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Thursday, March 25, 2010

V, Fascism, Sinclair Lewis and Deconstruction

Recap of the Pilot from Hulu

It seems that many of the television programs I watched as a child are being re-made. As might be expected, the special effects are more advanced than programs from the 1980s -- sometimes these special effects detract and other times they add to the program. The re-made programs oftentimes are more edgy, and are updated to reflect today's societal concerns. For instance, Caprica, a prequel to Battlestar Galactica notes the intersection of a "virtual" worlds where immoral acts have no consequence and of the "real" world where they do. Ezra Pound reportedly said, "The artist is the antenna of the race." Art and literature then project back what the artist absorbed from the culture. This interaction forms a feedback loop or hermeneutical circle between the artist and culture, between the text and the reader.  For me, much of the entertainment value of a movie, television program, play, or book is in discovering what is behind the story -- the philosophy or cultural presuppositions of the story. Perhaps, I am a deconstructionist at heart.

In any case, one evening I hooked my laptop to my television, went to Hulu and watched the ABC remake of V. The recap of the pilot is given above from Hulu. For the sake of contrast, I also embedded a YouTube clip of the original series from the 1980s. The remake is more edgy than the 1980s version. The wardrobe updated for the 21st century; the special effects better, etc. But the core of the story is still based on Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, first published in 1935.

 Sinclair Lewis' book was not about invading space aliens, but about the rise of a fascist regime within the United States. A populist movement elects a President who promises each citizen $5,000 a year from the government. He slowly dismantles democracy and becomes a dictator with concentration camps. Eventually, he obtains the power to alter the Constitution. However, most citizens support him, hence the title, "It Can't Happen Here." (Will refrain from any political commentary on the current state of America.) The model for Lewis' book is Nazis Germany. Whether fascists or aliens, the rightful place of God is taken over. Ironically in "V," the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church endorse the "vistors" while a skeptical priest in New York City has a crisis of faith because he does not agree with his church that these "visitors" are from God. No doubt there are parallels here to some of what happened in Nazis Germany.

The television series "V" is modeled after Sinclair Lewis' book. In "V", the "fascist" are aliens who want to take over the world. The television show has a youth corp, originally red uniforms, but grey uniforms in the ABC remake, instead of Nazis brown shirts. In "V", most of the world's citizens are pleased with the "Visitors," especially since the "Visitors" have provided cures for cancer and other diseases as well as technological advances. Hence, "It Can't Happen Here."Makes one wonder what else can't happen here.

Sinclair Lewis also wrote one of my favorite novels Elmer Gantry, which critics the American Evangelical movement. After reading Elmer Gantry written in 1926, one realizes the truism, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." When I taught "Church and Society" at Concordia University Ann Arbor, I always had the students watch the film Elmer Gantry which has a fabulous performance by Burt Lancaster. Elmer Gantry is worthy of a post of its own another time. In any case, Sinclair Lewis had more affect on American 20th century literature and culture than many realize.

So check out "V." Better yet, check out Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here." Deconstructionists Unite!

YouTube Clip of the Original "V" from the 1980s.

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