I have written before about the TV show “V” and its use of religious people and imagery in a plot about aliens visiting the Earth with sinister intentions. In the wake of continued coverage of the Times Square bombing attempt, and the continuing links between the failed bomber and some radicalized militant strain of Islam, this week’s episode seemed more sinister. Allow me first to recap some salient points of the show.
An alien race who looks to be human and is called the Visitors, or V for short, arrives unannounced in major cities around the world. They declare themselves to be “of peace, always” but a few bright-eyed Americans aren’t so sure of their good intentions. Sure enough, the V are up to no good and are actually lizard-like creatures in human skin. Their claims to be peaceful are hypocritical at least and apocalyptically sinister at most. Our heroes are a TV-friendly rag-tag bunch: a terrorist, a V who has turned against their sinister machinations, an FBI agent and a Catholic priest.
This week’s episode has our heroes blow up a shuttle which they thought would be full of only evil aliens. It seems that they’ve been misinformed, as all they find in the wreckage is human remains. But wait! There’s a twist: the V learned of their plans and put 20 or so already dead humans on the shuttle instead. The guilt of our heroes is assuaged, and the priest–who had quit over the shuttle blowup–comes back to the group. Here’s where a strangely coded message comes in. Are we talking about space lizards or Muslims here?
Anyone who has studied the Islamic faith or even spoken with its adherents will be able to tell you that the official and orthodox rendering of Islam is that it is a religion of peace. People like Faisal Shahzad do not represent mainstream Islam any more than the Hutaree Militia represent mainstream Christianity. Note, however, the similarity between the message of the evil-doers on the show (“We are of peace, always”) and the message many of us try to express about Islam as a peaceful religion despite what some would do in its name.
That’s not where the between-the-lines messages begin or end. In the show, a few good people with God on their side (remember, there’s a priest!) are fighting an evil that hides among us and looks like us but isn’t even human. Their foe professes to be peaceful, but is in fact quite sinister. Their foe sees no value in human life, but our heroes have deep consciences. The priest quit fighting when he thought he had been involved in killing innocent humans. One more thing our heroes have done? They have tortured an enemy combatant to get valuable information that might save lives.
If I were a more cynical person, I might watch for Dick Cheney’s name in the end credits of the show. After all, how different is the conflict between humans and aliens on this fictional program than the conflict described by our government and media when speaking of terrorism? The enemy says that they are peaceful, but they are not; the enemy can look like anyone; the enemy isn’t even really human; we value life more than they do; we might have to get our hands dirty and permit torture to get information out of them. It’s either the hawkish line on Al Quaeda or the plot of a weekly sci-fi show.
So why does this matter anyhow? We turn to TV fictions to escape the fears and stresses of our daily lives. When we are fed a veiled narrative about what most of our nation sees as an existential struggle, those messages can seep in. I am not proposing that this program is outright propaganda. What I am saying is that the line of argumentation advanced by the government and media about the struggle with terrorism is so pervasive that it echoes through our recreation time. I don’t know if this show was purposely written to tap into that anxiety or if the anxiety itself makes these themes pop out from wherever they might hide.
I’d be interested in hearing other people’s takes on the intertwining of fiction and non-fiction narratives in the comments.
- V on ABC
- V on Hulu
- “Evidence Mounts for Taliban Role in Car Bomb Plot” NYTimes.com
- “Money Woes, Long Silences and a Zeal for Islam” NYTimes.com