“The Americans” – Rooting for the KGB?

Last week a Cold War spy thriller with a twist debuted on the FX television network. The twist is that the bad guys – the Soviets – are the stars, and that the show’s producers are hoping to get American audiences to root for the KGB. But if that’s their aim, they failed miserably in the season premiere; the real twist is that The Americans turns out to be refreshingly pro-American entertainment.

The Americans is a gripping, action-filled drama about two Soviet spies living undercover as a normal American couple in 1981 Washington, D.C. Their two children, oblivious to their parents’ true identities, are being raised as typical American kids. In between getting the kids off to school and taking them out for ice cream, the husband and wife discuss things like when to kill the defector bound and gagged in their garage, or whether the FBI agent who just moved in across the street is on to them.

According to an article in the entertainment trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter (THR), executive producer Joel Fields expressed his hope for the show’s impact: “It might be a little different to believe and get used to, but we want you to root for the KGB. They’re going to try to get the Soviets to win the Cold War.”

Actually, it’s no surprise at all that progressive Hollywood would want you to root for the enemy, particularly Communists. What is rather stunning is the openness with which the show’s creators express that desire. The THR article stated that “the creative team behind the high-profile launch expressed a confidence that more than enough time has passed for American audiences to not hold a grudge.”

It’s unclear whether the phrase “hold a grudge” is THR’s or originated with the producers, but it is a phenomenally poor choice of words. “Hold a grudge” about the Cold War? We’re talking about our epic conflict with a totalitarian world view that resulted in the deaths of countless millions and which took us to the brink of nuclear war. As FrontPage’s own Daniel Greenfield wrote, “This isn’t like the Yankees and the Red Sox.” Nonetheless, the producers think we’ve had time to “get over it.”

“If you tried to tell a story like this about al-Qaeda now,” Fields continued, “it would be impossible; no one would want to hear it. I feel even the same could have been said up to 10 years after the cold war ended.” The stunning implication here is that, given a few more years, American viewers will come around and embrace a show in which they are expected to “root for” al Qaeda protagonists. Similarly, the producers think we’re all emotionally healed enough now to put the Cold War behind us: “This is a show where the enemies are the heroes, with all the questions that come with that,” said creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent. “You couldn’t do that right after the Cold War. But you can do it 30 years later.”

To compel viewers to root for the enemy, Weisberg says he wants viewers to “take a hard look at both sides of the Cold War,” as THR phrased it. I don’t know what his politics are, but it’s typical of progressives to want to recast America as the bad guy in any given conflict. He calls the opposing sides in that war “really competing value systems,” which is putting it mildly, and suggests that capitalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: “There’s no question that repressive socialism failed, but unbridled consumption hasn’t exactly led to great satisfaction – and one problem is how do we express that dramatically.”

Note how he said “repressive” socialism failed, which could be interpreted to mean that a non-repressive socialism – as if there were such a thing – would work. This is characteristic of the progressive mindset: forever unwilling to admit that Communism is inherently disastrous, and forever determined to get it right this time. As for “unbridled consumption,” no one claims that consumption alone equals happiness  – but standing in line to buy a big-screen TV in a capitalist society is much more satisfying than standing in line to buy bread in a socialist society.

These comments led me to believe that the show would be blatantly anti-American. That impression was completely off-base. In its first episode, The Americans describes Reagan’s America as “strong and capable.” Patriotic citizens are shown singing our national anthem and waving flags, without the slightest tinge of ridicule from the filmmakers. FBI agents are shown as decent men dedicated to national security, rather than corrupt and thuggish. A government official declares, “We have truth and justice on our side, and we will prevail” – without a hint of irony or sarcasm.

Contrast that with the movie Superman Returns from several years ago, in which the filmmakers altered Superman’s famous tagline from “Truth, justice and the American way” to the flippant, cynical “Truth, justice and all that stuff.”

After many years undercover, “the American way” is starting to seduce the show’s husband. In one riveting confrontation, his wife, an ice-hearted true believer, is aghast when he suggests that they betray the motherland, take the money the American government is offering defectors, and embrace the good life. “America’s not so bad,” he argues. “What’s so bad about it? The electricity works all the time, food’s pretty great… We would have a great life because we would have money.” He accuses her of resenting the Americanization of their children. “I’m not finished with them yet,” she replies, revealing the totalitarianism at the heart of her ideology. “They don’t have to be regular Americans. They could be socialists -”

“They’re not gonna be socialists,” he shoots back. “This place doesn’t turn out socialists.” Sadly, in 2013 it does; we have even installed one in the Oval Office itself. Maybe we didn’t win the Cold War in the long run after all.

