Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Visitors Are Your Friends (But not on Facebook)

Like many people of my generation, I eagerly awaited the debut of ABC's "reimagining" of the classic 1980s T.V. miniseries "V." When "V" came out, it was a member of a now dead breed: The watercooler show. These were shows that everyone had to make an appointment to watch, because they would be what everyone was discussing at the water cooler (or in my case, the water fountain) the next day. In the modern era of DVRs and On Demand programming, of course, such events no longer exist.

"V" came out during a time that was starved for good science fiction on television. The Next Generation of Star Trek was still five or so years away, and the idea of a "Sci Fi Channel" was in itself science fiction at the time, so "V" drew huge audiences, expecting to see some cool aliens and maybe a space battle or two.

What they got was a well-crafted allegory of the dangers of allowing too much power to authority. To be precise, it was a Nazi story. If you'll look at the Visitors classic symbol, you'll notice it's really just a swastika with a couple of the lines removed:

The original "V" developed slowly. In fact, even the marketing campaign developed slowly, beginning with advertisements depicting amicable Visitors above the tagline "The Visitors Are Your Friends" which, as the weeks progressed towards the debut, became "tagged" with the classic V sign. With the new "V", we pretty much know right away that the Visitors are trouble, even before the final act when we get to see a bit of reptile flesh.

The new V also tries to get political. With Nazism no longer the hot button political issue of the day (the original was a mere four decades removed from World War II, today we are about as far from the Nazi heyday as those in WWII were from the Civil War), V tries to include more relevant issues, including terrorism (the FBI is tracking a Visitor "sleeper cell") and universal health care (The Visitors are offering it, taking Congress off the hook).

The problem, I think, is that the creators of the new "V" aren't looking at the big picture. The first "V" was warning us not to put too much faith and confidence in authority and government (particularly appropriate for the time it was released). That is hardly any danger today. One can only imagine what Glenn Beck would have to say on his program about the Visitors, or worse yet, Lou Dobbs. Today's message of warning should be not to allow ones' actions to be governed by fear. Fear is what has been the greatest threat to economic recovery and it is behind a message of fear that America has gotten embroiled in two costly wars. Fear is the Nazi bugaboo of today.

This is the opportunity that the new "V" missed. Why not have the Visitors promise to protect us against terrorism? Maybe even have Anna, the Visitor's leader, round up a few Al Qaedas for us. That would be the way to gain our trust and make us ripe for the slaughter. Perhaps even have the Visitors convince us that they have come to protect us from an even greater threat that lies beyond the stars. By failing to do this, I think "V" has missed the mark.

Another way they missed the mark is through their use (or lack thereof) of modern technology. The Visitors announce themselves through a giant broadcast on the bottom of their spaceships. But why not use Twitter? or Facebook, or MySpace? Especially if you're looking to recruit young people. I'm sure there are already in real life "V" social media pages, but they are for multimedia promotion, not as part of the story. How about have the Visitor speeches come in podcasts downloadable on iTunes? It's hard to imagine that the Visitors would not be aware of and be able to take advantage of this technology.

Comparing a single one hour episode to an entire miniseries is not fair, I'll admit, but I'm afraid that we are already seeing a few signs that "V" is going to be just another average sci fi show. And in a world where "SyFy" the channel (not to mention 100 other channels) is no far-off futuristic fantasy but a genuine, ratings share-siphoning reality, average sci fi is not good enough.

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