The E-Ring

Americans don't read as much as they should or used to. The mass media rules the day for cultural information transfer. Pop culture is a good window into the collective conscious of what the media elites think we, the benighted masses, should be thinking. It was in this spirit that I watched the new television show E-Ring on its debut. It could be an intriguing concept show, to see what goes on in the inner workings of the Pentagon: beautiful women, handsome and virile men, glorious action, adventure, trampling of the constitution, ours and others, plus lots of spending of the taxpayers money on technology and folly. Just what the hell are they doing with our $500 billion dollars a year? The show did not disappoint, and as a cultural indicator it should be taken as a warning.

The premise of the show is that a young and noble officer is assigned to work in special/covert ops under a curmudgeon-like rebel Colonel. Benjamin Bratt plays the handsome major freshly assigned to the Pentagon from Afghanistan. A major is an officer senior enough to not be naïve and inexperienced, yet does not have enough rank, connections and baggage to be corrupted.  Dennis Hopper plays the Colonel, from which the irony just drips. Hopper's office is a large vault, a relic of the cold war. The show opens with a beautiful and completely nude young women wound around Bratt as he gets out of bed for his first day of work at the ring. Beautiful and nude enough to authenticate the virility of the protagonist Bratt. Later in the show we learn she is a CIA analyst that he has rescued from certain peril, always an endearing trait of beautiful young women, especially when you want them to take their clothes off.

The premise of episode one is the CIA has a valuable asset, a spy in China, about to be arrested, who has signaled she wants extraction. The extraction count down clock starts to build the tension. She is, of course, a beautiful Chinese young women, running, hiding, wearing disguises, carrying the ubiquitous microchip full of secret (an old chip with 8 leads, enough for 256 bits of data, not quite adequate for a CAD model of a stealth submarine, but hey we’re in fantasy land here so why let reality intrude). She must evade the stern Chinese police, drive her fancy Japanese sports car to the beach where a team of Navy SEALS will extract her to safety.

Bratt's first meeting with Hopper is a confrontation in which a new officer brushes aside bureaucratic decorum to intercede on the CIA's behalf to get Hopper to spring a Navy submarine that happens to be in the neighborhood to do the deed. During the first half of the show Bratt and Hopper are getting shut down by the bureaucracy that does not want to approve the risky, costly and potentially hazardous mission. Cost benefit analysis is actually briefly discussed, about 15 seconds, as approval for the op is denied.

The best part of the show is where Hopper tells Bratt to give it up, he needs to learn how the Pentagon works before tilting at these windmills. His words are basically that you have to get the SecDef's (Secretary of Defense) love and everybody is frantically queuing for it, but that love is actually funding, so keep you mouth, shut your head down and maybe if you get along you'll go along, i.e. get some love. It's the only moment of truth to be had here.

Bratt goes home to his beautiful CIA analyst and has a confrontation with her about honor, duty, not leaving a fallen comrade behind, all the clichés one would expect. She is alive because he came back for her, he is alive because his country came back for him, and thus he cannot leave the Chinese operative behind. He pedals his bicycle, minus the seat, which was stolen at the Pentagon, back to the Ring to set things straight. The potentially sodomizing seat pole is quite the ridiculous visual someone went to a lot of trouble to put in. What a metaphor for his career since he is taking on the most ferocious, take no prisoners bureaucracy on the planet, actually they take quite a few prisoners, but that's a story for another day. No matter, his cause and determination will carry the fray. Bratt confronts Hopper with the same no one left behind soliloquy he spewed on the analyst, pumps him up, they call the up CIA, the joint chief, SecDef etc. A big meet is to be held at another E ring high tech dungeon/conference room, where Bratt gives the four stars the no one left behind speech for the third time, thumbs up all round, and the Navy sub, the one with the 12 foot ceilings, is dispatched.

The music wails as the extraction clock counts down, gets to zero and turns red on screen, cueing the audience that a climax is approaching. The Chinese spy, now with shorn hair and a beard is frantically talking on a cell phone in Chinese, waving a red flashlight hoping for extraction. A Chinese spy satellite suddenly veers off course to fly over the beach area where it could foil the escapade by discovering the submarine! A Predator drone is dispatched to get a closer look even though it's night (no problem we've got thermal vision). The SEALS get to the beach, grab the spy, learn of approaching red dots from the Predator, get ready to fight when it is discovered it's a child and another women, apparently wanting extraction as well. They all hustle off to the submarine, the four stars are kept abreast by a live feed, high fives, back slapping all around, and a job well done. This is story telling of sub-teen sophistication.

This show should be discomfiting to freedom loving people everywhere. It explicitly states that a Chinese "Stealth" submarine would be a threat to oil from the Middle East which is an un-provable assertion. It could tip the balance of power in the region, another un-provable assertion. The show also explicitly stated that the Chinese are growing consumers for oil, and will compete for it on the open market. This is just dense as everybody competes in the market, that's why it exists. If that fails they will compete for it militarily with technology that only the U.S. should be allowed to have, just the same old poor excuse we have had for Middle Eastern adventurism since Roosevelt was president, which is an oxymoron since we are the only country actively pursuing that policy, the Chinese soldiers are demonized by wearing the same black hats, heavy coats and machine guns the wardrobe department trotted out caricaturing the Soviet bears for four decades. The symbolism is pedantic, unimaginative, and boring.

The supporting facts are all the opposite of what is portrayed: the Chinese do not have spy satellites, nuclear submarines, stealth technology, an offensive military, or policy designs on the Middle East. They are, however, profligate savers and ambitious capitalists, who lend us the money necessary to cover our deficits which we in turn waste on the Pentagon. If we turned off the cash hose to those spendthrifts we would have no deficits and could not afford all of our other Federal cash hemorrhages.

The frightening premise of the show is that American power can and should be used, whenever and wherever it is deemed appropriate by the powers that be. This is scary. We are proudly shown this power being manipulated by an idealistic junior officer on his first day at work. Who knows what he'll do once he really gets settled in? The fact that it is on a prime time TV show replete with all glamorizing imagery, is designed to inculcate the acceptance of a militarized society into the American psyche. Given the last 5 years, and a trillion dollars of taxpayer's capital that has been wasted, the thousands of lives lost pointlessly, this is a sterile and barren production devoid of value except as a warning to the citizenry at large.

Maybe the producers are closet libertarians, sending us a subliminal message to stop this criminal nonsense, but I doubt it. This show is a warning like Mein Kampf was, on what is to come, and like Mein Kampf it seeks to make the cause noble, by dressing it up in poor rhetoric, bad logic and a crude emotional presentation of causes and effects that are disjoint.

Fortunately, this show is so bad, with banal dialog, weak character development and a complete lack of realistic protagonists that in the coming weeks an assault on all the usual suspects' will occur: out will be trotted nuclear armed terrorists, drug lords and cruel dictators with the concomitant trampling of territorial boundaries and ethical behavior along the way. Ultimately the story lines will desiccate, because they are so threadbare, tired, and worn until the inevitable fall in ratings doom this, and that's the good news. On the down side this turd might sprout wings, take off, and become a recruiting commercial for the young, and a validation to the populace at large of what has been going on right under our noses for the last century, regardless of how inaccurate and poorly done it is. Thus, giving cultural credibility and justification to the whole stinking mess. I sure hope not.

It should not survive more than one season, but if it does Dennis Hopper will have to stay stoned to get through multiple seasons of this intellectual drivel.

September 24, 2005