TV Culture: Casting Terror in ‘Homeland’

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Showtime’s highly acclaimed drama, Homeland, has rocked the television industry for two suspenseful seasons. The show tells the story of Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody after he returns home from eight years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie Mathison, an ambitious CIA officer, suspects he might be plotting an attack on America and the main tension stems from this unraveling mystery (IMDB). The show provides viewers with an inside look into covert CIA operations and fictitious terror plots, an interesting backdrop considering the current U.S “War on Terror.”

In the first season, Brody’s conversion to Islam was revealed to viewers, causing many to cast his American patriotism into question. Since a white male war hero doesn’t exactly fit the mainstream image of a terrorist, the show utilized the stigma surrounding Islam to maintain suspense throughout the first season. Though it may have been hard to imagine, Brody had indeed been plotting an attack against the United States. Through this story line, the show has strategically challenged the conversations surrounding terrorism.

In the first episode of the second season, Homeland combatted ignorance surrounding the Arab world through Brody’s witty teenage daughter, Dana. While in a formal class discussion where only one student was allowed to talk at a time, one of Dana’s classmates went on the following rant: “The Arab religion doesn’t value human life the way we do…These Arabs believe that if they kill us, they’ll get to go to Heaven.” Dana shifted uncomfortably in her seat until she finally interrupted him without being called upon by her teacher. “They’re not Arabs” she said. “They’re not called Arabs, they’re Persians.” Her teacher instantly reprimanded her for speaking out of turn, further irritating Dana. The student who made the initial statements went on to say, “Persians, Arabs. What’s the difference? They both want the same thing, which is to annihilate us. Why shouldn’t we hit them first?” After Dana further exposed his ignorance, he validated himself by claiming his dad worked for the U.S Secretary of State. In the heat of the moment, Dana mistakenly announced that her dad was a Muslim. Knowing that her dad was a national hero, the class dismissed it and laughed it off after another student replied, “Yeah, and my dad’s a Scientologist.” This exchange is an example of how Homeland is successfully countering the discriminatory media that Americans have become accustomed to. Brody’s role as an undercover terrorist casts the mainstream profile of extreme Islamists into question.

In the first season, Carrie suspected that a young couple new to a local neighborhood was involved in Brody’s plot. When a white woman and Middle Eastern man bought a house near the airport using money from a stolen necklace, Carrie automatically suspected that Raqium Faisel, rather than Aileen Morgan, was involved in the main conspiracy. It was later revealed to the audience that Aileen, a white woman, was the terrorist who was stringing her husband along. Viewers, like Carrie, were probably just as shocked after discovering that their suspected terrorist was just an accomplice.

By diversifying the modern terrorist profile, as if there were such a thing, Homeland is working to fight prejudice and discrimination. While staying true to reality, the show has managed not to exploit the American population’s heightened sense of fear and sensitivity to terrorism. Instead of reinforcing the monolithic image of extreme Islamists, Abu Nazir, the mastermind behind the main plot, is mostly seen in peaceful settings. There have often been flashbacks showing Abu Nazir and Brody sharing intimate moments. This was done intentionally to show the multi-dimensionality of him as a man, rather than a detestable terrorist. By showcasing the fact that bad people come in all colors, shapes, and military ranks, Homeland is slowly diluting the racial and cultural stereotypes that mainstream American media promotes.

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