TV UK, 17 April
War gets remade for TV.
The battle’s done/And we kinda won/So we sound our victory cheer/Where do we go from here?
‘Once More With Feeling’, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6
It has all been very disappointing. There has been no emphatic moment of victory, no surrender, no capture of the villain. Not even the spectacle of John Simpson liberating Baghdad in a dress. Yes, we got pictures of some statues being pulled down and attacked with shoes, but viewers are entitled to feel cheated. Never mind the lack of satisfying action – where was the plot, character, motivation? The whole show has been fundamentally shock-and-awed.
Thank God, then, for Gulf War II: the Director’s Cut (Channel 5, 9pm on Saturday). This opens with footage of the attack on the World Trade Center, skips Afghanistan altogether, and cuts straight to Bush and co talking tough about Iraq. For dramatic reasons, the year of tough talking is cut down to a week, after which America is forced into action by the kidnapping of Private Jessica. Flash, bang, wallop, and special forces are knocking down statues in Baghdad, and falling in love with liberated local women. George Bush’s moving victory speech is still being scripted, but insiders say ‘it really gets across his conviction and sense of purpose’.
Already the British Gulf War II Veterans’ Association has lodged a complaint about the film’s skirting over of the vital Battle for Basra. Meanwhile a two-part ITV mini-series about that campaign has had to be postponed because Sean Bean has other commitments, but Tony Blair’s moving victory speech has already been recorded. Insiders say ‘he really cries, like a baby’.
Those who prefer to stick to the facts might enjoy I Love Afghanistan (BBC2, Sunday at 10pm). Political and military celebrities including Stuart Maconie look back on the forgotten war, remembering the highlights and lowlights, including of course John Simpson liberating Kabul in a dress. A more serious documentary looking at the new democratic regime in Afghanistan has been postponed until events catch up with the script.
Meanwhile there has been a bidding war for the rights to show the next conflict. The BBC has won the coveted Syria contract, largely because of its commitment to read out viewers’ text messages, thereby involving the public and making the government feel better about the whole thing. ITN has got Iran, and Sky has puts its money on North Korea. Some commentators fear that the networks will each skew their coverage to put political pressure on the USA and UK to attack their chosen country, but military analysts insist that there is a proper system to decide that sort of thing, though nobody is sure what it is.
Of course, any further conflict is likely to be some way off. In the meantime, Channel 4 is advertising for people to take part in a new reality show called Axis of Evil. The actual content is top secret, but the producers say they are looking for people with real passion and a genuine commitment to the project. ‘Passion and commitment come first’, says executive producer Pedro Bazalgillo, ‘We’ll worry about the details later.’
There are rumours that Bazalgillo has been co-opted into a new transatlantic war cabinet to orchestrate future conflicts. Lights! Places! Now – once more with feeling!
Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).
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