Like most people, I have my favorite TV programs which I try not to skip, and occasionally even set aside certain pressing obligations so I can channel in. And like many people, I ask only two things of a TV show, as criteria of admissibility into a crowded personal schedule: (1) if it reflects the world beyond the screen, it should strive to do so truthfully; and (2) if it creates its own autonomous realm, it should seek to render it interesting, coherent, and diverting, impervious to the driving concerns of a frenzied world.
A few years back, I was an enthusiastic fan of two programs in particular which, in their different ways, satisfied my twin touchstones. Star Trek: The Next Generation, with its memorable cast of characters — Data, Q, Mr. Worf — and the accomplished Patrick Stewart as the inimitable Captain Jean-Luc Picard, was a must-see. The other, I’m not ashamed to confess, was Count Duckula, starring a ketchup-blooded, Daffy Duckish vampire holed up in a mountaintop castle in Transylvania, attended by his faithful butler Igor and his devoted maid Nanny.
Sesame Street was good fun too, featuring its own genial vampire, the Count — until the parodic “gay issue” intruded, alleging Bert and Ernie as lovers, as in the Saturday Night Live skit or Peter Spears’ film Ernest and Bertram. But Count Duckula and Star Trek remained my TV cynosures, free of didactic or revisionist agitations.
Not that I was an unreformed junkie, but I was always tempted to model my behavior and speech patterns after Captain Picard. When someone knocked on my study door, I would utter an imperious “Come!” Issuing an instruction or request, I would add the tag “Make it so” or “Engage.” As for Count Duckula, I envied him his Igor, who would invariably respond to a summons or command in a reassuring and compliant baritone with “Yes, young master.” I’ve always wanted to have an Igor of my own, a “batman” as he used to be known, who would address me unfailingly as “young master.” It has a consoling ring to it.
Star Trek and Count Duckula have regrettably been decommissioned, but their place has been taken by NCIS, a de rigueur event every Tuesday evening at eight. As with Star Trek, the characters — Tony, Abby, McGee, Ziva — and their convoluted relationships are absolutely delightful, and Mark Harmon in the role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, leader of the Major Crimes Response Team at the Washington Navy Yard, imbues his role with the same charisma and authority as did Patrick Stewart his. A paragon of reticence, courage, and loyalty, Gibbs too, like his fictional predecessor, furnishes a template for emulation. I’ve also been checking out the spin-off production, NCIS: Los Angeles, to see what bounties it has on offer, if any.
I regard these viewing practices of mine as harmless and insouciant, brief timeouts from the serious business of life and the exigencies of writing. They constitute a separate zone of artless indulgence on which reality does not impinge or, alternatively, in which reality is not mutilated. That is, until recently, when the awaited Tuesday arrived and I settled in to watch an episode of NCIS called “Faith.” I soon found myself growing increasingly uneasy as the plot developed. A Marine who had converted to Islam had been murdered at prayer; in the course of the investigation, it turned out the culprit was his younger brother, who committed the crime in order to salvage the family honor, for the father, a former military officer, was now a Christian minister. A curious inversion seemed to be occurring in which Muslim honor killing, usually targeting a daughter who is deemed to have violated the tenets of the faith, was now chiastically transposed into a Christian honor killing, targeting a son who had embarrassed his observant family.
Troubled in mind, I proceeded to watch NCIS: Los Angeles, which occupied the next hour slot. This episode was called “Brimstone” and, sure enough, a strangely similar story unfolded. A group of wounded soldiers recently returned from Iraq were being systematically eliminated by a mysterious serial killer. Suspicion fell on a Muslim soldier, a member of the unit who had been disfigured by a roadside bomb and who had gone into hiding. But as the investigation continued, it ultimately became clear that our suspect had been falsely accused and that the killer was a crazed Christian evangelist and fellow soldier, seeking redemption for an imagined battlefield atrocity by blowing up his comrades.
Perhaps this deviant “reading” of the world is now to be expected. Indeed, the anti-Christian animus has gone to such extremes that, just recently, an eight-year-old Massachusetts schoolboy was suspended from class and, according to the newspaper report, “ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after drawing a figure of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross.” Christianity is obviously no longer the purported “religion of peace,” having been replaced in the Western imagination by a vigorous competitor. In the warped mentality of our multicultural age, it seems that violence is a property that accrues primarily to Christians.
