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2 Fall TV Shows Cashing In on Social and Economic Instability

How the language of a protest movement found its way into the fall TV lineup--and why it matters.
 
 
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One of the most circulated images from the September 17 Occupy actions in New York was this photo.

A handful of NYPD officers, standing in front of a TD Bank, at least one of them laughing, and a sign that reads “We're not for everyone. Just the 1% that matters.”

The sign purports to be for “Byzantium Security”, but is actually viral marketing for a new Cinemax TV show, Hunted.

Yet the ad, and its placement, seems too perfect. Where else would you expect an ad like this but on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street in Manhattan's financial district, an area that still holds the echoes of protests against the 1 percent? An area that was militarized on Monday as Occupy celebrated its birthday, with barricades set up and ID checkpoints at each corner of Wall Street and helicopters overhead providing a constant background beat. The poster plays to the idea that a police force bending over backward to protect the 1 percent isn't enough -- private security is also necessary.

Also on Monday, NBC debuted a new series, Revolution, posters for which have also been splashed across New York, on subway walls and even wrapped around tourists' double-decker buses (one of which cruised at regular intervals through the financial district as Occupiers danced and threw glitter and the police held perimeters outside of bank entrances).

As Occupy moves into its second year, what does it mean that its phrases and images seem to have already been co-opted not just by opportunistic politicians, but to serve as marketing for depoliticized TV shows?

Private Security, Public Space

“Borders shift, regimes crumble, networks fail. This has led to global unrest, with plummeting markets, violent protests. Chaos. A time of unparalleled opportunity,” says the video on the ByzantiumSecurity.com website, a marvel of 21st-century marketing for a company that doesn't exist. On the site you can also take a test to see if you're qualified to become an “operative,” one of their “one percent who matter.” “Elite protection for the world's elite,” the trailer promises.

The ad works because it's almost believable; after all, as I reported last summer, the world's richest are getting more and more paranoid and spending more and more to keep themselves safe. The unspoken context of the contempt that Mitt Romney displayed so well in the video that's been making the rounds this week is a deep fear that the poor will rise up not just in protest but in violence, not just with cardboard signs but with weapons. Even before Occupy, paranoia among the 1 percent had been growing; when Occupy hit, it reached a fever pitch. “Right now it’s like a college sit-in, demonstrating middle-class frustration, but it could eventually lead to violence and that is the scary next step,” billionaire investor (and Democrat) Jeff Greene told Forbes magazine in October.

So it seems appropriate that a private security company would be advertising in lower Manhattan during the Occupy anniversary. Though nearly the entirety of the violence reported on Monday was perpetrated by NYPD on protesters, that doesn't stop the fear.

But what seems out of touch about the advertising is that it's drawing on the audience's desire to identify with the 1 percent, or at least to want to work for them. It elides the difference between the “1 percent” who are the elite and the “elite security” who protect them.

Meanwhile, the actual trailer for the show focuses on the security company's “best operative,” a young woman who survived an attempt on her life and wants her job back. It feels more like a generic Bourne Identity-type thriller than a Lifestyles of the Rich and Well Protected episode.

 
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