Letter | ‘The Americans’ premise presents moral conundrum

03/23/2014 12:00 AM

03/21/2014 6:02 PM

There is an intriguing television series now in its second season on the Fox cable station. The series is entitled “The Americans” with the title’s letter “c” replaced by a hammer & sickle. The spelling denotes the general theme of the series: two Russian born and committed KGB operatives, a man and woman, residing undercover as a typical American couple in Northern Virginia during the 1980s.

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, (portrayed by actors Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), who sport impeccable American accents, carry out numerous acts of espionage on orders of Moscow Central. They never hesitate to ruthlessly and coldly dispatch whoever poses a threat to their subterfuge or to their undertakings.

And yet, despite their dedication to undermining the national security of the United States, they manage to parent and raise two captivatingly innocent teenage children who have no idea of their parents’ true identity and ideological commitment.

The conflicting nature of these two dramatic streams of action, terrorism and deceit versus parental love, creates an emotional conflict for the viewer. I repeatedly found myself emotionally hoping the Jennings would escape detection while intellectually demanding they be discovered and punished. The creators and writers of this fiction cast the Jennings in many ways as an acceptable and moral couple. In one episode Philip Jennings berates his teenage daughter for her disobedience and for deceiving her parents. Yet the Jennings live a deceitful life especially as it pertains to the children. And the father assuredly has remonstrated his daughter’s misbehavior out of fear that she may learn the truth about her parents’ true identity.

Whether intended or not, the creators of this fiction have engaged in fostering moral equivalency, a fallacious argument intended to justify a corrupt system of beliefs with another that is its diametric opposite: the proposition that the Jennings are really no worse than their American counterparts. Moral equivalency equates the Jennings with their FBI-agent neighbor who deceives his wife by having an affair with a Russian double agent, who kills a sniper intent on assassinating a politician. Here moral equivalency equates the Reagan administration with pursuing the demise of the Jennings’ homeland, the Evil Empire, the Soviet Union. Moral equivalency asks: Aren’t the Jennings only doing what they believe in and have been trained to do, just as American spies do?

Perhaps unwittingly, the creators of this fiction recognize the fallacy of the moral equivalency argument when they posit in the Jennings’ children an understanding and recognition of immutable values such as honesty and integrity which are the antithesis of a godless Communist ideology.

The writer lives in Carolina Shores, N.C.

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