Everyone loves Homeland. You love it. President Obama loves it. The “gritty” “realistic” Showtime series won four Emmy Awards this year, including Best Drama, besting everyone else’s favorite criminality porn series Breaking Bad, no easy feat. Critics fawn over its “sophisticated ethical ambiguity” and the “difficult questions it raises” about our current political climate, but the reality is it’s just another exercise in glorified security state propaganda.
It’s something I’ve been saying for a while now, (even as I tune in every week), including yesterday where I expressed frustration with the show’s black and white depiction of “brown.” While the ostensible anti-hero Brody is given agency and motivation for his “terrorist” sympathies, the balance of the drama’s antagonists are empty cyphers of stereotypical anti-American “evil-doing.” It’s enough to make a viewer scan the interminable opening-credits for a Donald Rumsfeld co-writer credit.
Despite all the acclaim, there’s long been an undercurrent of backlash suggesting that Homeland is nothing more than a liberal-colored version of 24, two of whose writers, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, run the show. And the cracks in the show’s flimsy facade are likewise starting to reveal themselves as absurd.
The exchange I linked to above with Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, one of the nation’s finest political writers, was actually surprising to me, because the show itself is a literal illustration of the type of “repulsive progressive hypocrisy” he’s always railing against so masterfully in regard to Obama’s drone strikes.
Repulsive liberal hypocrisy extends far beyond the issue of Guantanamo. A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention: he has asserted the power even to kill citizens without due process.
That’s the essence of Homeland in a nutshell, as Richard Beck points out in this thorough undressing of Homeland‘s national security state porn aesthetic for N+1.
Carrie Mathison, the show’s CIA-analyst lead, is erratic, mentally ill, and a criminal, but she loves her country and is also a genius. Secretly dosing herself with Clozapine to manage her bipolar disorder, Carrie harangues anyone who will listen about looming attacks. She thinks that Nicholas Brody, a recently rescued Marine prisoner of war, lauded on national news as an “American hero,” is working as a terrorist agent. To prove it, she illegally installs cameras and microphones in his family’s house. “I’m just making sure we don’t get hit again,” she says to a skeptical colleague. “I won’t—I can‘t let that happen again!”
As Beck points out, we’re supposed to be somewhat skeptical of Carrie, and feel squeamish about her tactics, but we’re left with the overall impression that, despite her flaws, and by extension Bush’s or Obama’s and their security apparatus, the results, however difficult they may be to swallow, justify the means.
Homeland is a perfect dramatization of the rhetorical moves and political self-deceptions that made this now semi-permanent and very deadly war on terror possible, and it is important to see these things dramatized, to see them laid out in terms of affect and demeanor and style. Homeland‘s idea, and Obama’s, is that it is actually OK to kill as many supposed terrorists as you like, so long as you use a solemn tone of voice, present your credentials up front, and keep the swagger out of your gait. It should be asked, though, of Obama, and of Homeland, whether professional expertise hasn’t replaced the old paranoia but merely repressed it.
Still, though, Carrie is really pretty and effective, and Saul seems kind and thoughtful, so as long as we know we’ve got heroes like these out there (and the pretty, effective, kind and thoughtful Obama), then maybe we’ll manage to stave off the barbarians at the gate for a little while longer.