V for Vacancy

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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.