Monday, April 2, 2018

JAG: 10 Seasons of Military Bearing

Last week, Laurel and I viewed the final episode of the final season of the television series JAG. It took us about a year to work through the set. Laurel is a voracious reader, primarily of murder mysteries and computer documentation. As a writer and reader of non-fiction, I am informed by Ayn Rand’s theory of aesthetics expressed in The Romantic Manifesto. For being television, written, shot, and edited on a grinding production schedule by a large, changing staff of writers and directors, with the attendant holes in plot, character development, and theme, JAG held up well.

Ayn Rand based her theory of art on Aristotle’s maxim that fiction portrays people as they can and should be. Every work of art is “a selective recreation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” (The Romantic Manifesto, Signet 1971, p. 19) An artist cannot present all of reality, so some aspect of it stands for the whole. Is the world hospitable or hostile or indifferent? Rand called this one's "sense of life."
Complicated pasts leave them internally
conflicted. Their moral lodestars are on
the far horizon. They eventually find home port

“Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man’s concepts into the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly as if they were percepts.” (RM p. 20) 

"Since man lives by reshaping his physical background to serve his purpose, since he must first define and then create his values--a rational man needs a concretized projection of these values, an image in whose likeness he will re-shape the world and himself. Art gives him that image; it gives him the experience of seeing the full, immediate, concrete reality of his distant goals." (RM p. 38)

A biography of Abraham Lincoln’s life could run six volumes, chronicling every detail, but the characterization of President Lincoln in a Civil War drama will subsume and encapsulate all of that and deliver it to the audience, according to the intent of the artists--the actor, writer, director, and the others in the team. Ultimately, someone has artistic control of the final product and it is that person’s vision of life that we receive.

Petty Thief to Petty Officer
Zoe McLellan played
PO1 Jennifer Coates
In this case, the controlling artist was the executive producer, Donald P. Bellisario. A Marine Corps sergeant, Bellisario also created the original Magnum, P.I., Airwolf, and Quantum Leap. That last reveals the most about Bellasario’s view of your place in the universe. Is history inevitable? To what extent can you make your own life? In JAG, there is no doubt that we all make choices and accept responsibility for those decisions. Sometimes, the characters are in circumstances that are very constrained, but “I had no choice” is met with “You always have a choice.”

(I perceived a hidden undercurrent from Quantum Leap in the re-enactment episodes. The story is carried forward by the same actors, though in costume. Season 5 Number 11 “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” take place in the Viet Nam war. Season 6 Episode 23 “Mutiny” is a re-creation of the Somers Mutiny. Season 9 Episode 14 “Each of Us Angels” is set in World War II. Season 9 Episode 18, “What if?” offered alternate stories launched when they read fortune cookies at a restaurant. In the world of Donald P. Bellisario, you always have a choice. Tangentially, I followed the historical clues offered in MutinyRead here)

Our viewpoint characters,
the normal couple.
Beset by life's hard losses,
they never lose their moral compass,
and so they persevere and thrive.
Of course, the show suffered from errors of fact and the fan base responded. You can read other foible finding on the wiki. Nonetheless, I benefited from keeping a handbook of military justice at the couch, just to help with the details. It is not the purpose of fiction to be didactic, but it is important not to make up everything, otherwise you are not even creating science fiction but are selling fantasy.

We bought most of the DVDs, borrowing a couple of seasons from the local library. We have not watched broadcast (cable) television since 2010 and we were never big consumers before that. But people recommend shows and we read about them. In this case, JAG was a back-filling of our NCIS collection. (NCIS was piloted in Season 8 of JAG.) We discovered NCIS sometime after 2006. We picked up Season 1 of The West Wing at a neighborhood Blockbuster just as that series was concluding. We eventually viewed Mark Harmon's portrayal of Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan and found it positive and realistic. That led us to NCIS

Just for contrast here, we did once watch most of an episode of CSI but could not tolerate more. In fact, we withstood two seasons of torture with 24, so we think we’re tough. As for politics, I did view half an episode of The Veep (reviewed here but I would rather clean the latrines after drill. 


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