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TV Drama on Iraq Tells Us More About Hollywood

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TV Drama on Iraq Tells Us More About Hollywood

By David Swanson

A significant percentage of the U.S. news stories about Iraq in the past couple of days have been stories about a fictional TV series set in Iraq "Over There," which debuted on the FX Network on Wednesday night. Much has been made of the idea that this is the first such series about a war to air during the actual fighting of that war (apparently we've already all forgoten the Jessica Lynch series and the Colin-Condi-Dick-and-Don Show).

Newspaper articles have noted with despair that Americans must now turn to (non-taxpayer funded) fiction for depiction of the blood and horror of war, because the TV news (in this country, unlike others) does not show it. But these reports have been less forthcoming about the shortcomings of our print media's war coverage and the shortcomings of "Over There," co-produced by Stephen Bochco, who brought us "Hill Street Blues."

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I watched the first episode before reading a word about it, but have since read a number of the reviews by reporters who've seen the first three episodes and interviewed the creators (or at least copied and pasted lines out of their press release).

The episode I watched was 40 minutes, and for the first 20 there was nothing positive I could say about it. After that, the only positive thing I could say was that it began to show war in a way that included injuries and deaths. That may prove a significant contribution, particularly if the fictional version opens the door to showing us the real thing.

The first episode briefly showed some soldiers departing the United States, and then focused on one battle in which this small band of men went up against a heavily fortified building in the middle of a desert. Those opposed to the war may view this sort of drama and complain that there is no information provided as to what the war (or even this battle) is about, no scenes depicting the decision makers who sent these kids to kill and die. I'd like to see that done, and I think it says something about our democracy that such a thing is unimaginable. But I think it's unfair to demand that of every war show.

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However, I have another complaint. "Over There," is clearly intended to have "no political point of view," and its creators have said as much. At the same time it's intended to be a serious drama that deals with tough issues. In episode one we see racial conflict, sexual conflict, and class conflict play out among the U.S. soldiers. We see conflicts between troops and their commanders and between soldiers and their families back home. We even see U.S. troops handicapping themselves by trying to avoid endangering an Al Jazeera reporter (a nice switch from real life incidents in which evidence strongly suggests that the US targeted and killed them). That's a lot of issues to pack into 40 minutes largely devoted to flying bullets. And it's done in a third-rate sort of way that clearly satisfies the reviewers.

But what is meant by having no political point of view? The view from one POLIS, or political state, is always different from that of another. This show (at least in episode one and the reviews suggest this doesn't change in the next two episodes) takes exclusively the point of view of the United States. The Iraqis in this show have no names and for the most part no faces, no stories, no families, no nicknames, no annoying and endearing habits, no motivations or regrets, no insecurities, no NOTHING.

If a reporter from Mars were to hover her spacecraft over a battle in the desert of Iraq, she would know nothing about what lies a distant leader told to start the war, but she would see the fighting between two groups of people of the same species, not one group of people and another group of dangerous objects or evil beings.

To its credit, episode one shows dead Iraqi soldiers on the ground, and shows American soldiers contemplating them. But one of the first Iraqis we see actually hit by a flying projectile is a man running toward us whose entire torso is blown away, so that a trunkless-headless-armless pair of legs briefly continues running toward us on its own. The laughter this will elicit from sadistic viewers can hardly be accidental.

Those inclined to see the horrors of war will see them here. Those inclined to think of foreigners as evil ones, as non-humans, will confirm that world-destroying prejudice. And by design.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews interviewed Bochco:

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"MATTHEWS: Who are the bad guys? Are they nationalist Iraqis? Are they Baathists? Are they outside Islamists who came into the country to fight us? How do you define the enemy in your series?

"BOCHCO: We are defining the enemy as those individuals who are trying to kill us, who are shooting at us. And we don't put names on them or labels on them. They are just trying to hurt us, and they are the bad guys."

Never mind that in the real world EVERYONE has a name and lots of labels. Never mind that one side's soldiers are not "good guys" and the other's "bad guys." Although one side may be fighting for its home, and the other may be fighting for corporate profits and empire, the soldiers are all human beings.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)

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