Tuesday, November 24, 2009

All the mixed feelings over V

Hmm…I just finished watching the last episode of V that ABC will air until March, 2010, and although I liked it, I’m still wrestling with too many mixed feelings about it. This is a show I want to love so much because it’s a remake of one of my absolute favorite miniseries and series from my childhood. I really, REALLY want to love this show, although I find myself only liking it. So what is V doing wrong and what is it doing right…?

Tonight’s episode had some nice touches, some good plot twists, some original concepts not in the old miniseries. The psychedelic “bliss” scene was intriguing. I want to know more about just what that whole thing was. We also got to see more of the Fifth Column. The Fifth Column resistance network within the Visitor ranks was also a part of the original V story. The Visitor attempt at slipping some sort of a drug into humans around the world via the flu vaccine was a really great touch of paranoia. I liked that a lot, especially during all the lingering controversy about whether or not the swine flu vaccines are safe. Reporter Chad’s brain ailment was also a great plot twist. Do the Visitors want to operate on him to do something to his brain and keep him permanently under control? Chad might be an ambitious opportunist, but there are hints that he might not be as much of a complete, easily-controllable sellout as his counterpart Christine Walsh was in the old V. Chad, the aliens might reason, could still be too much of a wild card to trust completely. The glimpse of an enormous fleet of Visitor mother ships coming to back up the first wave of invaders looked nicely ominous in the final shot of the episode. And, of course, taking a lead from the original, we find out that there could soon be an alien/human hybrid baby on the way.

But, unfortunately, I still have lingering problems about the new V, a sense that too many great opportunities for drama, social commentary, suspense, and just top-notch science fiction are being missed.

I think the main problem this show has is that it does not have a grand enough, epic enough feel. This show is about all of life on Earth suddenly getting changed overnight. In UFO lore, historians of the UFO phenomenon always talk about an old Brookings Institution belief-system-study where a group of experts from various fields – business, political science, theology – were asked to contemplate what would happen to life on Earth if we had undeniable, incontrovertible proof that there was intelligent life somewhere else in the universe. The result, the experts all concluded, was that major – if not chaotic and dangerous – upheavals in thinking and beliefs would sweep the world. That idea is what V should be about!! I want to see more of the world in this new V and I want to see how day-to-day attitudes and ways of living have been thrown into turmoil by the presence of the Visitors.

What frustrates me is that the producers of the show promised ideas like that when they teased bits and pieces of the show months ago. Now they don’t seem to be following through. When I saw clips of the first episode, with Erica and Father Jack talking about the Visitors manipulating Earth people’s devotion and beliefs, I thought this new V could quite possibly turn out to be something far superior to the old one. While the old V had a larger-scale, more epic feel with a big cast of characters, it tied itself too much to its Nazi allegory. The original V was stuck in the past. This new one has the ability to examine the world today, to look at our own post-9/11 world where everything was suddenly turned upside down, all the old rules re-written within a span of a few hours. The irritating thing is that I think that the show’s production team is smart enough to do this, especially producer Scott Peters, whose 4400 series on USA dealt with exactly those issues.

In science fiction and fantasy literature, authors often talk about complex “world building,” about creating very fully-realized, detailed alien worlds with intricate histories, customs, life forms, governmental systems, rules, etc. V needs to do some complex world re-building. When I’m going to sit down to see more of this show in the spring, I want to see more of Father Jack’s parishioners and what the Visitors in their lives are doing to their faith. I want to see more of Father Jack’s own conflict of faith for that matter. When he was introduced, he had a crisis of faith, but all of that seems to have been forgotten. Furthermore, what did the arrival of the aliens do to other religions? How are fundamentalist religious movements reacting to the Visitors? What did the alien arrival do to the war in Iraq? To Afghanistan? What does the Taliban think of the Visitors? What does the Christian right think of the Visitors? Maybe Chad should be prodded by an influx of e-mails from his fans to ask the Visitors what God – if any – they believe in. Remember how big a part of the plot religious faith was in the film Contact? Or how about politics? What’s going on in Washington while the Visitors are insinuating themselves into every corner of civilization? The first episode hinted that the aliens might have been here for decades and might have taken over and manipulated governments. I hope we see a little more about that.

