When I watch CSI: Miami, which was cancelled this week after 10 seasons, I rather peculiarly see the history of the US war in Iraq. They shared these assumptions: everyone should be treated as a suspect; suspects always deny guilt; the smallest of things can be the biggest of clues; false leads are inevitable; technology is irrefutable; decisions are best made by an insular and zealous group; plot holes are no big worry so long as the show moves along at a brisk pace.
Together, these constitute a mindset, a set of subrational assumptions, that can replace logic.
The most important of these is the one about plot holes. Like the logic of the Iraq war, the plots on CSI: Miami were regularly flawed. For example, in the episode titled "Backstabbers", various parties are attempting to kill a beautiful and clever terrorist. One such person is the vengeful husband of a woman in whose kidnapping the terrorist was involved. Much chasing ensues. The episode culminates as the CSI: Miami officers warn the terrorist not to board a boat with the vengeful husband lest he kill her. She is shocked upon learning the good fellow had murder on his mind.
But these things did not matter on CSI: Miami. It was not about the story, it was about the motion. It would not suffice for the terror-lady to merely be stopped in traffic and taken into protective custody. It needed to be more dramatic than that, with the heightened drama blinding viewers to the lessened logic.
Thus it was with the road to war. If in the end the conclusion was not supported by the facts of the story, that did not matter. The story was sufficiently fast-paced and dramatic that viewers were hooked on it; it was fun to follow; it sucked you in.
Of course there were false leads; these are par for the course on TV police shows. So the yellowcake uranium from Niger did not pan out. So what? That is how you build a case, with false leads. And maybe those aluminium tubes weren't so meaningful as originally thought. Big whoop. The real clues come later in the game. Everyone knows that.
And if critics accused the White House of possessing a bunker mentality, well, so did the CSI: Miami brain trust and they almost always turned out to be right. Just because you are isolated and arrogant doesn't mean you're wrong.
In drama, some characters have a conqueror's brain and others a sceptic's. The former plough ahead, the latter stop to think.
It is an important difference. Nobody would ever accuse Columbo of sharing the mindset of the Vietnam War's planners ("Just one more thing, Mr Westmoreland, if you don't mind: This Gulf of Tonkin business, it just don't sit right with me."). Like George Bush, who kept Saddam's pistol on the desk of his study, Horatio Caine, the chief of the CSI: Miami team, wanted to conquer. It was always personal with him. He had to dominate.
CSI: Miami made its debut in September of 2002, a little more than a year after September 11. By that time, war planning was already well under way. The two coincided, just as their formal ends are only a few months apart, the last US troops having left Iraq in December. The word conspiracy means, in its etymology, "to breathe together"; the show and the war were breathing the same convictions, and in that sense they were conspiratorial.
In a broader sense, it is a fact of our times that reality and entertainment have become horribly blurred. In late 2006, I interviewed Anthony Zuiker, the creator of the CSI programmes. He was an intense yet amiable man who beamed ideas. Mr Zuiker mentioned something startling about David Caruso, who before playing Caine was a detective on NYPD Blue: "When we sat down to speak with David Caruso about doing CSI: Miami, he was very connected, and still connected at that point, with his TV audience. And he gave us a wonderful story about after 9/11. In those days after, he would receive phone calls from people asking him what he was going to do about what just happened. People were actually calling him, still seeing him as a television hero that could fix things."
Was it an acknowledgement of the changing times that, in the final episode of CSI: Miami, it is one of the CSI agents who turns out to be the killer? And that her parting words could easily be read as an apology on the part of the global policeman: "I saw myself as a cop, that was my real identity, that's who I was, y'know? And then there was a dead body, right in front of me, and I put it there. I let you down, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."