There are no bad guys and good guys in “intelligent” TV dramas like Homeland, or so they say. But.
Midway in the show, the 16 yo daughter, Dana, and her classmates are attending a Quaker meeting at her prep school: a person stands, says whatever he wants about anything, and everyone else sits silently and contemplates. When he’s finished, another person may stand, and either respond or move on.
George Bush Jr. Jr. stands and repeats what liberal TV writers think conservatives think, e.g. about Iran: “The Arabs just hate us for our freedoms, so we should take the fight to them.” Dana, fresh from a public school, rolls her eyes at him and hits him with reality: “Hey, douche, Iranians aren’t Arabs, they’re Persians.”
Does it look like the bad guy is Ignorance and Prejudice? That’s who it is supposed to be, yes, but if you watch closely you’ll observe what Dana doesn’t do: she doesn’t stand up to speak– she stays slouched on the bench. She’s doesn’t speak in a considerate manner, she curses the kid out. A teacher explains about respect and procedure at a Quaker meeting, but the daughter isn’t interested in that nonsense, she’s interested only in combating lies and prejudice.
Fast forward and watch the scene where Brody’s wife learns Brody has “converted” to Islam, which she assumes means “brainwashed.” “This isn’t you! These are the people who tortured you!” During the argument, she knocks his Koran out of his hands and Brody scrambles after it. “It’s not supposed to touch the ground!” he yells. She looks at him the way a wife looks at her husband if he says, “well Tiffany thinks I deserve to spend a little money on myself!” “Did you just say that?”
The final scene is this: the father/terrorist/survivor Brody wraps his Koran in a towel and while everyone sleeps, goes outside to bury it. “It’s been desecrated,” he explains to his daughter who catches him. She senses this is an important moment for him, and helps him.
What is not obvious– and I have no doubt the writers never considered this, to them the emotions in these scenes were the most natural imaginable– is that Dana was more respectful with the Islam she knew nothing about than she was with the Quakers– or her mother– that are part of her life.
Ok, say the vocal conservatives, there’s your liberal bias: it’s ok to make fun of Christianity/America, but you can’t disrespect Islam. Except the show does disrespect Islam– it threw a Koran on the ground and made Brody a nut.
The real bad guys for “intelligent TV viewers” are anyone who believes anything too strongly. The daughter is allowed to respect and defend Islam because she doesn’t believe in it at all, it’s not hers, but she damn well better distance herself from those nutty Quakers she’s part of. Brody can’t even let the Koran fall to the ground because, as his wife points out, he’s insane.
The bad guys are people who let their beliefs rule them, the only maniacal loyalty that is acceptable nowadays is to sports teams and political parties, because they are meaningless.
The problem with this view isn’t that excess belief isn’t dangerous, but that everyone always has excess belief about something. It defines you, and everyone else can see it. When you think you are without a blinding ideology, it only means you’ve found something else even more blinding: consumerism, narcissism, scientism. “Religion is for weak minded people,” says the guy who knows better than to tempt fate or press 13 on an elevator, oh, look, they saved you from having to prove to yourself you don’t believe in that. Ideology abhors a vacuum, and it will get filled with whatever is the opposite of what was vacuumed.
The whole show is exactly what happens when you stop believing in things, when you pathologize excessive belief: paranoia. No wonder that the protagonist, Carrie, who in theory has something called “bipolar disorder” yet manifests few symptoms of a mood disorder, is on Clozaril: she suffers from a thought disorder, a psychosis. It’s America that’s bipolar, not Carrie: outward displays of tolerance, like getting sassy in a Quaker meeting or intoning that not all Muslims are terrorists (the good Muslims are the ones who don’t believe too much); but hidden acts of covert aggression, like bombing Iran or throwing your husband’s Koran to the floor. Violence is always ok if it’s anti-ideological. Brody comes home from captivity looking ripped, which Americans see as a sign of inner strength. Duh…
But even at the level of the writers and viewers their paranoia is right there in the structure of the show: dumb, bad, or sick people believe in ideological nonsense, and believe it strongly; but behind them are diabolically evil people pulling the strings…
The scary thing about Brody isn’t that he’s a Muslim terrorist who may become Vice President– change it to Christian fundamentalist– what’s scary is that someone would, could, become Vice President and have some higher interest than Vice Presidenting– whether it be Islam, Mormonism, Christianity, or money– even excessive patriotism is not permitted in a leader. That’s the public need behind identifying Obama as a socialist or Bush as a Christian or Cheney as an oil tycoon. “That’s the real reason…”
But history is nothing but the passing shifts of ideology through the usual mechanisms (war, new technology, famine, etc); in times of prosperity you get the abstract ones, like paedeia and psychoanalysis and in the tough times you get ethnic strife or religioisity, which is why I can say with confidence that in 100 years the number of Mormons will be greater than the number of atheists, unless there’s enough prosperity in America to fill our souls with consumer products.
There aren’t many guideposts in life, but I have one that is 100% reliable, you may write it on a sticky note and affix it to your rear view mirror, God knows you don’t use it anyway: if you are doing something in the dead of night, and your 16 year old daughter is all in, she’s not helping– you’re using her. But if you believe strongly enough, then everyone is expendable. Which is the point.
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