The show’s Soviet spies may be compelling protagonists, but they are not portrayed as “the heroes,” despite the creator’s claim, and America’s role in the Cold War is not called into question. Not yet, anyway; anything could happen in the remainder of the series, of course, including Hollywood’s predictable anti-American sucker punches. But based solely on this first episode, I can’t recommend The Americans highly enough to viewers who want to root for the real good guys.

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  • Chezwick

    Don't count your chickens, Mark. In all likelihood, the tone of the show will morph over the weeks, and the plight of the protagonists will become ever-more compelling and deserving of our empathy. Where else could it possibly go?

    • davarino

      Ya, I'm waiting for Homeland to morph. It has to given that some of the MSNBC nut jobs were on that show in the beginning.

  • http://Foxnews.com Jason

    Mark, you realize you’re not actually a journalist, right? You poor, lost soul. Whatever did the world do to earn your hatred?

    • EthanP

      I thought it was a well written informative article. We need not agree with all it's points.
      And like others, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. When blatent anti American propaganda starts (if it does), I hope Mark will print a follow up.

    • patron

      Replace every Soviet reference from Hollywood with Nazism and see how it turns out.

      Big Miracle:
      "And the Nazis are willing to divert their oil tanker to save the whales. What good Nazis, and what pig headed hateful Americans."

      Argo:
      "For the 'crime' of nationalizing Iranian oil and allying himself with the Nazi Party, Mossadegh was assassinated by the British with help of the CIA"

  • RobertPinkerton

    Something like this reminds me of the way the Soviets executed Pyotr Popov (December 1958) and Oleg Penkovski (17 May 1963): By burning the victim alive in a crematorium. Soviet GRU even filmed the Penkovski execution and used that film as an initiation document.

    • UCSPanther

      The CIA was amoral, the KGB was evil.

  • Rostislav

    Could you imagine a car dealer whose own driving experience is limited by looking at cars' ads? Or an alcoholic whose drinking habit is limited by admiration of old vodka label's view? Impossible, aren't they? Nevertheless it's exactly what these Hollywood enthusiasts of Communism are – they never had a single month of living in Redland, but still they are arrogant enough to highly recommend it for everyone around. If, if only they could have such month (and I do not mean some extremes like labor camps, or KGB surveillance but just a routine month in any small provincial town with long queues for anything eatable or wearable, with frozen toilets outside dilapidated buildings, with overcrowded ancient buses, with endless political meetings after exhausting work-changes, with no good books, with no – etc, etc, etc)! We have a saying here for a few rich nuts of ours "His brains are fat-clouded" – alas, nothing except these words comes to my mind when I read about new Brave Red Warriors from California… Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

    • "gunner"

      thank you for the voice of experience. (no sarcasm) i read english language russian news in the online "moscow times" along with english russian web sites and have had mail correspondence with russian friends in volokolamsk after the end of the soviet union, so i have some idea of the conditions you describe. i also hear from russian immigrants in theu.s. who caution americans about falling for socialism's empty promises. most recently the essay trom the "mat rossiaya" blog published in english pravda, urging americans not to give up our guns. "pravda" indeed, and i will heed that advice. as for that t.v. show, i'm in no danger of regarding kgb or gru agents as "heros", and i maintain a healthy suspicion of the present fsb, as well as our own "homeland security". keep on warning us friend rostislav, some of us are listening.

  • Ar'nun

    I find it practically unbelievable that after 30 years of Cold War inspired movies, books and TV, that a producer would actually say in the year 2013, "What we need now is yet another Cold War saga!" Of course so they can cling to a false narrative of originality, they flip things and make the bad guys the good guys and the good guys the bad guys. But that too has been done before. See movie Salt.

    But the truth about this small noise in a crowd of Cold War drama is that Hollywood will do anything to avoid our actual current enemy because they believe that will make them surrender. And that a movie that depicts an enemy of extremists using the Koran to justify killing Americans would offend them and cause them to kill Americans.

  • SoCalMike

    The producer Joel Fields didn't need to create a movie.
    We lived through it in the 1980s when the left in this country saved their best vitriol and venom for Reagan and the American military.
    I went to school here on the West Coast in the 1980s and at the time, I learned from "the Best and Brightest" professors of the day that "there is no moral or material difference between the USSR and the USA."
    The Cold War was a "social construct" (professor speak for collective illusion.)
    "Rumors of mass murder were pro-America propaganda designed to make the USSR look bad.."

