I had not seen JAG for weeks when I watched the episode for April 1, 2005. I don't suppose this story was markedly different from the usual plot, but my break in viewing  has left me with less tolerance for the smarmy military religion that is the show's stock in trade. This story followed the ripped-from-the-headlines tradition to demonstrate that any killing of Iraqis that American forces perpetrate is justified.  JAG doesn't portray military people accurately but it may come close to a self-deceptive egotism that some members of the armed forces wallow in. The principal theme is that military people are noble, efficient, and self-sacrificing while almost everybody else is weak, opportunist,and corrupt. And the worst of the non-military are members of the press who are almost always bad. The worship of brass buttons is one of the more juvenile manifestations of the sentimental religiosity which appears to afflict Americans more severely than other citizens of the world. Why we in this country are particularly susceptible to it I'm not sure. I once thought it was fairly harmless, something akin to an addiction to cotton candy, but lately I've come to see that when you stir it together with lots of big guns, the result isn't healthy. The social accuracy of a TV show is scarcely an important critical principle. But when propaganda reaches the levels JAG has attained it can have a nasty effect on your stomach.

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I have said that JAG is running out of steam and that's probably still the case. Yet, I must admit that last night (December 17, 2004) it surprised me with a pretty good episode. It began with Mac having an auto accident and then flashed back to the incidents leading up to the crash, the main one being a long talk she had with a Navy psychologist. She has at times been such a wooden character that I didn't think her personality could be made either interesting or moving. Yet, as she spelled out her fears and her essential loneliness to the sympathetic therapist she became believable, and not only that, she rekindled hopes that she and Harm might stop being ridiculous towards one another and find something warm and lasting in their love. It was a good Christmas program. I'm always glad to see droopy shows resuscitate themselves.

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The long-running TV series JAG is designed -- at least in part -- to celebrate military virtue. There's nothing that says melodramas should be realistic but when their unrealism gets to be tiresome they do approach violating the rules of show business. That's where JAG is right now. The sailors and marines depicted on the series are such a bunch of prissy-pants it's hard to know why the producers don't just turn the program into a cartoon. Evidently, the characters think of nothing except integrity, which they define so narrowly there's no reason for them to have brains. They would do just as well with computer chips. In fact, the ideal the series presents is a computerized military man. The innovation this year is a new naval judge advocate general to replace the admiral we had come to think of as a fixture. The new guy is a marine general. He takes himself more seriously than God has ever taken any human being and, in the beginning, combined his seriousness with an obnoxiousness that rose to monstrous dimensions. Now, he's trying to take a step, or two, in the direction of being human, or at least as close to human as a marine general can get without fracturing the porcelain shaft that substitutes for his spine. Harm, the hero, continues, I guess, to be the most rounded character on the program but even he shows signs of calcification. Is there anybody who actually admires this kind of childish posturing? I realize that many people like to strut, but is there anyone who genuinely lusts to become a mannequin?

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Last night (May 7, 2004) JAG dived whole hog into military sentimentalism. The show has always espoused a simplistic patriotism but it has, occasionally, offered a countervailing point of view to provide some balance. In last night's story of a dead Marine, however, there was none of that. The young man was a hero, pure and simple, who sacrificed his life for freedom as several of his ancestors had done. His family, and particularly his mother, is so proud of him you get the sense that they may like him better dead than alive. There was no hint that the policy which sent him to his death could have been less than perfect. There's something troubling -- and, actually, a little creepy -- in the picture of a parent who is so caught up in national sacrifice she's willing to see her son die without even a passing suspicion that maybe, with a more intelligent foreign policy, he could still be alive. The whole episode was overboard to the point we might anticipate we're being set up for a reversal, in which the mother discovers that both she and her son have been pawns used to promote motives that can't bear the light of day. But I guess that would be too much to hope for.

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As we all know, many TV shows are now "ripped from the headlines." Most of the time I wish they hadn't been. There's something to be said for pure fiction. Last night's JAG (April 30, 2004) made what I guess was a commendable effort to address our Christian warriors, who believe, when they go to war, that they're fighting not only for the U. S. Government but for God himself. How do we deal with high ranking military officers who profess their faith while in uniform, and explain that they consider themselves to be fighting not only against enemies of the United States but also against Satan? Are they fanatics? Are they simply men of faith who have a right to their own belief? JAG straddled the issue as we would expect a TV show to do. But that they raised it at all deserves some praise. What would be wonderful, of course, would be a program that tried to distinguish between genuine faith and stupidity (assuming there is a distinction). But I suppose that would require a subtlety which stepped far beyond the TV mind.

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