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It's not easy being orange

By Jackson Murphy
web posted February 3, 2003

The United States has upgraded its terrorism threat meter to the dreaded orange level. I am not sure that I'll ever be able to watch cable news again. Now the stock markets are ticking beside the graphic for terrorism while CNN's Wolf Blitzer or whomever MSNBC has dragged off the local weather beat from Tacoma, Washington talk about it. But at least we are off yellow.

Perhaps the color-coded terror system is too complicated for everyone-what changes about your life when you go from yellow to orange? It wouldn't surprise me, considering that some people think the television show Alias is too complicated. Jodi Kantor, writing in Slate, suggests that, "viewers were having trouble doing the constant double agent math. So in the space of that one post-game hour, Sydney dismantled SD-6 in a single graceful bound, fell ardently into the arms of her cute CIA handler, and unearthed grave new problems to be solved."

Jennifer Garner in AliasWhat's to get? Jennifer Garner who plays high kicking spy Sydney Bristow as a sexy combination of James Bond and a Playmate. I smell ratings gold, and yet it has been ranked around 65th in the ratings field. The show isn't so bad, Jennifer Garner aside, but it gives into the same temptations that most spy stories and perceptions of spies that have haunted us for years.

They give the impression that that a single spy can actually save the world. Let me put it this way: James Bond would have been dead years ago if he was a real spy. Why? The guy doesn't do much spying-he usually blows stuff up, gets together with women, and drives fancy cars. Sure those cool gadgets, like laser watches, are fun but when the C.I.A. can use remote controlled airplanes equipped with hellfire missiles, who needs a watch?

Besides Jennifer Garner in all her beauty is really unsuited for tackling al-Qaida. She spends large portions of the show in lingerie or poolside in a bikini-and don't get me wrong, there ain't nothing wrong with that. Except that the chances she would be able to put those ‘assets' to work on Osama and his women hating thugs are slim at best.

I saw the newest spy movie The Recruit this week. What do they teach people in Hollywood? How is it exactly that at a time when spying has returned from a lengthy cold spell, and for good reasons, that no one knows how to make that era invoking story anymore?

David Edelstein, Slate's film critic, thinks a timely and more compelling movie would be a, "thriller that would explore, in the manner of Graham Greene or the pre-perestroika John Le Carré, the psychology of people with a fanatical dedication to keeping their country safe but a readiness to learn from the mistakes (both tactical and moral) of the Cold War. And there's something obscene about the way, on the eve of war, The Recruit exploits our urgent curiosity about the modern art of intelligence gathering, then high-tails it to Stupidville—to a world of crosses and double-crosses that exists only in the minds of studio heads and whorish screenwriters."

I pity the day when a studio head green lights a movie involving a protagonist that works in the Department of Homeland Security. It is just too much to contemplate. "Mr. Ridge, what color today sir?" I am on the edge of my seat already.

What is most interesting about the current climate on the home front? That as the terror threat rises, and war looks inevitable the general emotions of the people are steady-apprehensive to be sure, but steady. The Columbia shuttle disaster was the first post 9/11 tragedy and it was absorbed quickly and we are moving forward.

How else can you explain the pop phenomenon of Joe Millionaire, The Bachelorette, The Surreal Life, and, American Idol? These popular shows are escapists to be sure, but if I was Saddam or Osama I would be afraid that on the brink of a second war (the war on terror being one) the American people are watching comfort television. The American street is calm and well entertained.

Take American Idol specifically. It is basically The Gong Show with extremely cutting analysis. Imagine if after a United Nations Security Council meeting Simon Cowell, the bitter British judge from American Idol, gave France a piece of his mind? "My advice to you, France, if you want to pursue a career in international diplomacy is, don't." "Appalling. You represent everything I loathe about Europe." "Did you go to University? Get a lawyer and sue that institution and get your money back." Or better still if Simon was one of the weapons inspectors.

The terror threat code is orange, and life goes on.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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