Homelands Propaganda

By the time you have read this post, most of you would have viewed a few episodes of Season Four of Homelands. It is described elsewhere as an American political thriller. To my mind it doesn’t rank among the best shows that I have seen, Emmy Awards notwithstanding. It falls far short of magnificent films such as All the President’s Men and The Manchurian Candidate, mainly because of its banal promotion of American superiority over the rest of the world. Even Jason Bourne has got the better of Ms Mathison. I recently reached the end of Season Three. You will remember that CIA Agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was promoted and redeployed to a CIA nerve centre, or battle station, somewhere in Turkey. We are fooled into believing that this unorthodox and diligent CIA agent was rewarded for her initiative and bravery. This is not the case. Her CIA bosses have used and abused her.

Apart from being thrust into dangerous territories such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Carrie Mathison is a danger to her own self and to those who either love her or hate her. Apart from her unique skills of persuasion and intellect as a spy, she suffers from a bipolar disorder. Ludicrously she managed to shield her illness from her employers for a few episodes at least. It is ludicrous, because, after all, her employers are the CIA. Afghanistan, Pakistan and, for that matter, Lebanon and Iran, are also dangerous to her colleagues, because they have invaded areas where they have no business being. They are enemies to these nations and militant organisations such as al-Qaeda and the Talban understandably resist them as far as the CIA, Navy Seals and US Marines will allow. These invaders of foreign lands create dangerous scenario’s for innocent women and children who are invariably caught in the cross fire and die unnecessarily. Their bosses, from the CIA director to the President himself merely dismiss this as collateral damage.

This Showtime production has proved to be highly popular. A fifth season will air during 2015.  Anyway, I sympathised with this heroic character, mainly because of her illness. I was also endeared to her because she shares a similar love for jazz greats such as Miles Davis.

I was not able to endear myself to United States Marine Corps Sniper, Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis). Best to describe him as a fallen hero for now. I do not share the same belief of brave men and women who volunteer to fight enemies in foreign nations in the name of protecting their compatriots who are in any case thousands of miles from the line of fire. Subjectively speaking, British-born actor, Damien Lewis, is not among my list of favourite actors. I was, however, captivated by the beauty and innocence of Brody’s long-suffering wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), who balances domestic life and her husband’s traitorous actions and his conversion to Islam quite well. Not that such a conversion should present any problems, nor should it be resisted, but it is understandably a shock to Jessica. Alone, she has to deal with her daughter’s attempted suicide owing to the child’s disappointment in her father. Again, subjectively speaking, this Brazilian-born actress is gorgeous. I remember her fondly as the wannabee Alien Queen Mother who attempted to invade Earth in the re-make of the eighties TV Series, V. It appears that my patient waiting for the successful completion of this alien invasion has been in vain.

When Season Four of Homelands was being filmed, I was intrigued for two reasons. The first reason? The show was shot on location here in Cape Town. The rand-dollar exchange rate worked in favour of the budget-conscious Showtime executive producers and the City of Cape Town’s mayor’s office. It held little advantage for most Cape Town city dwellers who would have hardly noticed the presence of the actors who are afforded celebrity status elsewhere. American artists must eat and amuse themselves while working hard on their block-busters. So, yes, some restaurants and take-out joints enjoyed a brief business boom. The second reason? While they ate and drank and went sight-seeing, one lone American was not amused. Acclaimed actor, Mandy Patinkin was seen brandishing a placard in protest of the Israeli Defence Force’s brutal bombardments of Palestinian territories in which hundreds of innocent civilians lost their lives. I was initially impressed with Patinkin’s own brave show of solidarity, because it is he who plays the Jewish and ex-CIA (acting) Director, Saul Berenson, who shows no remorse for his covert actions which lead to the loss of innocent lives.

This is all interesting, because Cape Town is at war with itself for reasons to do with inequality and a failure to bury its past and reconcile itself with the present. For Capetonians, or Cape Flats dwellers, daily life is often defined as “A Tale of Two Cities.” Dickens’ memorable opening lines ring true for most inhabitants, particularly those who were born and bred in the Cape of Good Hope, or the Cape of Storms, depending on which analogy you prefer. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Words to that effect.

While war raged in Palestine, hundreds, if not thousands of local Cape Flats civilians, mostly Muslim, brandished their own placards, like Patinkin, and took to the streets of the affluent boroughs of the City of Cape Town to voice their opposition of the Israeli government’s actions. Not that the American side of the world noticed much of it. They were watching Homelands. Correctly they may argue that it is Hamas who are the antagonists, much like the villains portrayed in Homelands. Hamas also fired their own share of rockets over into the privileged areas of Israeli towns and suburbs, but without much effect.

In turn, the IDF retaliated. They justified bombardment of Palestinian villages, much like Berenson and his cronies have justified their covert activities since season one of Homelands. The Israeli’s claimed to have given sufficient warnings to the Palestinian civilians that their homes were about to be bombed. Really? These outrageous and hideous acts were shown across the world. This time around, unlike Bush’s “war against terror”, propaganda was ineffective, although if you read the major US newspapers on-line, you will still find biased media coverage, favouring the US governments unilateral actions and frowning upon “Islamic terrorists” (read: Muslims in general). The influence of propaganda in the Homeland series is not lost on this viewer. As early as the introductory credits, we see Presidents from Bush snr to Barack Obama issuing ominous and over-used warnings to the rest of the Muslim world and on behalf of the American people in the “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Patinkin’s performance, both on and off camera, appalled me. To me, it was a crass display of double-standards. He, as actor, promotes aggression against innocent Muslims, but as citizen of the Western world, he shows sympathy for innocent Muslims. Make up your mind, Patinkin, which side are you on? In any event, there should be no sides. We are all one. While Patinkin and many other Hollywood actors continue to portray American aggression through art, most of the world has taken note.

