The popularity of Donald Trump has fractured conservative politics, with Jonah Goldberg altering forgotten marxist phraseology into “Trumpen proletariat,” and anti-immigration conservatives calling their freer trade, less nationalist brethren “cuckservatives.” The GOP (and perhaps the Democratic as well) primary is being denigrated as a “reality TV show” in part because of Trump, and there is supposedly a feud between Trump’s campaign and various TV networks as well as the conservative punditocracy.
It’s funny to see people blame this on TV. Lines between politics and media were blurred long ago, with Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and John Kasich hosting shows or serving as contributors at FOX and NBC. ABC other networks have long before done this sneakily, hiring campaign and Congressional and White House staffers like Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, and George Stephanopoulos to pose as journalists and host news shows. (It’s actually not easy to find a journalist or news director who doesn’t have spouses or siblings who have a high government appointment — NBC’s Andrea Mitchell married Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, NBC’s David Gregory married a Fannie Mae executive, and ABC’s Claire Shipman is married to White House press secretary Jay Carney.)
And if you conduct a little family psychotherapy, examining the national TV id, you find today’s political trends foreshadowed.
From 1997 to 2014, fantasy TV focused mainly on predators — demons, werewolves, robots, witches, and above all, vampires: Buffy, Angel, TrueBlood, Being Human, Supernatural, Charmed, and Moonlight (not to mention the huge movie franchises of Terminator, Harry Potter, and Twilight). Beginning in 2010 with The Walking Dead, predators have been replaced with an epidemic of infections — Stephen King’s Under The Dome (2013-), Steven Spielberg’s and Halle Berry’s EXTANT (2014-), Fear the Walking Dead (2015-), The Last Ship (2014-), The Strain (2014-), and James Patterson’s Zoo (2015-).
In the early 1990s and 2000s we liked to be scared by nightmares about conscious beings who would emerge from the dark, or the underworld, or the future, or an assembly line, to deliberately kill, eat, or enslave us. For the last five years we’be been more scared about the idea that non-sentient agents (even if deployed as weapons by some distant intellect) will sneak into our lives and infect us.
It is in a way a surprisingly “right wing” and xenophobic theme liberal Hollywood is selling us. It’s not clear if it’s their subconscious or what they think we want to buy or both. But it’s clearly less liberal in the sense of favoring an open society and individual freedom.
In the olden days, the TV sci-fi bad guys were more often shadow governments or criminal gangs that sometimes pretended to be human by day, revealing their true selves and eating you at night. In Joss Whedon’s shows the bad guys were even often government agents and their associates — a tin pot dictator school principal, a devil worshiping mayor, an unctuous social worker in Buffy, a hell-spawned law firm and a demonic congressional candidate in Angel. They were IRS agents, ready to tax and seize assets — assets like your blood. Lois Lerner would have fit right in. And it is hard to imagine that Wolfram and Hart, Whedon’s occult law firm, wouldn’t have been a donor to the Clinton Global Initiative.
But this season’s TV monsters are viruses and parasitical worms, accidentally released from a lab, deliberately released by terrorists, or sent from space by ET. However they got here, they act without consciousness, and can be spread to you by your spouse or infant, your best friend or next door neighbor. More like “one-off” terrorists who pop up among the Syrian or Somalian refugees your parish took in at the urging of the U.N. and Pope Francis.
One might take from this, as we see Donald Trump rise in the polls and libertarian-leaning Rand Paul freeze at the 5 percent of hardcore anti-statists in the GOP that America now favors stronger government solutions to our problems (though with immigration our main problem seems to be, as Dr. Ben Carson soft-speakingly notes, that our immigration is not free, it’s subsidized, paying posh benefits to illegal immigrants who make it to the United States or Germany).
It’s probably important to note that in the first episode of the new Fear the Walking Dead, a prequel about the very beginning of a viral outbreak that turns most of humanity into zombies, a good kid who is stopped when the school metal detector goes off because of a knife in his pocket explains to the teacher that he doesn’t feel safe, he knows there is an upsurge in weird crimes and strange incidents. An the teacher tells him: “You should stop reading the internet so much. If there was a problem, the authorities would tell us!” Today our government officials have been caught scrubbing their servers and faking intelligence reports. So anyone arguing for more government to solve our problems must accept a large burden of proof.