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V (2009): Obama as Visitor

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ABC aired the pilot for their new series V this week. Yes, there were Obama references aplenty (though not by name). It wasn't your imagination.

Consider the backstory: Things have been going south for a few years, but here comes a charismatic savior, bringing hope and change. Change is hard for some, even good change like… universal health care! Still, the youth are all for it, and even most journalists seem to put aside any doubts, either because they hope and believe like the rest of us, or purely out of personal ambition.

Spelled out like that, it might seem silly or outrageous, but the references were often only implicit, and spread over the one-hour episode, so they never seemed overwhelming. The New Republic noticed them, and was upset at the comparison. The Chicago Tribune covered it more dispassionately. Watching the show as it aired, the parallels seemed clear and present to me.

While The New Republic compared the Obama / Visitor similarities to some of the worst political extremists active today, others seem delighted to think of a priest helping lead a resistance to take down the evil Obama administration, even if only allegorically. After all, in that scenario, Obama is an alien lizard! I don't think either view is an accurate picture of V's cultural references.

The Visitors, courtesy ABCThe best fiction tends to be about things that are familiar, only different. The 1980s incarnation of V drew from Nazi imagery with things like the "Hitler youth," because viewers would recognize it as creepy and evil, even if most of us are only familiar with the broad strokes. The 2009 incarnation is drawing from life since 9/11 for the same reasons.

The FBI is chasing terrorists. There are armed soldiers in city centers. People are frantic, even desperate, for change, and a charismatic leader who says the right words can quickly capture the attention of the world. Religion seems to be playing a bigger role in public discussions than a decade ago. These things are all part of our shared experience in the last eight years. The writers of V are using these shared experiences to help us accept the idea that the world would welcome friendly alien visitors. No more, and no less. Using Nazi imagery now would seem out of step, while most of us feel a bit of familiarity with what we see in V. Even those who miss the more subtle references should find nothing here that doesn't feel "right," even when it's wrong. Everybody should appreciate the reference to "universal health care." While National Guard troops directing pedestrians in U.S. cities would have seemed odd 25 years ago, it should surprise none of us today.

One of the first rules of fiction is "write what you know." It's safe to say that few of us have any experience with a race of lizard-like bipeds from another planet, so the writers of V have made as much of the setting seem familiar as possible, to accentuate what is different. People may want to see more than that, envisioning some sort of criticism of President Obama, but I don't think it's there. We may yet see "Anna," the head Visitor, eat a rat (as her counterpart in the 1980s miniseries did), but that doesn't mean anybody thinks our President eats rats — even his critics.

Whether the new V will draw viewers over the long-term, I'll leave it to others to guess. The suggestion that the series may be criticizing Obama is likely to draw viewers who would otherwise tune out, so I can understand why the story seems to be everywhere, as if planted. I also understand why people buried in politics want to read more into the Obama parallels that are there, but sometimes a science fiction series set in a post-9/11 world is just a science fiction series set in a post-9/11 world.

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About pwinn

  • http://joken-g3.blogspot.com/2009/11/dont-be-frightened.html kg

    “Don’t be frightened. We mean no harm.”

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    Ha! Lovely image. So good I don’t want it to be lost, so:

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

    Larger original here.

  • http://nickleshi.blogspot.com Nick

    The universal healthcare reference was pretty funny.

    My own review is up. Let me know what you think.

  • Dan Hill

    If Obama starts eating rats, I’m outta here!

  • The Defenestrator

    I’m surprised there isn’t more commentary regarding this on the Net. The references in the first episode were fairly blatant. Just waiting for the White House to denounce it as “not real science fiction”.

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    @Defenestrator, personally, I’m pleased no more is being made of it. As I said, while the parallels were there, I don’t think they were intended to reflect on Obama at all.

  • http://jetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    All right Phillip, how did you insert an image in a comment?

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    @Jet Magic.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Sorry guys, images aren’t allowed in the comments unless, like Mr Winn, you outrank me. And even then it’s under protest!

  • http://jetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Jet Gardner

    Spoilsport