For all the hype over Fox's new pattern revealing show "Touch," apparently no one can decipher the horrendous combination of new age, code-breaking mysticism with good old fashioned authoritarianism.
Of course Fox has a history of authoritarian shows like 24 but this manages to hit a new low by incorporating liberal seeming, new age-y ideas as a smoke screen for the truth. I hope to clear it.
The show features Martin played by Kiefer Sutherland, a struggling father who has a mute son, Jacob, that is able to see hidden codes and patterns within the universe and who, through the help of his father, attempts to align them in the proper way. In fact Martin isn't the only one struggling, everyone on the show is in a downright desperate state until the all-seeing Jacob unlocks the mysteries of the universe and sets the people back into a harmony and happiness.
The show thus begins by adopting a concept eerily similar to Holism, the idea that there is a natural balance and harmony in the universe which, if something goes wrong, must be out of sync and therefore fixed.
Recently popularized by the Adam Curtis documentary, the phrase "Holism" was coined by the British imperial ruler of South Africa, Jan Smuts. He saw the natural "harmony" as that of blacks in South Africa being segregated and ruled by whites. Everyone is fixed in their rightful "natural" space so to speak.
So what is the hidden order that needs to be restored? In the pilot there are hints of progressiveness, no doubt intentional as not to alienate the audience. We see in the pilot a boy in Iraq who under unfortunate circumstances needs to act as suicide bomber to help pay for his family. After an unlikely series of events, he connects with an Irish telephone operator who helps him pay without blowing himself up.
It can't possibly be a coincidence that a person from Ireland, an entity that was occupied and oppressed by Britain, assists an Iraqi, a country which until recently was also occupied (and incidentally at one point controlled by Britain as well). The "natural order" moral: don't blow yourself up, struggle for your freedom non-violently. OK fair enough, I dig that.
But what happens in the second episode hits absolute new lows in love of authority. The episode amounts to a celebration of reasserting paternal authority. In fact, it does this in three intertwined stories.
* An Indian man whose father neither loved nor respected him "does his duty" by traveling his father's ashes to America.
* A Russian mobster re-unites with his son by lying that he doesn't kill people (I'm serious).
* A flight attendant re-unites with her deadbeat dad, justified of course, by the fact that the father is dying from cancer.
Notice not only do they make three blatant instances of fathers reasserting their paternal authority but it's suggested that in all cases, the fathers are either poor parents or borderline abusive. Thus the moral is, we must love our fathers even if they are abusive, for this is what the codes of nature tell us.
In fact the level of fundamentalism is astonishing. Martin must "blindly" follow his son's messages, no matter how insane or how little sense they make, even if it means being arrested. Jacob is the young elder, his message must be obeyed and observed for the greater good, no matter how incomprehensible the message. In fact, we don't need to look far in history to see how mysticism was abused by powerful people.
While a popular example is the Iranian 1979 Revolution, a lesser known one is that of Imperial Japan. During the Second World War, the vast majority of Zen Buddhist priests were, in fact, supportive of the war effort and used their techniques to assist the soldiers in killing their enemies. What is almost universally considered a peaceful religion was twisted and manipulated into psychological training for war. As was translated from the famous book Zen at War one of the most famous priests put it in these terms:
(4) soldiers must, without the slightest hesitation or regret, offer up their lives to the state in carrying out such religion-sanctioned punishment; and (5) discharging one’s duty to the state on the battlefield is a religious act.Of course these were dire circumstances drawn from co-opted popular religions, the idea that a Fox show will lead millions into the throws of authoritarianism is rather silly. But the fact remains, a show that promotes magical thinking in deference to authority is unsettling to say the least.
A final to point to consider is the odd choice of Kiefer Sutherland as the protagonist. While renowned in 24 as Jack Bauer, the unstoppable CTU agent, in Touch he is a washed out and vulnerable father. In some strange way, he is almost the perfect model of paternalism, a father strong enough to kill and torture terrorists in one show and yet nurturing enough to tend to a reclusive mute boy in another.
Surly this can't be a coincidence like the patterns in the show, and suggests something deeper than just a drama about deciphering codes.