I thought that, having rewatched the original V, it might be worth reflecting on it before the giant hovering spaceships of the new version completely obliterate it from my mind. I figured that in a compare and contrast kind of way, I could consider some of the key themes in V from the 1980s and then see how they compare with the new version, 25+ years on. I love this stuff – it makes for fun theses….
So key themes:
Scientists: One of the most important aspects of the original V was the position of scientists. Scientists, including social scientists like anthropologists and ethnographers, were considered by the visitors to be a major threat to them, presumably because they might be able to reveal the fact that the visitors were not who they claimed to be. It is the scientists who form the core initial group of the resistance and the leader of the resistance fighters is Dr Julie Parrish a young doctor and biological researcher. There is the very strong analogy which is drawn between the treatment of scientists and that of Jews in Germany during World War II. It is particularly interesting to see the positioning of scientists in V particularly given how often scientists are cast in the role of the bad guy, or crazy impractical person. Some scientists become collaborators, but this isn’t dwelt on and it is clear that they have been “converted” by the visitors – subject to a form of brain washing which is revealed as they all become left handed. While the importance of scientists diminishes a little in The Final Battle, they still remain significant, and there is a lot of emphasis on the need for scientific equipment and so forth. This approach to scientists is also fascinating given the right wing politics which dominated the US at the time of the production of the original V were not particularly science-driven. Religious conservatism was dominant and in a number of areas it was a time where science was secondary to religion. But it was also a great time of growth in scientific discovery, particularly with the re-invigouration of the US space program.
Journalists: There are two takes on journalists which are particularly strong in V: first we have our putative hero, Mike Donovan. The opening scenes of the original mini-series see him filming fighting in Central America, itself an interesting comment on the politics of the era itself, given the themes of invasion, government infiltration and resistance. Mike is clearly a man of action, but also of integrity and fairness. When he makes contact with the visitors own internal resistance, he works hard to ensure that the actions taken by his team do not harm them. He is not prejudiced against the visitors per se, and always takes each of them on their individual merit. In contrast there is Christine, his sometime lover, who is amongst the first journalists to visit the mother ship. She gets chosen to be their spokesperson and becomes their propaganda mouthpiece. It later becomes clear that she has been “programmed” by Diana, but nonetheless, she is just a bit too eager to get the scoop.
Religion: While a priest is amongst the resistance fighters from the start, it is interesting that religion never gets a big go. We also see that the Judaism of the Bernstein family does not stop their son becoming an oppressive collaborator, and it is the experience of the Holocaust, and not religion itself which motivates his grandfather. The most interesting approach to religion comes at the time when Robin is pregnant with a child of a Visitor. She, naturally enough, wants to have an abortion. Father Andrew counsels against it in the usual religious terms, also arguing that the child could become a bridge between the two species. Interestingly, pretty much everyone else sides with Robin, and there are some very strong pro-choice arguments given. The abortion is commenced but cannot be completed because of the nature of the creature. Later the priest essentially kidnaps the child and takes him to the Visitors. He is trying to bring peace, but instead he gets killed. There isn’t a lot of room for religion in this world.
Racial difference: There is a constant reference to what the Visitors actually look like amongst the rebels. The heavy emphasis is – if everyone knows what they look like then they will all oppose them. The rebels seem to want to appeal to the most base of human prejudices – fear of difference – to expose the aliens. And sure, the Visitors do have diabolical plans, but should it be that it is the fact they are actually lizards which is the lynchpin here? The number and level of references to the fact that “if only everyone knew what they really looked like” they would oppose them almost makes one uncomfortable. And yet there is a counter point of view even amongst the rebels – not all Visitors are bad; there is a Fifth Column which assists the humans. While some of the rebels, in particular the hard nosed Ham Tyler, are willing to commit genocide and consider that all the Visitors are the same, Mike Donovan in particular looks to protect those Visitors who have helped them, and refuses to see them as all the same.
The original V also has very strong female characters in both the Visitors and the rebels (which happily seems to be occurring also in the new V) but shows that leadership does not require complete certainty; that fear and concern can be part of a leader’s make-up, as long as they can continue to lead.
Anyway, these are some inital thoughts and I will return to this as I watch more of the new version of V.