|IT'S DOUBTFUL EVEN A COKE COULD BRING THE WORLD TOGETHER TODAY|
|Robert Culp, transforming to an alien.|
Once upon a time the Mad Men of the early '70s told us that buying and sharing a Coke could "teach the world to sing in perfect harmony." Today, it seems as if this country has reached a point where serious people ask if the various rifts now existing can ever be overcome, if there is anything that can transcend the bitterness and hatred that appears to have split us along almost every fault line one can imagine - religious, political, ideological, racial, socio-economic, sexual, what have you. (Have I left anything out?)* We seem to be operating with no common definitions, no agreed-upon standards, not only disagreeing about the nature of good and evil but whether or not they even exist, and having contempt for those who disagree. At a time like this, considering the events of the last week or so, it seems like a good occasion to take a brief, unscientific look at how television has answered this question.
*Even Coca-Cola and other soft drinks are divisive nowdays, thanks to the desire of the health police to cure Americans of their obesity.
I use the term "unscientific" advisedly, because in fact the main instigators in such scenarios are often scientists, who fall into two main categories: the benign scientists, who react in a way similar to what we see in this episode, by creating a man-made threat which they hope will bring the world together, usually against the threat of nuclear war between the superpowers. The other scenario we see often casts the scientists as less benign, as elitists who feel their superior knowledge and ability entitles them to make unilateral decisions in the name of "peace," decisions which often involve breaking a few eggs, so to speak, in the service of a greater good.
You can see these scenarios play out usually in science fiction, in various TV series such as Doctor Who and Star Trek, or on shows like MST3K in which the cheesier sci-fi movies on the subject can be seen. What runs through both of these versions is this: the elitist scientists know best, certainly better than the population at large, and their machinations usually fail. When you do see people come together to fight a common threat, it's usually in a situation such as The War of the Worlds, where there actually is a threat to the world from an outside force. Even here though, the scientists - in this case Gene Barry - are reduced to "praying for a miracle" rather than using their own knowledge to exploit the situation. The lesson here is that if we want to take our cue on how to overcome our national divide from television, we're in big trouble.
I'm being partly facetious here, but it does bring up the question as to what precisely would bring people together, whether even a common threat would be perceived as such, or - in the immortal words of The Simpsons newscaster Kent Brockman - a sizable number would welcome their new insect overlords. Probably a good number would see them as an improvement over what we have today.
If this is true, if there is no assassination or tragedy or threat that would bring most people together - and off the top of my head, I can't think of one - then it portends dire consequences for the nation. It means we'd probably be looking at a scenario similar to that portrayed in the TV series Revolution, that of the country splitting into several separate and distinct nations.
This is the outcome I personally think is more likely than the others, but the process through which this is achieved is by no means guaranteed to be a peaceful one. We might well be looking at North and South: Book 4, for all any of us know.
The point to all this is not to put this blog in the position of taking sides, or to have its readers take sides. It's merely to look back at the - what? Naivety? - of those scientists in September 1963. Yes, their concerns were primarily international rather than just about the United States, but today we'd see the idea that the world, or the country, could actually be unified by a common threat as laughable, Utopian, far-fetched. And, perhaps in a way, charming. Would that it were that easy - of all the differences that TV has shown between then and now, this one might be the most stark.
Perhaps The War of the Worlds had it right, that praying for a miracle is all that is left. You probably couldn't show that on TV, though.