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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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So why the 1 percent language? The private security angle? It seems an attempt to tap into something that most people know is going on—a deep sense of unrest with the state of inequality, a growing awareness of the fact that most of the world's wealth is controlled by a tiny few and most of its power structures—including the NYPD, standing so casually in that photo between a bank and an ostensible advertisement for an elite security firm—are designed to help them keep that wealth.

What's interesting is that they would seem to have chosen the wrong side if they're concerned about ratings. Cinemax might be counting on the idea that its viewers, people who make enough money to pay for premium cable channels, would tend to identify upward, but recent polls suggest that more people are leaning the other way.

The Revolution That Isn't

On the other end of the spectrum, NBC's Revolution would seem to be an attempt to corner the anti-authoritarian crowd, as it follows a band of post-apocalyptic survivors on the run from government agents. Its saturation marketing seems to have paid off, as reporters are noting that it's the top debut for a network show in three years, with 11.6 million people tuning in to watch the first episode.

But the show itself seems like a misnamed sci-fi Hunger Games knockoff. The apocalypse the characters have survived wasn't a revolution at all, but rather a sudden end to electricity (apparently, even on planes, which crash out of the sky at the same time as the power on the ground goes out, in a scene out of Newt Gingrich's worst paranoid EMP nightmares) . The politics of the show are muddled, but it does star a beautiful girl with a bow who likes hunting and dislikes authority. The characters begin the show, fifteen years after the electrical meltdown, in a little agrarian commune—our heroine is planting flowers under the hood of a rusted Prius.

So why “Revolution”? As Thomas Frank has noted, the word has been used for marketing for decades, since the good old days of Woodstock and the sixties. It captures youth rebellion and by co-opting it, defangs the possibility of real revolution. If “Revolution” is merely what happens when the power goes out, then all meaning is sucked out of the word.

But the popularity of this show's first night, of The Hunger Games, of the latest Batman movie with its echoes of class war (though once again, with the political elided into the personal, an uprising of the people turned into an age-old grudge against Bruce Wayne) reflects a change in the way people in the U.S. are thinking. As Chris Hayes noted in his new book Twilight of the Elites, Americans' faith in institutions is at an all-time low; as Mitt Romney seems intent to prove, our consciousness of the contempt our elites have for us is at an all-time high.

And so Monday, as occupiers scattered through the financial district, it seemed appropriate that the fall's TV shows seemed to be winking at them. They paraded past buses festooned with “Revolution” and fake ads for a private security company to defend against people like them, or rather the 1 percent's cartoon image of them. It's the same one reflected back during prime time, as the wealthy creators of high-profile TV shows seem to have a hard time grasping what's really going on, even as they choose words and symbols drawn from the protests in the streets.

 

 
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