I watched last night’s Heroes finale, but honestly I’ve been off the Heroes train too long this season to properly critique it, so consider this an open thread.
I did have one very tangential, picayune comment on the final moments, which kicked off the series’ fourth volume, “Fugitives,” for the second half of the season. (I don’t think the following is much of a spoiler, but skip it if you’re antsy about such things.)
The scene showed Senator Nathan consulting with the President about his very X-Manian plot to have superpowered individuals quarantined in the name of public safety. The President, as it happens, is black.
Now obviously, casting black or female Presidents in TV and movies is nothing new—see Dennis Haysbert, Cherry Jones, Morgan Freeman, Terry Crews, et al. As Jon Stewart riffed at the Academy Awards last year, it’s been especially common in science fiction, where the casting has served as a sort of signifier for The Future. But now, with a black President-Elect, the casting has become, strangely, more conspicuous rather than less. Is that supposed to be Obama? Why’s he agreeing to round up genetic superbeings? Shouldn’t he be working on the auto bailout?
Obviously, I know it’s not meant to be him. Obviously, it’s stupid to think so. It’s a fictional America. The actor [Update: Michael Dorn, Worf from Star Trek] didn’t look like Obama. And it’s not as if, whenever someone cast a white president on TV the past eight years, I’ve thought: Is that supposed to be Bush?
But when you have 42 other white male predecessors to think of, the image of one more white guy running the country is necessarily more generic. When you have one, single, present-day example of a black (OK, half black) chief executive, even the unlikely chance that the coincidence is intentional is briefly distracting. It is, at least, an unintended side effect of The Future becoming The Present. The signifiers are all mixed up now.
There’s been talk of a David Palmer Effect on politics—that characters like 24′s President made it easier for white America to accept Obama. There’s been talk of an Obama effect on TV—that the election of a black President might make it easier for white America to accept black drama leads, like Laurence Fishburne stepping into CSI. But after the election, is it possible there will be a Reverse David Palmer Effect, by which the singularity of America’s only African American President ends up making it more distracting to cast an African American fictional President? Does this open doors for female, Latino and Asian American sci-fi Commanders-in-Chief? Or a half-Jewish one with a really hard-to-pronounce Slavic last name?
Maybe not, but it spared me from having to come up with something to say about this episode of Heroes. So what’d you think of the finale?