So far, unfortunately, all we’ve gotten was a small-scale potboiler with only three characters dominating most of the stories. We see Erica and Father Jack worrying a lot and talking about ways to find out what the Visitors are up to. We also see some of Ryan, the Fifth Columnist, also worrying a lot and trying to figure out a way to fight back. Aside from those three characters taking up most of the screen time, now and then Chad shows up for a few minutes, elated over his sudden rise to journalistic stardom. The only character who seems to represent the rest of the world, the people dealing with the sudden, incomprehensible upheaval in their lives, is Erica’s son, Tyler. I also find Tyler to be the most annoying of the lot. He is one of those characters groomed to be some sort of a teen idol, little more than a stereotypical, ego-centric brat who sits around sulking because Mom is working too much and “she just like doesn’t get me, man.” In this episode, sure enough, we saw him sitting in counseling and moaning about how his mother just does not understand and she’s never there for him. His turmoil over the changing world has, so far, gone no further than trying to deal with his crush on the blonde alien babe, Lisa, and how to keep it all a secret from Erica.

V should be a lot more than these small-scale character intrigues. It has the potential to be a truly great science fiction epic if it would only set its sights a little higher and endeavor to something bigger than a tired, oft-seen family melodrama.

Now as I’ve read on some science fiction web pages, ABC apparently has ordered a shakeup in V. We only have four episodes so far because filming was shut down and some of the production team fired. The rumors are that the network had big problems with the way the first four episodes turned out. Well, I have problems with the way these episodes turned out too. And, unfortunately, the ratings of the show fell quite sharply from week to week. So I hope we really do get to see more V in the spring, and to see more ambitious, epic-scale, intelligent, world-building science fiction.

Cowardly ABC and lying PTC

ABC television needs to be sent a different set of protest letters for their cowardly cancellation of Adam Lambert’s performance on Good Morning America. This time, the letters should be sent by a true cross section of America, people who, once in a while, actually take ideas like free speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of choice seriously.

ABC, you see, was sent some 1,500 letters by members of the Parents Television Council following Lambert’s homoerotic performance on the American Music Awards. By ABC’s own admission, that was something they considered a small number of complaints. Nevertheless, they suddenly got paranoid over a fringe group of censorious thugs like the PTC and suddenly cancelled Lambert’s scheduled appearance on GMA. What gives? Over a small number of protests??

The PTC’s own reaction to this, however, has been a display of their usual duplicity. According to this article, Dan Isett, the Director of Public Policy for the PTC, suddenly backpedaled from the group’s usual policy of advocating ever-more draconian and bizarre efforts at censoring broadcasting (the PTC are the yahoos who believe that shows like Ugly Betty and Lost and Law and Order are obscene and the government is justified in keeping them off TV). According to Isett, “the idea that he (Lambert) should be scrubbed from TV completely is not where we’re going.”

Yeah, right! The PTC are not in favor of censoring anyone…Sure, Danny, anyone with half a brain, or any passing familiarity with your scummy organization will even believe that for a second.

Blatant lies in the face of criticism and challenge are the PTC’s stock in trade. If one spends even a few moments looking over the PTC web page, they will be quickly overwhelmed by quote after quote, one article and essay after another, giving clear instruction and policy positions on how the group will fight to REMOVE various TV programs from the air because they deem such programming “obscene,” “filthy,” “sleazy,” “vulgar,” or “offensive.” They threaten to pressure advertisers to withhold support from TV shows until they are cancelled, yet a lying douche bag like Isett has the gall and the decency to say that censorship is “not where we’re going.”

But telling lies, even in the glaring media spotlight, has been a PTC specialty since its inception. The group’s founder, Brent Bozell, has threatened to publicly label advertisers as being complicit in murder for putting their commercials on professional wrestling programs that were proven to have contributed to children killing other children. NOT ONE SINGLE instance of a child killing another child has ever been proven to have been influenced by wrestling.

Bozell has also been less than perfectly honest about the political orientation of his group. The son of a former Joseph McCarthy speech writer, Bozell has repeatedly tried to claim – with the perfectly straight face of a sociopath – that the PTC is a nonpartisan organization and that he himself is not even a Republican. Yet on his bio on the PTC web page, he proudly claims to have been Pat Buchanan’s National Finance Chairman in 1992 and a one time president of the National Conservative Action Committee, which “helped elect dozens of conservative candidates over the past 10 years.” This is all on his web page! Check it out!!

As former pro wrestler Mick Foley writes so eloquently about Bozell in “Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker than Professional Wrestling,” the PTC founder is “a charismatically challenged, lying sack of shit.”

