Sunday, June 05, 2005

Arrested Agenda

Comments at Jump the Shark aren't usually very interesting -- that's part of the reason the site isn't all that great, despite the popularity of its founding phrase; there's just not enough interesting discussion of when and how shows jump the shark -- but sometimes it's worth reading for a particularly insane or wrongheaded comment. Here's one that just caught my eye in the comments section for Arrested Development, where a reader complains about the show's jokes about the Iraq war:

I find it even less amusing that members of our military tortured and humiliated prisoners, which has also been given a few zippy lines. On top of which, in the 3/6 episode, a reference was made to Gob's half-assed wife having engaged in torture "on a dare". Essentially, Fox is using the show to push a political point of view - that the perpetrators were just a few bad apples not acting under official orders. That was it - I turned it off & don't intend to watch it again.

Wow. But actually, this reflects a point of view I've heard expressed a number of times in a number of places recently: that because of the well-known political agenda of the Fox News channel, everything on the Fox broadcasting network should also be assumed to be part of the same political agenda. Putting Arrested Development in that category is pretty nuts, particularly given the characters' rampant similarities to the Bush family, but I suspect we'll be hearing more and more things like this as time goes on; if a Fox show is cancelled, you'll hear rumors that it was cancelled because it didn't fit the Murdoch agenda, while other shows will be accused of being part of the Murdoch propaganda machine.

The reason this interests me is that it makes me wonder whether Murdoch's gift for branding is starting to backfire on him. The Fox network was a triumph of branding, so much so that they've managed to shrewdly retain a certain outsider, "rebel" status in the public mind even after almost twenty years on the air. Fox News, unbearable as it is, is also a supremely successful effort in branding, of figuring out how to do the same old thing but pitch it toward people who thought CNN was part of a liberal conspiracy. But now the Fox News brand is so famous that it's starting to affect the ability of the Fox network to maintain its own brand; the more Fox is seen as the company of the political establishment, the harder it will be for it to seem hip. Worse, every show they do on Fox will start to be analyzed through a political lens even though the non-news network doesn't appear to have any political agenda. Maybe I'm way off here, but I suspect that in a few years we'll start to see that Murdoch, previously the master of balancing politically-slanted news with apolitically lurid entertainment, will start to find that his entertainment is starting to be viewed politically. He's losing the ability to compartmentalize.

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