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Truth to Power: Why 'Archer' Should Have Kept ISIS in the Show

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | October 13, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | October 13, 2014 |

From day one of the rise of ISIS in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, fans of quality television have snickered at the fact that the so-called Islamic State managed to settle on the same acronym as the most incompetent spy agency in the history of animation. Sadly, over the weekend, the show-runners of Archer decided that they’re going to retire the name.

There are plans to have a throwaway reference to the name going away in the first episode of the upcoming season, and FX has already yanked all merchandise referencing ISIS.

It makes some sense in the context of the show: after last year’s riff on Archer Vice, the organization itself isn’t literally the International Secret Intelligence Service anymore anyway. Says show creator Adam Reed about ISIS: “[it’s] just the most awful thing and we didn’t want to have anything to do with it”.

And none of that makes me agree with the move.

See, ISIS is a bunch of assholes. They’re vicious intolerant extremists who butcher people who disagree with them, see women as nothing but slaves, and generally represent everything I loathe in this world. They should be removed from existence by whatever means of force and diplomacy are expedient, and I shan’t get into specific policy opinions here. Movements such as this are cancers upon the civilized world. Whatever body count they end up responsible for, they’re not any conceptually different than the Hitlers and Maos and Stalins. They want a world of violence with themselves atop it, and their only response to disagreement is to batter it into submission. And one thing all tyrants throughout history share, whether they reign over tin-pot corners of the world or empires that wrap around the curve of the planet, is a complete and utter lack of humor.

Humor should not be something shied away from with regard to monsters, but embraced, flaunted, and ground into their faces. Humor is a weapon against which they have no defense, because it is far beyond their comprehension. To be able to laugh at yourself is the first step towards democracy, because it’s a crack in the facade of perfection. It’s the admittance that you might wrong. And that’s all democracy takes at the end of the day: being willing to step down if you lose.

A couple of years ago, Belarus had what’s been called “the clapping revolution”. People, banned from anything remotely like free speech, political organization, or mass assembly, began to organize flash crowds that would meet at a place and erupt in spontaneous applause, before moving on with their daily lives. And before long, Lukashenko, the humorless tyrannical twat who rules that sad corner of Europe, banned clapping in public.

Just think about that for a second. Think about the hilarity of the government banning clapping. Humor speaks truth to power. It tells power that it doesn’t have absolute power, that there are those who don’t respect it no matter how much force and brutality it brings to bear. It doesn’t overthrow regimes in and of itself, but it sets the seeds, it lets people whose time isn’t yet ripe take comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone, and it lets tyrants know that they can never truly win. That hearts and minds remain unbent even knees cannot.

So the decision to change the name in Archer disappoints me. Back in 2001, when the debris of the towers hadn’t even settled, Matt Stone and Trey Parker aired what might be the most important episode of South Park ever made. Airing less than two months after 9/11, “Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants” turned that group of international murders and thugs into nothing but the punchline of a series of Bugs Bunny style hijinks. It wasn’t high intellectual comedy, but it broke a floodgate open with its pure inane mockery.

Archer had the chance to make its own stand. To add the real-world version of ISIS to their world, and to mock it to shreds. It’s not their responsibility, of course, they’re a cartoon, a bit of clever entertainment. But they have passed on their chance of being something more.

(source: The Guardian)

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.