Homeland of Paranoia

March 15, 2013


The TV show Homeland has me hooked, but for all the wrong reasons. I can’t think of one of the characters who is sympathetic and whom I want to prevail. Yet, they are all interesting in their own twisted ways.

Like much of the debate in the U.S., Homeland’s portrayal of the terrorist threat is presented in black-and-white. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys. It is up to the good guys to do whatever is needed to stop the bad guys from committing outrageous acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. This is more than a plotline; it reflects the deep-seated attitude within the US polity.

So while Homeland can be judged as a piece of drama, and I have to admit it constantly keeps me on the edge of my seat, it is also a political statement with some unsavory assumptions.

For example, in one episode, the Marines rescue POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) from the clutches of the al-Qaeda.  He had been tortured and imprisoned in a dank hole for eight years.  Juxtaposed is another scene where CIA operative Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) interrogates Aileen, a terrorist whom he brought back from the U.S.-Mexican border a year earlier.  Fearing an attack is imminent; he hopes she can identify a suspect who is planning to commit a terrorist attack.  She says she will help if Saul can get her a cell with a window. She explains that she is left in her windowless cell for twenty-three and half hours a day, and then given half an hour of exercise indoors.  My reaction to the scene was that the woman was being cruelly punished for no other reason than she was a terrorist (although as far as I could see she had not been convicted of any crime).  So while Brody‘s incarceration was inhumane, we are somehow expected to think that Aileen is well treated because she is not beaten and has access to indoor plumbing.

This scene told me that the morality of Homeland is relative: all is well provided the good guys are not as cruel as the bad guys.

The other aspect of Homeland that I find disturbing is that the pursuit of terrorists draws out the paranoia in the U.S.  What is just as worrisome is that President Obama says Homeland is one of his favorite TV shows.

The primary plotline has the character, Brody, as having turned traitor and working with Abu Nazir, one of the leaders of Al Qaeda.  This is an updated version of the Manchurian Candidate.

The mortar that holds Homeland together is paranoia and conspiracy.  Brodie first appears as a patriotic American and then as a terrorist who is willing to kill the vice president.   In another plot twist, he acts as a double agent and provides key information that leads to the death of Abu Nazir. But this performance is just a feint.  Just as in a game of chess, some pieces are sacrificed for a greater objective.

The series premise is that even the most upright and loyal soldier can be brainwashed into committing the most outrageous attacks on his own country. But the paranoia does not stop there, as David Estes (David Harewood), the CIA Director of the Counterterrorism Center, and his protégé, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) also seem to have their own agenda, which may be part of yet another agenda (dare I whisper…”conspiracy”).

Knowing that Obama enjoys watching Homeland, it would be interesting to know what he thinks of a particular subplot in which a drone lands on a school, killing many innocents

“I can only imagine what he must be thinking when he watches a show like ours that explicitly deals with the collateral damage of drone strikes,” Damian Lewis told the Atlantic. The “overly political” show, he says, goes “straight to the heart of the drone argument. We have a left liberal president, and yet we seem to be sending in more drones than ever before.”

Such shows are not benign.  They shape values and attitudes towards the so-called “war on terrorism.”  Through its drama, Homeland is a powerful medium.  It packages moral messages without its audience realizing it is being proselytized.  Now who’s being paranoid now!



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