi has long been one of the lone realms in mass media where new spaces can be sublimated from a decaying present. If only on a subconscious level, V speaks to our inescapable now. What the program showcases far more than our willingness to trust, which seems a little off-base in the land of the permanently alienated, is the inconceivability of anything of benefit arriving outside of the parameters set for us by capitalism. Zizek famously said that it’s easier for us to conceive the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This seems to be what V is setting up for us, annihilation, or a new chance to fear the unknown, reject any way of living other than our own, and suggest that an alternate world wherein we’re being constantly lied to and exploited is any different or less preferable than the world we currently live in.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.