Thursday, September 15, 2005

TVs Supernatural Evolution

Salon.com actually "scooped" me on this one...Sort of.

For the past few weeks, I've been contemplating the obvious shift in reality by networks for their fall season line-ups. With shows like Supernatural, Invasion, Angel Whisperer, Night Stalker, etc. there are elements being televised in primetime slots that haven't been explored since the days of the X-Files; that is "forces beyond our control" as Salon puts it. But, the coincidence and scoop end there.

Salon proposes that this programming is the entertainment industry's attempt to capitalize on the new terrorism threat. Aliens, ghosts, spirits are all instinctively feared because they are out of the realm of our understanding; anything we cannot explain should be feared. Maybe I'm optimistic, but I don't see the threat of terrorism in this new programming at all. In fact, I say these shows are not tied together by fear at all, but, rather, by hope and curiosity.

I think back on the X-Files era and see a society oblivious to serious threats of terrorism. But, it was also a society of hot-lamps and nuggets of doubt. X-Files was geared for the primetime conspiracy theorist, but for anyone outside that cult, it solidified a thought that maybe the government hasn't and isn't completely honest with the American public. From its era, a new generation of "trekkies" evolved.

We idolized the anti-James Bond "Mulder" for his intelligence and mainstream fascination with the sexy, intelligent "Scully." The show was for adults who had grown-up watching the original Star Trek starring William Shatner and Leornard Nemoy. Geeks could be "normal" - whetever the hell that is.

The public didn't question the government because we didn't know, or didn't want to appear to know, enough about how the political system worked. We felt safer not questioning what we were being told. Mulder and Scully walked into our living rooms flashing their FBI badges as everyday citizens. They showed how there were silenced by their top-secret jobs and questioned the "why" themselves. All of a sudden, it's okay to vocally question what you do not know, hence, "the truth is out there."

It was a subtle exaggeration of the truth - at least from hindsight. When the terrorists attacked on 9/11, we could only trust our local and federal governments. The terrorists may not have been American-born, but they were American citizens; they were a part of our "melting pot" culture. America was an anorexic supermodel forcing herself to throwup when no one was looking.

Out of this came reality television. The true heroes of 9/11 were people with mortgages and car payments. They rushed in and out of the burning buildings and got out as many people as they could reach. Who would've thought an investment broker could also be a hero? What other, superhuman-talent did Americans posses? After the shock and the surreality, there was this undying love for the American spirit: perserverance, heroism, humility, love. And that spirit is something that everyone hides beneath their ties and nametags.

The reality of that day has been left to settle at the bottom our glasses along with our lives before that event. The 9/11 Commission reported the government knew an attack on American soil was being planned. Most Americans, myself included, saw these reports as political "chatter." It's no secret that America isn't the most popular country in the world, so it's easy to see how we could have numerous threats stepped up to us everyday. How do you know which ones are sincere? The memories from that day are no less painful, but they are now 4 years removed. 9/11 has been reduced to a political talking-point a silenced feeling of humility.

After watching the first episode of Supernatural Tuesday night, there was an X-Files presence; the feeling that the unknown can be understood. And seeing the previews for the other shows, I see them to be much the same. I don't see the networks preying on our fears of terrorist attacks, but rather a quest to understand the unexplainable.

Understanding is a long road. This latest fall season is trying remind us all of that, and series-long format is the perfect subtle point for that. From the first episode of any new series, there is a central question that is asked that will only be answered at the very end, no matter how much the audience wants the answer to be revealed immediately. And it doesn't matter if you're tracking angels, haunting spirits or global terrorists, there is always going to be a twist in the road that keeps us from sprinting straight into the tunnel vision of light.

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