What's wrong with this picture? To begin with, if it weren't a Hollywood special effects shot, the guy would probably be blind from looking right at the exploding nuke -- he clearly didn't duck and cover. Also, the whole detached observer quality of the photo subliminally says nuclear catastrophe is no big deal, something that can safely be survived at a distance. The biblical name and hint of a halo even hint at something transcendent.
In other words, CBS is helping make the use of nukes a little more thinkable.
I wonder how this thing ever got off the ground. Maybe it went something like this:
You guys have been in the doghouse for a couple years now, ever since the Janet Jackson costume malfunction and the Dan Rather mess. Getting Katie for the news was a start, but you need to do more. Here's a thought. How about a "high-concept" TV soap featuring a plucky red state small town with a biblical name surviving nuclear catastrophe while those sinners in the big cities apparently burn in hellfire and disappear? How cool is that?CBS seemed to buy it. They signed for at least 13 episodes, and the new series "Jericho" will air weekly, starting this Wednesday.
A drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents. But in this time of crisis, as sensible people become paranoid, personal agendas take over and well-kept secrets threaten to be revealed, some people will find an inner strength they never knew they had and the most unlikely heroes will emerge.Again, what's wrong with this picture?
More than 20 years ago, in the early years of the Reagan administration, loose talk about "survivable nuclear war" created a huge outcry, here and abroad. ABC produced a TV movie called "The Day After." While operating within the constraints of network TV, the show tried to communicate some of the true horror of a nuclear war. The Reaganites learned their lesson and shut up.
Now, little more than two decades later, CBS is about to show nuclear war as something that happens elsewhere, off-camera except for a mushroom cloud or two on the horizon, nothing that can't be survived by good people learning to work together in a small town far from Ground Zero. Yeah, right.
Call me a cynic, but I don't think it's any accident that this show is airing at the very time that the Bush administration is trying, through a disingenuous combination of leaks, diplomatic initiatives and gradually escalating threats, to build support for a preemptive strike -- possibly with nuclear "bunker busters" -- against Iran. And while they insist they haven't made up their minds to go to war yet, chances are -- based on past performance -- they've already made their decision. It's not a matter of "if," but "when" -- and how to sell it.
The neocon strategists know they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of selling another preemptive war to the public through rational argument. What they can do, without ever discussing the real issues, is make emotional appeals to their base, get them worked up, and then use them to bludgeon political opponents of preemptive war.
Who knows? "Jericho" might do the job. On the one hand, it stirs anxiety about nuclear war, and thus builds support for a "preventive war" against Iran. On the other hand, showing nuclear war safely going on in the background while people are fine and going about their lives in the foreground helps desensitize the audience to the horror of nuclear weapons and makes nuclear war less unthinkable. It helps erode taboos about a U.S. nuclear first strike -- should that become necessary to get rid of those underground labs in Iran.
It just might work.
Holy Shit! (Update): Here's executive producer Jon Turteltaub on Sci Fi Wire:
Jon Turteltaub, the executive producer of CBS' upcoming post-apocalyptic drama series Jericho, told SCI FI Wire that he did research about what might happen after a nuclear attack and was surprised by the answers he found. "This is going to sound odd, but a nuclear bomb is not as bad as everybody thinks," Turteltaub in an interview. "Without question on the scale of things in the world, it's on the bad scale of things that can happen. Puppies are on the really good side of things [laughs]. But sometimes we have this image that one nuclear bomb would take out all of New York City and Brooklyn and Queens and parts of New Jersey."Just in case there was any doubt about where these guys are coming from.
That wouldn't be the case with the initial blast, Turteltaub (National Treasure) added. "Part of the question is how much of the area is uninhabitable versus how much in our perception and our fears is uninhabitable," he said. "Coping with our own panic may be a greater enemy than the reality of these things."
9/21/06 Update: "Jericho" is still standing the day after, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.
10/13/06 Update: Dr. Strangelove, please keep an eye on your toys. Your grandchildren are getting forgetful.