They Want You

I'm a conspiracy theorist from way back, when my adolescence had me convinced that nefarious deeds were being plotted just outside my reach. (This, as with most crippling mental conditions in the world, is likely the result of junior-high school P.E.; nothing shapes your psyche so much as listening to a bunch of 13-year-old boys in heated debate about whether they should choose you for their team or the fat, half-blind, retarded kid they were beating up at lunch.) My deeply held vision of entry into heaven, in fact, includes an introductory 3-D IMAX screening that unveils the truth behind the Kennedy assassination, that Bigfoot home movie, and why Spin City is in syndication when no one I know even watched it the first time around.

As far as I'm concerned, nothing pernicious ever happens in this country without the say-so of some grinning, white yahoo and his beady-eyed colleagues in a secret room somewhere in Washington, D.C. You have to think something is afoot when you're ingesting the endless "must-see" amorous pairings of Friends and a little icon of George W. Bush's face pops up in the corner of the screen every few minutes as a reminder that NBC is going to couple him with Tom Brokaw the following night.

If ever there were a time to start thinking that, to quote Night of the Living Dead's famous taunt, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" this is it. I've long suspected that the Men in Power were slowly zombifying us into mid-20th-century, postwar conformity, and with the helping hand of the War on Terrorism, I'm convinced that the plot is well under way. We should have all known this would happen when Saving Private Ryan was quickly deified for reminding us how glorious it was to fight for your country. Now we're all hopped up on romantic sentiment to the point that we've got Comedy Central's usually sardonic pundit Jon Stewart telling us that we couldn't help but be moved by the sight of elated Iraqis pulling down Saddam's statue. (I could help itI'm for an oppressed people's liberation as much as anyone else, but I doubt that the government currently oppressing us has much use for a foreign population beyond establishing a few new McDonald's and a "Hussein Hurricane" ride at Disneyland.)

Even reality TV, while packaged as liberally smutty voyeurism, has gone soft and elaborately traditionalist on the inside. CBS' Survivor has been making its dough off "The Battle of the Sexes"you know how men and women are when they get together, don't you, folks?ABC's The Bachelor/ Bachelorette is all about the desperate need for a mate, and Fox is selling the horrifying notion of getting Married by America. And, of all people, Monica Lewinsky, who once made her good name by giving head to the State, is hosting a show concerned with the hunt for Mr. Personality.

The feverish depiction of the U.S. as a breeding ground for ring-minded flag wavers even sucked in Jennifer Lopez this past winter: The love interest for her character in Maid in Manhattan was a Republican senator, and her young son was a Richard Nixon obsessive who believed that people should be forgiven when they lie. Don't blame Ben Affleck if he runs for office and starts stumping for God and country: Somebody made him do it.

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