Tony Norman: Today’s headlines eerily merge truth and fiction

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When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished without a trace several months ago, it wasn’t long before an anchor on a legitimate cable news channel (well, CNN) was musing aloud about the possibility that the jet had been swallowed by a black hole.

Because cable news has never been a fan of Occam’s razor -- the notion that it’s best to go with the simplest theory, in absence of other information -- speculation about whether that doomed flight was “raptured” to another dimension by either alien or divine intervention wasn’t considered too implausible for the network’s pundits to discuss, even if they did so briefly and with embarrassment.

For weeks, the missing plane generated enough bizarre theories to fill every hour of the 24-hour news cycle. While few people went as far as CNN’s Don Lemon in suggesting that the plane disappeared into a tear in the fabric of time and space, there were plenty of references online to what many believe to be unexplained parallels between the plane’s disappearance and the hit TV series “Lost” that went off the air several years ago.

In Omaha, Neb., local news station KETV made an explicit comparison by altering an old “Lost” promotional banner and superimposing “Flight 370” over a silhouette of the show’s characters standing on a beach.

Though the station quickly apologized and deleted a tweet of the image, the kind of low-information viewer already inclined to confuse scripted programming with real life would not be dissuaded from the idea that the passengers are still alive on an uncharted, mystical island. A cheap ratings stunt doesn’t necessarily invalidate the possibility that petulant sibling gods are responsible for Flight 370’s disappearance, just like on the TV show. What else would explain the total lack of wreckage on the ocean’s surface?

By comparison, those inclined to comment publicly about alleged similarities between Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s liberation after five years in Taliban custody and the prisoner-of-war treatment of the Sgt. Nicholas Brody character on Showtime’s “Homeland” don’t appear as disconnected from reality as “Lost”/​Flight 370“ conspiracy theorists.

Though the similarities are superficial, the idea that Sgt.. Bergdahl was brainwashed by al-Qaida and turned into a sleeper agent — the way Brody was turned by an al-Qaida mastermind based in Iraq after eight years in captivity — is too compelling a conspiracy theory for many to ignore. Part of the reason Mr. Bergdahl is being treated like a confirmed Manchurian candidate by many may be an unconscious tendency to confuse him with Brody’s fictional character.

Brody spent much of the second season of “Homeland” with his head shaved, just like recent images of Sgt. Bergdahl. Fox News reported, though it has not been confirmed by other sources, that Sgt. Bergdahl converted to Islam in captivity, just like Brody did. Recent reports that the son of one of his captors was killed by an American drone, just like the terrorist mastermind in “Homeland,” is another coincidence that means nothing, of course.

In fact, I’m not going to worry about life imitating art too much until I hear Sgt. Bergdahl has begun a complicated relationship with Maya, the CIA operative played by Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Oscar-winning film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Maya was based on a female CIA officer who pursued bin Laden to the end.

Carrie of “Homeland,” the CIA officer played by Claire Danes, appears to have been inspired by the same enigmatic female spy. This is one of those pop culture moments begging for deeper illumination.

If by some act of mischievous cosmic irony that real-life CIA operative is deployed by U.S. intelligence to ferret out the truth about Sgt. Bergdahl’s experience, we officially will be in a situation where the snake supplied by Hollywood is ultimately consuming reality’s tail.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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