But he’s not the only one of his kind at the PTC. The organization seems to draw pathological liars to its membership ranks like some kind of a magnet. The head of the New Jersey chapter of the group, one Crystal Madison, most often will say that she opposes censorship, but has told TV Newsday magazine that she is a PTC member to fight for a future where shows like Dexter and Family Guy will be “eradicated.” I don’t know, eradication kind of sounds like censorship to me. But those people who listen to my Culture Wars radio show will also know that Madison has been giving instructions to her supporters on how to pressure my college’s donors until the radio show of yours truly is removed from the air. Confronted about this, just like Isett, she backpedaled and claimed that financial pressure was not really an attempt at removing my show from the air. Yeah, Crystal, sure, we believe that!

Nevertheless, ABC television has chosen to cave in to the bully tactics of a group of transparent liars who represent values light years removed from the sentiments of mainstream America.

The PTC's endless whining...

...is now aimed at ABC TV for not censoring Adam Lambert's homoerotic performance adequately enough on Monday night's American Music Awards.

The Parents Television Council's bitching session is in its full glory on their web page. As usual, though, organization head cheese, Tim Winter, is long on colorful words and short on any actual substantive arguments as to why anyone seeing Lambert's performance might be harmed and why television should be censored and fined by the FCC.

Oh, wait a minute, I guess Winters' previous article about what research proves and does not prove about media effects (just scroll down on the PTC web page and you can find their "study" of violence toward women in the media) is supposed to answer any lingering doubts about effects. It's an interesting article, although one that might make anyone who passed a basic statistics class in high school howl with laughter. The article, explaining that correlations in statistical research amount to a causal effect, is sort of like someone publicly arguing that one can, in fact, travel faster than the speed of light.

I've come to believe that the average PTC "concerned activist" member might have a broad masochistic streak. These people somehow get off on completely humiliating themselves in public by saying and writing some of the most embarrassing foolishness one can possibly think of.

So, since these folks seem to enjoy abuse and like complaining, I still encourage people to complain to them. Various e-mail addresses may be found on their web page - and those of their adjunct organizations like the Culture and Media Institute or the Media Research Council. But here they are for your use and enjoyment:


A rocky "Road" to Christian audiences?

There is a fascinating article in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine about the marketing of the apocalyptic film, The Road, to Christian audiences.

Since the film is dealing with end of the world issues the readers of Revelations often contemplate, the makers of the film are attempting to lure in the Christian faithful. It makes enough sense, right? But what is interesting to me is the article's quite true statement that The Road's marketing to conservative Christians might be "counter intuitive." The Road, you see, is rated R.

What this has made me wonder about is the general state of faith-based entertainment. There is huge money to be from fundamentalist Christian entertainment these days, although the nature of this entertainment has often left me scratching my head. I have seen a number of films made for the Christian audience and I've read a few faith-based books as well. The most notable for me was Left Behind (only seen the film and haven't read the book) and The Shack. Both of these stories, as well as a few others of their kind struck me as a bit...well, sorry to say, lame.

OK, maybe Left Behind was a little better than the rest. At least there was some violence and killing there. I always enjoy violence and killing. If there would have been a little sex, it would have been even better. The flick, after all, was about the impure and the sinners "left behind" at the Rapture. So wouldn't these sinner commit, you know...sins? Maybe say a few curse words? Have a little sex before marriage?

Which again brings me to contemplate the state of "Christian" entertainment.

And let me pause here for a second and explain the quotes around Christian. "Christian" these days seems to exclusively refer to fundamentalist, ultra-right-wing conservative Christians. These are the ha-ha-you're-going-to-hell-and-we're-not (to steal a phrase from Stephen King's Under the Dome) evangelical Christians. "Christian," it seems, no longer refers to Catholics or Methodists or Episcopalians. Only to the folks who think Harry Potter is teaching witchcraft and devil worship, the folks who want to ban Halloween, who think the Catholic church is a cult and the Pope is the Antichrist, who believe that dinosaurs never existed but God, the great cosmic prankster, just littered the planet with big bones to mess with people and test their faith.

But what I wonder about is why can't there be any "adult" Christian entertainment? Religion, at its most effective moments, helps people cope with the worst the world can sometimes throw at them. Sure, organized religion can often offer circular, contradictory, or just plain illogical and impenetrable answers to the big questions of human existence. I think the best summary of what the Bible is all about came in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. The Bible's message, according to End of Days: "Shit happens." Read the Bible closely and you'll realize that that really is what the good book boils down to.

But why can't "Christian" entertainment deal with issues like this? Why can't "Christian" fiction contemplate the rougher, the harder, the more difficult, ugly, unjust, and cruel aspects of existence, even if the only answers it might come up with is "shit happens"?

