Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Rating Success Suggests U.S. Can Handle Post-9/11 Dramas

According to the Nielsen Ratings, the ABC drama "Lost" won its time slot, with nearly 20 million viewers. Meanwhile, the FX drama "Rescue Me," continues to draw solid ratings -- along with critical acclaim.

I reference these two seemingly different shows because, in their own ways, each I believe can be labeled a "post 9/11" drama.

"Rescue Me," starring Dennis Leary, is an obvious post-9/11 show. The plot revolves around a New York City Fire Department unit that lost several of its crew in the World Trade Center attack. Leary is haunted by his cousin, a firefighter who died in the attack, and its clear that the events of 9/11 have left him a shell of a man, an alocholic returning to the bottle, and with a soon-to-be ex-wife. It's a compelling story, well worth watching.

"Lost" centers around the survivors of a plane crash. It's been described as "Survivor" meets "The Twilight Zone." Where's the 9/11 connection? My take on the show is that the plane crash is a metaphor for the 9/11 attacks -- but presented in a way that's easier for the masses to swallow.

Once on the island, the survivors can hear -- but never see -- that one or more killer beasts also live on the island. Three of the survivors see that the beast has killed the plane's pilot by pulling him through a cockpit window and ultimately placing his bloodied body high up in a tree.

What do those beasts represent? If the metaphor holds true, they may represent terrorism -- a constant threat on the viewers' lives. Terrorism is something to fear, even if viewers can do little to stop it. Or -- and this would be giving ABC too much credit, given when the show was written and taped -- it represents the insurgents attacking our troops at an alarming rate in Iraq.

***

If Nielsen ratings are any indicator -- and to be fair, "Lost" has only had once showing -- Americans are willing to watch a post-9/11 drama. They can embrace this fiction, three years after the fact.

Americans are a hearty, independent people. We bounce back from tragedy, sometimes wary, hopefully wiser.

***

It would be easy to say that the "fiction" coming from the White House -- about how well things are going in Iraq, about how safe we are from the war on terror -- suggests that the administration doesn't trust its audience as much as Hollywood.

But the bigger question is, "why?" Why can't President Bush hold a press conference and admit that, although his conviction to bring democracy to Iraq remains strong, we have a tough road to hoe? Why can't he level with the American peoplel about the number of attacks on our troops -- 2,700 in August, compared with an average of 700 per month earlier this year, instead of simply saying he's "pleased with the progress" in Iraq?

Why must we instead hear him say, at least initially, that the National Intelligence Estimate -- with its pessimistic view of the near-future in Iraq -- was just "guessing." Why must we hear him and Iraqi President Allawi say that 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces are free of insurgency, and capable of having elections tomorrow, when other government reports say that each of the 18 provinces has been home to violent attacks from insurgents?

What war is President Bush watching on his television?

Maybe someday, the "West Wing" will dramatize Martin Sheen as a war-time president facing these questions.

No doubt, the American people can handle the truth. The beast we can't see may scare us, but that's not going to stop us from admitting it's there.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Excellent essay!
A few thoughts.
For one, I'm always amazed at the info you bring to the forefront that is not being widely publicized: "2,700 attacks in August," compared to 700 other months and 18 provinces under fire. I think if more people were aware of such data they would have second thoughts about their dogged support for Bush.
However, if you pulled those figures from the Washington Post story on the July CIA report on Iraq, Bushies would say they come from an unsubstantiated newspaper piece. The CIA has not publicly released the report. Do you think the Bush Administration might have something to do with that?
Further, it is interesting to now observe the Wall Street Journal and many other major newspapers now actually coming out and attacking the CIA!!! for somehow acting to squash Bush's Iraq. Now if the Democrats made such claims against Republicans, they would be instantly shot down as "wild-eyed conspiracy theorists."
Let's see, whether it be the United Nations, the country's top intelligence agency (CIA), top security officer (Richard Clarke), or top congressional officials, the moment they dare start acting in opposition to Bush policies, they cannot be trusted. They are pessimistic, defeatists, unpatriotic, insane, assisting the enemy or even worse. Unbelievable.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was pointed out to me that Dave's statistics on Iraq were lifted from a story this morning in the New York Times. I haven't yet seen the story, but was likely wrong to infer they had come from the Washington Post story on the July CIA report. It's nice the mainstream press is indeed making itself useful!
Hopefully, Bush will be required to respond in tommorrow night's debate.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on the comment who said the Bush camp would have a jolly time spinning Kerry's position, "how do you get global support for a war you consider a grand diversion?"
Let's take a moment and seriously dissect the spin.
What the hell was Kerry saying that is not already widely known.
Almost every country in the world ALREADY recognizes the Iraq War as a huge mistake and diversion orchestrated by the U.S.. This is the popular feeling in France, Germany, China, Britain, the Arab countries and many other places.
I think the world view will appreciate Kerry for calling Iraq what it is. For this reason, foreign leaders will open the door for Kerry. They have already largely slammed the door on Bush and his positions of alternative reality.

9:27 AM  

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