John McCain: Cannibal?

I'm not a John McCain supporter. I knew him as one of my senators when I lived in Arizona, and I've come to know him as a presidential candidate in these last two elections. And as much of a beef as I might have with the man and his politics, I'm sure of this: John McCain is not a cannibal. Pretty sure. The American people might have cause for doubt about that claim, though, considering the March 3 episode of NBC's Medium.

The psychic-solves-crimes series, starring Patricia Arquette is set in Phoenix, AZ, and the episode in question – titled, ahem, “Aftertaste” - featured a storyline that centered on a former POW war hero turned respected senior Arizona senator who, as the plot developed, also turned out to be a murdering cannibal.

To be fair, the show sort of made the senator out not to be such a bad guy, you know, for a guy who at one time killed and ate a dying fellow soldier in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. There was some lip service to "making the ultimate sacrifice," and later, equating murdering a blackmailer to being a "good soldier." But in the end, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

But why model this particular character on John McCain? There's nothing to be gained in terms of story. While it's clear that it was meant to be based on McCain, the character in terms of plot didn't need to be a senator. He could easily have been a politically-active businessman in the Phoenix area, still have been a POW, still have done all those things, and not come near to suggesting a current presidential candidate.

There's no political upside, either. No one's going to watch this episode and think to themselves "Hrm. I was unaware of that worrisome side of John McCain. Perhaps I'll look further into the other, non-human-flesh-eating candidates." Squirel-eating ones, maybe. Or perhaps I'm giving too much credit to the American voting public. And it won't succeed on the reverse, either—even if McCain could rightly protest that this episode unfairly represented his dietary habits, there wasn't enough of an attack implicit within the portrayal to garner him any sympathy.

Law & Order began this "ripped from the headlines" type of storytelling, of course, so we could blame the whole thing on Dick Wolf, have him pilloried, and call it a day. But at least Wolf's many shows have something of a point to their ravishing of current events. Medium didn't do that, though perhaps they could have—maybe a commentary on the ravenous amorality of contemporary politics? In fact, Medium can't even be accused of cynically exploiting their McCain episode for ratings gain, because they failed to take a page from the Law & Order playbook and advertise the exploitation.

But perhaps that's a good thing. Maybe what that means is that someone in charge at NBC realized what, ahem, bad taste it was to suggest even fictionally that one of our current presidential candidates—someone who may be leading the nation in ten months—was some sort of POW Alferd Packer. That such a thing might be seen as irresponsible. That the intoxicating glow of television and the white, toothy smiles that inhabit it won't mask something uncomfortably close to Swiftboating. -- Teague Bohlen

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