If one were to make a truly faithful film adaptation of the Bible, after all, it would probably be X rated. I would really love to see those scenes of Lot's daughters seducing him after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But in the meantime, "Christian" entertainment remains little more than simplistic, shallow, singing-birds-in-a-flowery-meadow type of pabulum. And if this is the sort of things "Christian" audiences want, it sounds like they will be sorely disappointed by The Road.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hitler is sending Seth MacFarlane hate mail again

Well, there's something new and interesting to see again on the web page of the Parents Television Council.

And I really do enjoy visiting their web page a lot and I get excited every time they post something new there. I guess I enjoy their postings the same way most fans enjoyed watching The Jerry Springer Show. The PTC can make you feel good about yourself even on a bad day. They can make you glad that your mother and father weren't brother and sister and that you weren't born with an IQ lower than your belt size. That you're not slow-witted enough to be eligible to join the PTC.

The same goes for the pages of such PTC adjunct organizations as the Media Research Council and the Culture and Media Institute. I highly urge all to check them out and leave them some feedback.

But this time the PTC is calling for Microsoft to boycott all of TV writer/producer Seth MacFarlane's shows. According to PTC grass roots activist Gavin McKiernan, who certainly seems to have all the IQ qualifications to be a member of the PTC, all the MacFarlane cartoons like Family Guy and American Dad are guilty of purveying all the worst sort of civilization destroying content one can see in the media today. Why Seth MacFarlane shows, McKiernan whines, have jokes about feminine hygiene!!!! The horror!!

But it's unfortunate that McKiernan's harangues are sort of flabby and half-hearted this time. He doesn't even try to justify his censorhip-through-economic-thuggery with any sort of an effects argument. Seems he hasn't looked at the PTC's effects "research" lately (even those studies they post that proves the exact opposite of what the group is trying to argue)

However, I suppose MacFarlane's real sins are the way he spoke about the PTC, rather than the sophomoric, school yard "feminine hygiene" jokes on his cartoons. In MacFarlane's interview to The Advocate magazine, he said about being crticized by the PTC: "Oh, yeah. That's like getting hate mail from Hitler. They're literally terrible human beings. I've read their newsletter, I've visited their website, and they're just rotten to the core. For an organization that prides itself on Christian values—I mean, I'm an atheist, so what do I know?—they spend their entire day hating people. They can all suck my dick as far as I'm concerned."

Three cheers for Seth MacFarlane!

Don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Well, it looks like something positive can be said for a bad economy after all. According to this article, the bad financial times drove one of those busy body do-gooder pro-censorship family groups out of business.


The National Institute on Family and the Media has closed up shop because of the bad economy. Of course I'm completely enjoying this because this is a group that's even more ignorant of basic social science research than the Parents Television Council and more insane than the Family Research Council (they, the supporters of Carrie Prejean and all things wholesome, homophobic, and holy until, at least, their wholesome media darlings start masturbating on sex videos).


These folks have been almost exclusively obsessed with video games and, as the article discusses, at one point seriously argued that the video game industry tries to persuade America's children to become cannibals.

To the concerned parents and activists of the National Institute on Family and the Media: Good riddance! We won't miss you!

Or wait a minute, maybe we will. People this nuts are just too entertaining.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whoa!! The world is still here...

Well, after a short hiatus for a trip to the National Communication Association conference, I am stunned to realize that I get a chance to sit here and add to this blog. The world did not end exactly a week ago with the CW Network's broadcast of Gossip Girl. The Parents Television Council's fears and panic were in vain. I'm stunned.

Of course, on their web page they warn that they will keep an eye on the unfolding threesome storyline. I'm certain that the CW is very nervous.

I do still encourage folks to check out the PTC's page and decide for themselves just how much of a self-parody this group is. Then if you don't think their analyses of the evil threats TV poses are funny enough - including group head-honcho Tim Winter's assault on science, logic, rational thinking, and sanity in his essay about the "link" between teen depression and Internet use - check out the parody of PTC outrage in the new edition of Entertainment Weekly magazine.

Maybe the PTC will now look for new targets to pressure and harass. They might try and threaten the donors of colleges again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Watch TV for a good cause!

Monday 9/8 c is the time to get in front of the TV and watch the CW network…if only for a good cause!

Tonight is the airing of the Gossip Girl episode that will supposedly depict a threesome among college age characters. THE DOWNFALL OF HUMANITY IS AT HAND!

