Mass media entertainment and politics have never been strange bedfellows, especially since the advent of the modern broadcasting era, what with the Ovaltine commercials in the middle of Captain Midnight serials and the like. Network broadcasting is, after all, that queer beast that is driven not directly by viewers but by advertising revenue, as it used to be that you didn’t need to pay hundreds of dollars a month to Comcast or Time Warner for the privilege of horrible television – you used to be able to get it for free, believe it or not – which is what elevated the television commercial to the marketing sector juggernaut it is now.
However, it’s become just as common for a television show, or even an entire network, to not just try to sell its viewers goods and services but whole ideologies. I’ve written at length before about the 24 hour news cycle networks and how they relentlessly push for the kind of divisive societal slant that keeps ratings high and advertising revenue rolling in, and I’ve touched on how there are only a handful of mega-corporations that now control the lion’s share of what we consume when it comes to news content, but for the most part there hasn’t been much in the realm of particularly egregious Orwellian-style corporate pandering or apologetics – at least not until the advent of Syfy’s newest Monday night series Continuum.
On the surface Continuum seems to be a moderately interesting time-travel show, similar to Timecop or Time Trax where the main character – a police officer from the year 2077 – is thrown back in time during a botched prison break and finds herself stranded in 2012 alongside the handful of terrorists that masterminded the escape. In this case, instead of Jean-Claude Van Damme split-kicking his way through the time/space continuum (see what I did there?) our protagonist is Kiera Cameron, a woman who relentlessly hunts down hose behind the escape attempt in order to return to her family in 2077 while also coping with her fear of changing the future by her mere presence, interacting with the ancestors of people she may know in the future, and all those other well-established don’t-crush-a-butterfly time travel tropes.
However, Continuum differs in that there’s an unsettling undercurrent of corporate apologetics that runs through the show. Cameron’s home – the future Vancouver of 2077 – is a world where corporate rulership has spread to eclipse government sovereignty, resulting in one of the most polite, cleanest, and well-surveilled police states ever. The Corporate Congress rules everything with an iron fist when it comes to being openly criticized, but everyone seems to be suspiciously well-off and comfortable in their working-class lives despite the fact that their rights of privacy and free speech have been eroded; it’s a sort of benign corporate dictatorship that is categorized as rather inoffensive and innocuous for the most part – a rather subtle bit of pro-corporate propaganda, as Continuum says “sure, you may not have as many freedoms as you do now, but doesn’t this look nice and comfortable?”
Things get much more overtly pro-corporate when the main antagonists of the show are taken into account. In fact, we meet the bad guys – a group known as “Liber8” that has been branded as an international terrorist organization – immediately in the pilot. The viewers witness Liber8 orchestrating the bombing of a skyscraper meant to evoke the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, proud of their role in the deaths of 3,000 innocents in order to disrupt the regional center of corporate control. At every opportunity thereafter the members of Liber8 are painted as bloodthirsty, opportunistic, and fanatical, further drawing parallels to the modern media’s portrayal of those branded as terrorists today such as violent Islamist extremists; once the criminals regroup in 2012, they immediately begin planning to return to their home time in order to conduct more blood-soaked Fight Club-style anti-establishment mayhem and let nothing stand in their way of accomplishing these goals: their body count in the first two episodes is astronomical, with the majority of their victims coming from the hopelessly outmatched Vancouver PD or random strangers that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (in the second episode, for instance, Liber8 kills and stuffs what looks like a pizza delivery boy in a chest freezer, though the action occurs off-camera and all we see is the aftermath).
A television show like Continuum that portrays anyone who stands up against corporate rule as a vile, soulless fanatical terrorist while simultaneously holding up corporate rule as a positive thing is hardly fooling anyone. Even if Kiera Cameron ends up having the scales lifted from her eyes throughout the show as part of her character arc and she discovers that her corporate masters in 2077 are heinous as well (something that seems unlikely, as her main motivation is to return to her home time regardless of the cost), it won’t erase the fact that the show from the beginning has been reinforcing the inhumanity and capital-E-evil of Liber8, those terrorists that took down a skyscraper and kill innocents because they’re ideologically opposed to the dominant form of government, which acts as an overt association of defiance of corporate encroachment with terrorism. The characterization of Liber8 as nothing but reprehensible villains in this manner has undoubtedly been done with in order to conflate terrorism with protest against corporate control, and if shows with such negative characterizations such as Continuum continue to be produced and grow in popularity, there is a danger that public opinion will begin to align with the ideology that protesting against corporate control is akin to a terrorist act.
Without its corporate apologetic overtones, Continuum has the potential for being good time travel science fiction. However, the rather ham-handed and blatant corporate ideology the show overtly espouses makes it difficult to enjoy; if you can separate yourself from this one facet of the show – despite its role as a pivotal facet – there may be some merit in watching. I will most likely give it at least a full season before passing final judgment, but there’s already more than one nail in Continuum‘s coffin for me.