    Joel Fields simply absorbed the prevailing dogma and conventional wisdom of the day much like poor confused Oliver Stone and Howard Zinn who went to his grave an ignorant man convinced all the lies he absorbed and propagated were true.
    While most of the world celebrated the Fall of the Wall in 1989, the Left in the West cried and became despondent. After regrouping and regaining their composure, they set out to hijack the environmental movement and rewrite the history of the 2nd half of the 20th century.

    • EthanP

      I was taught the same things in the early 70's. It's gotten MUCH worse since our days.

    • dmw

      "I learned from "the Best and Brightest" professors of the day that "there is no moral or material difference between the USSR and the USA." "

      Therefore, they can appear to be sitting on the academic high of judging them both, as they root for a United Nations run global socialism that tells everyone what to do and be — the only way it can "really work" with no conflict. That's being "enlightened" don't ya know. (And a prescription for going from the deaths of tens of millions to, well, billions in the next round.)

    • traeh

      I remember my grandfather took the longest time to realize that Stalin was a monster. My grandfather believed till pretty late in the day that that picture of Stalin was just American cold war propaganda. Even when he realized Stalin really was a monster, I'm not sure he abandoned his ideal of communism. I remember the whole moral equivalence crowd back in the 70s, and how Jeane Kirkpatrick and many others during the Reagan period started arguing vociferously against moral equivalence. I was rooting for them. I spent a lot of time reading Soviet and East European and Cuban dissidents, and telling people the Soviet Union was totalitarian and expansionist. For years — I guess till 1989 — I was an anti-communist constantly anxious about containment. I liked it when Reagan said — I guess when he was running for a second term in '84 — that the communists hadn't gained an inch of territory during his term in office. I was glad about the American invasion of Grenada immediately following the communist coup there.

      No doubt the socialist Left did set out to "hijack the environmental movement" — though I think the Right goes too far when it sounds almost as if any environmentalism is a leftist pretext to bring in socialism. I suspect global warming is a reality. I gather that 99% of climate scientists think so. I get the feeling that some on the Right cite a few dissenting scientists as though that meant the 99% of climate scientists who agree on global warming should be ignored. But I don't know the details in those debates, so maybe I'm wrong. But I ain't no socialist, and I do think human beings need to be much more cautious about our effects on the biosphere. Our technology and industry is immensely powerful, and puts out a growing and almost unfathomably immense waste stream. And the contents of that waste stream are often things that have not previously existed, strange by-products of high technology. Environmentalism, so long as it's not too extreme, is vitally needed. To me, when the Right denies this, they look as though they are sacrificing science on the altar of a political agenda. But again, I'm not an expert, so I admit I could be wrong.

  • EthanP

    As to the producers comment that it took 20 years for feelings to ebb to allow this series, lefties never quit.
    I point to, as evidence, the 1980s miniseries "Amerika". The Soviet conquest and occupation of the USA.
    The only "good guy" was a Russian. Americans were portrayed as self serving jerks. All star cast.

    It's not PC for Muslim extreamists to be portrayed too often. Or did you think the seasons of "24' featuring Columbian drug cartels as the bad guys had another reason>

  • EthanP

    I couldn't agree more!

  • Questions

    Why is it that culture warriors insist on seeing a TV or cinema as little more than tools for mass political education and mobilization? This syndrome is irritating. It reduces drama to a debate over whether it's agitprop for "our side" (as opposed to "the other side") and reduces characters to stick figures of Total Good and Total Evil.

    It's okay to watch "The Americans" if you're a conservative. I guarantee that you won't be hypnotized or "brainwashed" into becoming a liberal. The anti-American "bias" of such shows is a case of looking for a "gotcha."

    • http://twitter.com/jeffrey_metcalf @jeffrey_metcalf

      I think that the reason some fear propaganda in the form of entertainment is pretty clear. With low information citizens (the majority of us unfortunately), it can be a very useful and effective tool to shape cultural beliefs over a period of time. Culture influences politics. QED

    • tagalog

      Part of the reason is that the Soviets and their dupes the CPUSA saw popular entertainment as the major means by which the people could be subjected to Communist propaganda.