As we see, the two NCIS installments concur with such ludicrous preconceptions, acquitting the Muslim characters and specifically singling out a brace of Christian malefactors. In fact, in the second case, it is the Christian who straps on a suicide vest. More to the point, the two programs were aired in the same approximate timeframe as the Fort Hood tragedy implicating a devout Muslim, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who slaughtered thirteen of his army compatriots and fellow citizens. There is no denying his actual guilt, but the MSM, the FBI, and important military figures, like General George Casey, have moved to launder Hasan’s motives. Despite the palpable evidence that he was acting in conformity with what he believed to be the legitimate principles of the Islamic faith, stipulating violence against the kufar, or infidel — for which, be it said, there is abundant Koranic warrant — the attempt has been made to present Hasan to the American public as a kind of loose cannon. He is duly portrayed as a disturbed individual unable to assimilate the experiences recounted by the soldiers it was his duty, as a psychiatrist, to treat, counsel, and presumably heal. And there is sympathy for his supposed recoiling from the prospect of his imminent deployment to Afghanistan.
Thus, Tom Gjelten, a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition, invented a new syndrome out of thin air, opining that Hasan, who had never himself faced enemy gunfire, must have been suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder. Gjelten was serious, unlike satirist Mark Steyn, who, in his healthy and deflationary way, coined the term “pre-post-traumatic stress disorder” to put such imbecility into perspective. The agenda behind so preposterous an absolution of an unrepentant killer is clear: Major Hasan may have perpetrated a heinous deed, but an exemption must be made for his state of mind. More importantly, Islam is let off the hook. The intention is to avoid an ostensible anti-Muslim “backlash.” This amounts to minimizing the danger of militant jihad, whose roots are sunk deep in the Koran and the hadith, and to lay the blame elsewhere, a project that has grown into a veritable megacorp. Yet, as David J. Rusin no doubt rightly foresees, “the pusillanimous reactions to the bloodshed by government officials are laying the groundwork for future carnage.”
And the entertainment world has become ever more complicit in the coming debacle. Hollywood long ago joined this reverse crusade. In television, however, Canada got the jump on the U.S. with Little Mosque on the Prairie, a CBC sitcom featuring a mosqueful of prattling pseudo-Muslims who have nothing in common with their real-world counterparts. (None of the actors is Muslim.) Little Mosque’s stated purpose, according to its creator, Zarqa Nawaz, is to put the “fun back into fundamentalism.” The real story, of course, involves not some charming little mosque in Mercy, Saskatchewan, where innocuous nitwits cavort about trying desperately to put the fun back into fundamentalism, but, as Salim Mansur has written in the Western Standard, a situation in which “Canada has received its share of [Saudi] funding for mosques built across the country, where Wahhabi preaching prevails and Muslim dissidents are excluded.” This is the reality that such unreconstructed drivel as Little Mosque works to camouflage and rehabilitate. In this respect, the U.S. appears to be going the way of my own country.
For it looks like the fix is in. The message has not only percolated through the official organs of opinion and analysis but, as noted, has even brewed itself into the television entertainment industry, like Gibbs’ cherished Caf-Pow. To begin with, reality is being structurally distorted. As if this were not bad enough, we have also been deprived of what the ancients called a praetum felicitatis, a region of innocent enjoyment immune to the rugosities of a convulsive world, and which has now been ruthlessly politicized. Star Trek and Count Duckula were fortunate to be telecast in a less contentious time and remain as fond, unsullied memories. But NCIS and its spinoff have been ideologically contaminated. The two benchmarks I mentioned above have been effectively vitiated, taking with them my Tuesday evening of wholesome recreation.
Count Duckula was able to return from his adventures to his Transylvanian haven before the menacing hour that all good vampires dread and Captain Picard could stand his own when he had to, even against the Federation he dutifully served. These were characters who resisted the temptation — or the threat — of becoming other than what they were or desired to be. Similarly, these two programs refused to be subverted by the various forms of external interference or conventional mendacity. Duckula remained consistent with its purpose of providing children — and grown-up children — with good-natured amusement; Star Trek did not pursue a political agenda. But it now appears that Gibbs and his congeners may have succumbed to the insidious blandishments of a politically correct ideology. The sigla NCIS is appropriate. In today’s pandemic atmosphere, No Commitment Is Secure.
How long, we might wonder, before Family Guy goes halal?