War - not just a TV special
BRONXVILLE, N.Y. — Every time I turn on the TV, I hear that the war with Iraq is fact. The latest invasion date I heard was March 3. Maybe it's already listed in TV Guide. It seems as if everyone's against Saddam Hussein, but nobody's in favor of fighting, except maybe the folks at the Pentagon, and that's an occupational hazard. At least the battle won't begin until the February sweeps are over. No one wants to bump "Will and Grace" for coverage of the Invasion. Apparently this year the sweeps are the lead-in to the really big show: "Live From Baghdad, Episode 2."
Now some say we're invading Iraq to fight terrorism, others contend it's all about oil. I, for one, feel we're doing it as a natural extension of two crazy phenomena of our, dare I call it, culture. I blame the whole shebang on video games and reality TV.
Back when I was a kid, TV shows were all about fantasy. "Fantasy Island," "My Mother the Car," "My Favorite Martian," "I Dream of Jeannie," you get the picture. Nothing on TV was real - which made the nightly war shown on the nightly news seem all the more jarring. One minute Jeannie was turning her master into a chicken, the next minute we were invading Cambodia. It made for very clear delineation between the unreal and the real.
Also back when I was a kid, games were acoustic, not electronic. We played Monopoly and, yes, Risk (the point was world domination) and Stratego (sink your opponents' battleships), but these were board games, which I suspect kids today would call bored games. Nowadays it's all about Nintendo and Game Cube and how many enemy agents you can kill, maim, or dismember before you lose your turn.
And to make matters worse, during the past 10 years or so, TV, long considered the true opiate of the people, has slid farther from the silly unreal into the grisly real: Like "Cops," "America's Most Wanted," "Survivor," "Fear Factor," "American Idol," "The Mole," "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," "The Amazing Race" - shows filled with real people (other wise known as perpetrators), crazy people (other wise known as contestants), and funny dysfunctional people (otherwise known as the Osbournes).
Then there are the never-ending talk shows with sleazy people rambling on about icky things. A whole generation has grown up watching these programs. To them, reality is fantasy. To them, fantasy is reality. To them, a war with Iraq is probably just another cool show to watch with bombings, pathos, and drama. It will have theme music, favorite stars (Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer) commenting on the horrors of war while looking fabulous. It will all play like a big TV special. Maybe a miniseries. Probably a dramady. (A few funny touches by Al Roker to keep the mood light.)
The networks no doubt have shows in the works that will capitalize on the war with Iraq. "The Bachelorette in Baghdad" (she hands a rose to Hussein, and he goes!), "GI Joe the Millionaire" (he gives worthless stock options to the enemy - they feel our pain), "Star Search and Destroy" (amateurs compete to sing on a USO tour).
Only it isn't a TV show. It's a war. Lives will be lost. Real lives, not Game Boy lives. Real damage will be done, not X-Box damage. And TV will be there to record it all, to interview bereaved families with a close-up of tears, to make it all seem like another soap opera episode. Maybe we could call it "As the World Explodes." Or we could have a last-minute rewrite where, instead of killing their troops and ours, we come up with an alternative ending - or rather beginning. We stop talking war, we start thinking peace.
It's not much of a show for prime-time TV but it does have a catchy title. We could call it "The Bold and the Beautiful."
• Madora McKenzie Kibbe is a freelance writer.