Or so the Parents Television Council will have us believe. This, by the way, is the organization that identifies shows like “Lost,” “Heroes,” “Fringe,” “Law & Order,” and “Ugly Betty” as “indecent,” “pornographic,” and “obscene.”

A mainstream group of parents they are…SURE!

Of you don't believe this nonsense, watch the Gossip Girl and support free speech!

Or better yet, go to their web page here and talk back yourself. Send them messages and tell them what you think of the PTC.

Friday, November 6, 2009

PTC loons urging censorship...again

As we discussed on the last episode of Culture Wars, available for podcast download here, the regressive nutcases of the Parents Television Council are gearing up for yet another fun activity: "let's try and censor television again." They, most likely, couldn't find any small colleges to threaten with pressure tactics and letter writing campaigns to force donors to withhold money. Those good folks of the PTC tend to do that when college radio stations air opinions the organization disagrees with.

This time the target is the CW network's Gossip Girl TV show because America's impressionable young children are in dire peril yet again. The group is trying to pressure CW affiliates to pre-empt the show, scheduled to air on November 9. America's children need to be protected at all costs, they scream their shrill paranoia on their web page (and the web pages of other fringe extremist anti-media organizations).

The scientifically-illiterate buffoonery of this group has been discussed on this blog a number of times before. For example, the fact that they are incapable of understanding or explaining why a content analytical study does not prove a causal chain and neither does a statistical correlation. Or the fact that they post links to studies on their web page that prove the exact opposite of what the PTC is trying to argue.

These people are not just incompetent clowns but, unfortunately, a collection of bullies and thugs, a gang of home invaders that tries and muscle its way into your living room and control what you watch, what you listen to, how you raise your children, and manage your family. But if these people like to push broadcasters around and lobby the FCC to trample on the First Amendment, it's about time for level-headed, clear-thinking Americans to push back a little and let them know how they feel. The PTC can be contacted through their web page and on those of their various "grass roots" members and supporters. I would urge those who support the freedom of speech and free expression to do so.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Conning the con men on the next Culture Wars

Anyone who ever received those Nigerian bank account scam e-mails needs to tune in to a hillarious episode of Culture Wars on November 5!

Our guest will be author Diana Grove, talking about her new book, Dot Conned.

Not only did she expose the online scammers and swindlers in her book, but turned the tables on some of these Internet scumbags. So make some time for the next Culture Wars and enjoy listening to some sweet revenge.

And don't forget to let us know what you think of this or any other shows by e-mailing us at wspcradio@gmail.com

V in the age of conspiracy.

Since talk of alien visitations and abductions has given Culture Wars its most downloaded show ever and one of my all time favorite TV events were the pair 1980s V minseries (V and V: The Final Battle), I have to voice my qualified approval and enjoyment of the new V series on ABC.

Although the pilot episode was too brief - with only a one-hour episode - and might have been better served by a two-hour special, this new incarnation of the alien invasion story had some nice ideas floating around.

The most interesting aspect of this new series appears to be the way it seems to embrace some of the more outlandish conspiracy theories of the past two decades and, at the same time, dramatize them with effective, straight-faced seriousness. But good science fiction is always a product of its times and a barometer of the zeitgeist. The old V was a rumination on totalitarian regimes like communism and fascism (it was quite heavy-handed in its reminders of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust). A number of critics have commented on the new V and terrorism, but what this new incarnation of the old show seems to really be about is conspiracy-minded thinking. Fear of conspiracies is a sign of the times today.

Here, the aliens do not really arrive for the first time when their giant UFOs appear over all the major cities of the Earth but, we are told, they had been here for years, maybe even decades. The have taken over positions of power and manipulated world events to bring about crises, wars, economic instability, and general chaos, fear and mayhem.

No doubt the show is a big hit among conspiracy theorist circles. It reminds me the most of the conspiracy theories expounded in the books of British author David Icke. Since the 1990s, Icke has written a series of books proclaiming that all of the world's leaders are reptilian aliens in disguise, manipulating world events to make everyone's life harder. (Why don't conspirators every conspire to make things easier?)

The uncanny closeness to Icke's disguised reptilian conspiracy theories is what makes me just slightly leery of this new stab at V. Many of Icke's biggest fans have also jumped on the US-govt-was-behind-9/11 conspiracy theories as well. Having a major network TV show confirm the delusions of crackpots like Icke and the 9/11 "truth" movement is just a bit unnerving.

But I can't wait until next week's episode!!