When I first started this “Veterans in Pop Culture” series, I promised to review the series Homeland because the entire plot of the show hinges on a Marine who has possibly been “turned” by Islamic extremists. I initially disliked the very concept – not only were veteran characters on film “crazy,” but they were now traitors – and after watching the pilot, I decided to leave it alone. Eventually, though, after the positive reviews of the show from other friends, I gave it a whirl. Despite what I thought, Homeland is a surefire success, a point cemented by their winning the Emmy for Best Drama. Yet, I was wrong to judge it so harshly. In fact, I was engaging in the type of hyper-sensitivity that often enrages me about other subsections of the American populace.
If a segment of the population is somehow ostracized from the mainstream, using art to reveal that segment of the population to a mass audience almost always serves to aid overall acceptance. For example, homosexuality was long hidden from television (despite the prominence of Paul Lynde and Liberace). Starting in the 70s and peaking in the late 90s, homosexual characters began to appear in dramas and comedies. It is not inconceivable that by making beloved characters gay, it aided the increasing acceptance of the homosexual culture. Now that homosexuality (at least in fiction) is part of the mainstream, every reference to homosexuality does not need to advance “the cause,” but instead can now just serve to advance the story. Not being venerated in every pop culture appearance is an indication that a group has earned a place in “the mainstream.”
Movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and books like The Things They Carried and Born on the Fourth of July served to open the eyes of America to the plight of their Vietnam Veterans. This current generation of veterans has been far luckier, but some artists, like Louis CK, still use their medium to showcase their sacrifice. Still, because the veteran culture is still very much part of the mainstream, Homeland isn’t about a traitorous veteran, but is instead about a character, who just happens to be both a veteran and an ambiguous terrorist.
This show does not present clear heroes or villains, but instead works very hard to ensure that each character the audience gets to know is revealed to be both relate-able and deeply-flawed—much like the actual people watching the show. That Brody, the Marine in question, is perhaps the antagonist of the story is merely the role he was meant to serve. In the first season, and surely in the season(s) to come, there is room for this character to grow and change into something much different than what can be seen in the first episode.
The military connection to this story is intrinsic, but it isn’t a reflection of American ideas about our veterans. In fact, the show is an appropriation of Hatufim, an Israeli drama created by Gideon Raff (who also contributes to Homeland), in which prisoners of war return home after being held prisoner in Lebanon. In both series, the tension is drawn from the characters, their lives, and the specter of a larger secret. I was being too sensitive about the military/terror connection, because the show would work just as well if Brody was a CIA agent, military contractor, or even a reporter. While certain details would be different, the richness and complexity of the characters would be unchanged—and the characters are what the show is truly about.
Photo courtesy Showtime
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