Saturday, October 11, 2014

Under the Dome with Only Microsoft for Company

Confession: I have not read Under the Dome, but I have watched it. It is so very nearly bad enough to be wonderful, but not quite. Anyway, I was curious how the book compared, so I read James Parker's New York Times review, which includes plot details such as President Obama writing a letter to the town's dome-entrapped citizens and a second selectman seizing control of the police department, ready to enact his right wing agenda now that de facto secession from the U.S. government has occurred. Parker closes:

     The coalition that forms against him includes a journalist, a librarian, an Iraq
     veteran, some acned skateboarders and an English professor from
     Massachusetts who (rather wonderfully) has just edited an issue of
     Ploughshares. Get ready, libruls, King seems to be saying: If the dome
     comes down, you’re going to need one another. 

In other words, it's the then-present day of 2009, a year after Obama's election, and it's recognizably our world, complete with our president, our war, and our literary magazines. It's got guts and gore, but it also has a political viewpoint.

In contrast, on the TV show the Iraq War veteran is retained, as well as the power-hungry government official, but there's nothing Iraq or Tea Party-specific about either of them. And the Zuzu's petals of the whole thing, Ploughshares? It's not there either, George. Yet we're in our world, product-placement-wise, from Microsoft to Prius, and others have written about the strange and unlikely ways these products have been introduced on the show. I know I'm writing seriously about a not-serious show and a book I haven't, ahem, read, but I think it's worth noting that Bad Stephen King Adaptation + Microsoft doesn't only = cringe-inducing viewing. It's that some proper nouns have ascended while others have been erased. It's Microsoft - Politics which creates such an empty vessel.

Not every story based in our world needs to ground itself in our real political names; of course alternate-reality narratives and straight-up allegories can offer politically and culturally astute commentary. I just think it's interesting when we keep the signifiers without the significance; for example, keeping the Iraq War veteran in name only. What does this accomplish? What box does it check off? Is it just a shorthand for, "This character is an experienced badass who has been through the shit"? Does the director think, "Let's show a photo of him with his Army buddies and their guns and call it a day"? How do actual Iraq War veterans feel about such characters?

I'm writing this late at night/early in the morning, so maybe my brain is fuzzified, but I'm also wondering now about political cameos on shows such as The Good Wife. Is this another example of a signifier without significance?

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