The TV Show “V”: What’s The Use of Futuristic Sci-Fi That Only Reinforces Tired Stereotypes?

By Tracy Kronzak Nov 11, 2009

For starters, I’d like everyone in the room who thinks that ABC’s remake of the early-1980s miniseries, V, is a critique of the Obama Administration to please stand up. Thank you. Now, please walk toward the nearest exit and leave. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at ABC’s new take on V. As an avid science fiction reader and viewer, I believe there are two kinds of sci-fi: that which exists for the sake of entertainment, and that which exists as social critique. V is very entertaining. But this is a show with absolutely no politics of its own – everything is borrowed and stolen from a myriad of hot-button social issues. Worse, instead of using the show as a vehicle to challenge our understanding of things like religion, terrorism, and politics, V simply rehashes the same tired old narratives. America loves a good sleeper cell, and that’s exactly what V delivers. It’s not enough that the show opens by asking the viewer “Where were you on 9/11?” moments before the gargantuan ships appear over cities across the globe, we also learn that the Visitors have been among us all along in “sleeper cells” that have infiltrated the highest levels of finance and government. Most disappointing is the series use of its (few) multiracial characters. Anna (Morena Baccarin), the supreme Visitor leader spends a lot of time being good looking and staring thoughtfully at humanity. Morris Chestnut (Boyz N the Hood) is a successful financial executive, but of course he didn’t get there on his own merit: he alludes to a shady past (“I’m not that man, anymore.”) and is ultimately revealed to be a rogue Visitor plant. We’re supposed to sympathize with the resistance because Visitors are like, totally hot, curing all kinds of medical illnesses, and are, “of peace, always.” So they must have some kind of nefarious plan. If this sounds like orientalism, it’s because it is Orientalism – at least in its most empirical sense: the Visitors are exotic and profess peace, but with sleeper cells everywhere ready to spring to radical action to destroy our world as we know it. So we’ve got to destroy them first. If V is a critique of anything, it’s of our inability to move beyond the failures our own understanding of the world we live in. What bothers me most is that while it might make good TV, it misses the chance to be great TV with good politics – opting for the usual Hollywood race-baiting and fear-mongering. Every character on V is a stereotype, including the Visitors themselves. The original V miniseries in 1983/84 asked viewers to consider the question of how fascism takes hold and the holocaust happens without objection. Sadly, the contemporary V only asks viewers how much they believe in the absolute correctness of American nationalism.