Mass media both reflect and influence popular culture. We recently wrote about gun culture and TV violence, and even more recently about the CIA and torture. Between the two we have the actual use of torture by the CIA and the use of torture as a plot point in the TV series 24.
The connection between the TV series and the justification of torture post-9/11 was clear-cut. A show I’ve been watching lately shows the connection between popular culture and the deep-state fantasies of djt and his followers.
I saw the first few episodes of the show The Blacklist when it first came out. In it, James Spader plays an uber-criminal who turns himself in to the FBI and then uses it to hunt down his enemies, a who’s who of the world’s greatest criminal masterminds; a whole subculture of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Moriartys, criminals we’ve never heard of but are behind the crimes of the century.
Watching it now I realize it quickly morphed into a show about the Deep State. By the end of season 2 (originally broadcast in 2015) the show is less about the various criminal masterminds and more about The Cabal, a shadowy group in high places which controls the world. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we have trouble knowing who are the Good Guys and who are part of the secret cabal. Trust the wrong person and they will have you killed and make the bodies disappear.
The trouble with conspiracy theories is that sometimes they are real. Or, as Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” [Or possibly, Buck Henry wrote the line for the screenplay. Sources differ and I haven’t read either lately. Quote Investigator doesn’t know where the line came from.] There is a well-documented history of people “disappearing” throughout the world – most infamously in Argentina where they were referred to as “Los Desaparecidos“. The FBI’s COINTELPRO was real, as was the CIA’s MK-ULTRA. (The former was a program to discredit and disrupt – to put it mildly – the New Left and the Civil Rights movement. The latter was a mind-control experiment using drugs on unwitting and unwilling test subjects.)
Former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren published The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government on January 5, 2016. Donald Trump ran for president that year with a pledge to “drain the swamp” and later alleged that a “deep state conspiracy” tried to prevent/overthrow his election in 2016. That same “deep state” “stole” the 2020 presidential election, “necessitating” the January 6, 2021 coup attempt.
Just as Mission: Impossible made overthrowing other governments acceptable in the cold-war 1960s, and 24 made torture acceptable in the post-9/11 early 2000s, The Blacklist made the deep state conspiracy theory acceptable in the djt 2010s. In 2019, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 70% of Republicans believed there was a deep-state conspiracy to overthrow djt. An ABC News poll in 2017 found that 48% of all in the US believed in a deep state (though only 58% of that 48% [ or 28% overall] thought it was a major problem).
We know that djt watches too much television. To what extent was he influenced by the TV show The Blacklist? To what extent did his followers develop their paranoid fantasies by watching the show? And why am I so out of touch with popular culture that it has taken me 7 years to see this? (I’m currently on season 3, 2015-16.)