Homelands, to my mind, continues the saga of American film and television production companies, showcasing the Central Intelligence Agency as a slick organisation made up of mostly brave men and women putting their bodies on the line to save America from perceived malevolent forces of evil from around the world. Carrie Mathison offered non-Americans some hope as a heroic agent of change, but it seems that she has regressed behind the backs of the status quo. Let’s be honest, producers, screen-writers and actors are all complicit in justifying Bush’s war on terror. And let us not forget that Homelands is adapted from the original Israeli production, Hatufim (Prisoners of War) which was conceptualised by Gideon Raff.

They will all argue that this is all just fiction and shouldn’t be taken seriously. So then, let’s entertain fictionalised notions of real life scenario’s in which (mostly Muslim) innocent women and children lose their lives. Think again, Hollywood. Fiction is also used actively to objectify the injustices committed by (mostly American) militants and corrupt politicians. Audience Network’s Damages was one such show back in 2012. It ended triumphantly when the neo-liberal attorney at law, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) exposed the corrupted veins of the CIA network in which the ex-Marine turned billionaire war mercenary Howard Erickson (John Goodman) is sacrificed as a scapegoat. The devious agent, Jerry Boorman (Dylan Baker), however, does not escape either. He is killed by “one of our own.”

'I’m more proud of this than anything I’ve ever done,' said the American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal of her part in BBC Two’s The Honourable Woman

Edifying and truthful productions alluding to the atrocities committed by the Israeli’s (while their American allies either support them, or look on) have been produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, the former public broadcaster of the British Empire which once held Palestinian lands captive through colonisation. The Honourable Woman attempts to mend fences and bridge divides which have existed for centuries.

In The Honourable Woman, members of the CIA’s equivalent, MI6, go a little further in addressing its corrupt and amoral methods of gathering intelligence, specifically on behalf of Her Majesty. Unlike Fleming’s captivating interpretations of the master spy, this BBC production shows that there is no glamour and perks to being a spy ala James Bond. It is a thankless job, particularly when the spy, who grows a set of ethical balls, chooses not to kiss the arse (ass) of his boss.  Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle (Stephen Rea) can only sigh. There is, however, sex. It’s part of the job. Never quite over his beloved wife, Anjelica (Lindsay Duncan), Hayden Hoyle goes the mile to bring some redemption to his otherwise chaotic and confusing life as a spy. Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) presents a golden opportunity for the quietly spoken man. After her brother’s corrupt lliason with Mossad and the IDF, Nessa is uncharacteristically installed as chairwoman of the Stein Foundation and goes a long way to replace arms dealing with just causes, such as building schools and laying cables for wireless inter-connectivity.

Nessa unwittingly becomes a pawn in the malevolent chess game between the Israelis and Palestinian operatives and is thrust into the chaos of modern day Gaza. She pays a price, but brings honour to her convenient title of Baroness. It is left to our erstwhile spy, Hayden-Hoyle, mirroring Berenson’s proverbial pulling of the strings far from the theatre of war, to rescue Nessa.

The Promise, another British production, this time on Channel Four, a fictional adaptation of Palestinian history spanning two eras and two generations, touched my heart. Curiously, this show is also known as Homeland. After growing up as an orphan, Sergeant Len Matthews (Christian Cooke) joins the permanent force of the British armed forces and serves his country during the Second World War. Soon after witnessing first hand the horrors of the Holocaust, he is swiftly re-assigned to Palestine where Great Britain tentatively releases her hold on one of her last colonies.

Morally, he must make ends meet while he witnesses the inept military control and administration of his fellow-Brits and the belligerent and violent terrorism by the Zionists against the (mostly) indefensible Palestinians. The Zionist cause is propagated as a matter of Biblical history. By befriending a Palestinian family, Matthews is arrested for insubordination (mainly). But his friendship with Abu-Hassan Mohamed and his participation in an old Palestinian tradition leaves him with a key to the front door of the Palestinian family’s home which they are forced to flee when the Zionists overrun their neighbourhood.

Plagued with guilt and lying in hospital nearly sixty years later, the elderly Matthews is still clutching that key. It is left to his prodigious and caring granddaughter, Erin (Claire Foy), to seek Mohamed and return the key to him. Sadly, he has passed on, and young Erin hands over the key to Mohamed’s bed-ridden daughter while Israeli bullets ricochet dangerously across the invalid’s room.

Sergeant Matthews, through his loving granddaughter, is able to keep his promise to his good Palestinian friend, Abu-Hassan Mohamed. Nessa Stein is given a chance to restore her tragic life to some form of normalcy, but without giving up on her quest to help the Palestinians. Her saviour, the good spy Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle, is able to retire gracefully, one hopes. Patty Hewes, well we will never really know, will we, continues her quest in exposing corrupt politicians and business magnates.

And Saul Berenson? Well, he becomes a free agent of violence and mayhem.

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