  • tedh754

    I watched the first episode and I thought it was pretty good. What American in his right mind would root for "socialists" as they were portrayed on the show? One of the lead characters gets raped by her superior officer, and it was his "right' to do so! If the intention of the show is to make the Communists the good guys, I would say that the producers failed miserably.

  • tagalog

    The only time I rooted for the KGB couple was when the husband was talking about defecting (against the wife's resistance) and later, when the wife began to look at things from her husband's perspective.

    Comparing life in 1980s America against the way of life the couple were working for was a simple exercise.

  • Tan

    I had a feeling that there was something fishy about "The Americans." Look how far the Left in America has come: they allowed Islamic terrorist activists like MSA to come and destroy pro-Israel student's freedom of speech and spread anti-Semitism, they allowed radical environmentalist Rod Coronodo to speak at a university on how to make a incendiary devise so people can use it for eco-terrorist operations, they allowed Miss California to lose being the winner because of her beliefs of traditional marriage, they allowed people to distort US history, and now they're really ready to distort our history even more. When will the world wake up? Where is this going to end? I fear what we're seeing is just the coming of the storm.

  • JacksonPearson

    I wonder if anyone in the Obama administration will be getting any bit parts?

  • Ghostwriter

    I didn't see too much of "The Americans" and to be honest,I don't know if I want to.

  • Steve

    WE ( any Person of any nation) CAN NOT Cheer for the COLD WAR in ANY WAY!!! … Until the Radiation that still plagues Chernobyl, Nevada, and any HUNDREDS of other place in the world has decayed. until it is safe to lie in the grass and sleep on every place in this planet.
    The Result of the cold war.. which was really just a way or continuing WW2 with out all the hand to hand… IS toxic Nuclear (Neutron yield Un-Clear) Radio active waste / fall out. All the U253 Atoms which are sill hot and need an additional 1 Billion years to Cool. We think Nuclear power is the only way. If we were not at war we would have developed something else just as powerful and less toxic. Nuclear medicine… Humm but the more recent MIR Magnetic ret image gives a better image with out radiation. COLD WAR = death for everyone its just a matter of time.. I strongly suggest googling Nuclear accident list wiki and see how long and extensive the list is.. And Realize you are a neighbor to a nuclear incident every where in the US. I was most shocked to learn that the US has had more Meltdowns in more town then Russia did and that radiation leaked. and americans drank eat iodine 131 – known for causing thyroid cancer, and Strontium-90 a radioactive byproduct which causes cancers of the bone marrow = Leukemia… one table spoon of Strontium-90 consumed evenly to 1 million children under the age of 14 condemns half to childhood Leukemia, and late onset of leukemia, The other half will end up with chronic lymphocitic leukemia when they are about 70.. GONE are the days of living past 100.. You have to be mostly done growing before Nuclear bomb testing in the 1950, and Nuclear material leaking in the 1950's and Reactor meltdowns in the 1960's, and more extensive melt downs 1970, until finally in the 1980 – 1986 russia blew one up (that one made the news and finally we are making them safe– OOPS japan melt down… blew radioactive materials high in the air and it all fell in the US bread basket.. Ioidine 131 is now showing up in our milk, Strontium-90 is showing up in our corn, flour… Nuclear power, Bombs, Shoot fords nuculion car (concept) it is the wave of the Future, and why we CAN not cheer for any power which gave us this god awful junk..

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    Knowledge is power. Truth sets us free. You can’t gain knowledge or make sure you keep windows open for the refreshing breath of truth to enter unless you listen without bias to all opinions and then evaluate them calmly without interference from your emotions.
    Saying that you are unwilling to read or watch even a work of ‘fiction’ were your enemy is portrayed as hero or just as a protagonist (and not just your enemy in a current struggle bu a past one) does not make you a good patriot because i doesn’t make our country stronger . A country so unable to ‘face’ adverse opinions eve in the form of fiction and who refuses to even discus such ideas has to be a very fragile country, totally scared from anything ‘different’ and decidedly blind and intends o stay so. Just like Nazi Germans or Soviet Russian. Exactly like them. Such chickening out from facing and discussing adverse ideas and opinions freely and refusing any opinion that doesn’t agree with you up to the extent of formulating a judgment on it even before seeing it is what led to the fall of all of the previous empires of history. It is the exact type of soil in which fascism an xenophobia thrive. The Nazis and soviets lost because of exactly that kind of thinking, so be ware of it if you really love our country. The American way doesn’t deserve to be turned into a xenophobic way!