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'Homeland,' Obama’s Show.
December 12, 2012 2:59 AM   Subscribe

'Homeland,' Obama’s Show. The award winning TV show does little to alleviate the myths and misconceptions about Arabs and Muslims, writes Joseph Massad, a scholar at Columbia University. "The racist representation of Arabs is so exponential, even for American television [..] that one does not know where to begin."

Previously
posted by kiskar (84 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are some valid points in this piece, but they are undercut by multiple logical inconsistencies and the general hyperbolic tone. This belongs on a personal blog, and I am surprised that Al-Jazeera has allowed this on their site without some heavy tonal and copy editing.
posted by LondonYank at 3:25 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen the show, but I can't say I'd be surprised if the makers of "24" produced something that misses the ol' ethically/socially responsible bullseye.


I would like to see his source for the whole "Sesame Street told children that Arab == Danger" business, though. A cursory search didn't find anything credible.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:25 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was happy reading this 'til I got here:

Just like American whiteness, which is always completely pure that only one drop of black blood makes an American black, American heterosexuality is equally pure, so much so that a once-a-week homosexual experience renders a man married to three women (and presumably has heterosexual sex with them for the rest of the week) “gay”! Clearly Arab society is so horrific that it forces gay men not only to marry one woman, but three!

I'm not exactly sure what I was reading there, or even what it meant, but it put me off the whole article.
posted by zoo at 3:30 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh give me a frigging break:

"According to TV Guide, when Damien Lewis was at the White House, he 'did sort of joke with [Obama] that the creators of the show had asked him to give us a heads up on any foreign policy moves so that we could just stay current with Season 2. And he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’ll be sure to do that.’' While this might have been a joke, the propaganda role 'Homeland' wishes to play on behalf of a potential US–supported Israeli bombing of Iran is not."

This guy has some valid points about negative portrayals of Muslims within "Homeland", but as I said before all of this is undercut by childish, university-student conspiracy-peddling such as the statement above.

In short, this piece, even as an opinion piece, is rubbish.
posted by LondonYank at 3:32 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Arab Danger sesame street. It's probably urban legend.
posted by zoo at 3:33 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The nonsense put forward by this article is so extensive, that I do not know where to begin.

...and the white Christian American Carrie Mathison...


As far as I can recall, Carrie's religious beliefs are never mentioned. At all. The man, it is straw.

The Jewish Berenson is married to an Indian Hindu “brown” woman

She's not 'brown', she is literally brown. It's unclear whether she's Hindu.

(perhaps cementing the Indian Hindu-Israeli Jewish rightwing alliance against Arabs and Muslims in the minds of the scriptwriters).


what is this I don't even

On the first season of the show, cross racial romance seems to have also infected the character of a white rich American woman who fell in love with a “brown” mild-mannered Saudi professor at a US university

Oh my gods, just stop. Infected? Go fuck yourself.

...bipolar disorder (an “ailment” that succeeded clinical depression as the most fashionable American psychiatric disorder in the preceding decade).


Um. Is this going to turn into a anti-vaccine rant?

The Saudi diplomat ... refused to cooperate until Carrie threatened to pull his favourite daughter out of Yale University and deport her, making sure she would not be able to go to any American or European university and that she would be forced “to go back to Saudi Arabia and get fat and wear a burkah for the rest of her miserable life.” This Oedipal dynamic seems important for the scriptwriters as we will see.


Brody, who strapped himself with explosives in order to kill the Vice-President, is overcome with Oedipal emotions when his daughter calls him a split second before he blows everyone up, at which points he aborts the mission. Such is the working of Oedipus!


WHAT THE FUCK. DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO OEDIPUS IS?

Still, it seems Hezbollah operatives, who are represented as in control of the airport (!), are so well trained in anti-Semitism, that they recognise Berenson as “Jewish” based solely on his last name and ask him to confirm their finding: “Jewish, yes?”


It's a Jewish name. This is not some amazing deductive leap.

tl;dr any valid points are lost in the sea of bullshit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:40 AM on December 12, 2012 [48 favorites]


Here one wonders what Obama must be thinking while watching the show as he himself had ordered the murder of the 16-year-old US-born teenager Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki by a drone attack two weeks after having ordered the murder of his American father who had not been charged with any crime.

This made this otherwise confused screed worth reading. One does wonder indeed what Obama must be thinking when he signs these death warrants and if "Israeli-Jewish" inspired anti-Arab racism does not factor into his cold, cold heart.

"Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve."
posted by three blind mice at 3:41 AM on December 12, 2012


The racist representation of Arabs is so exponential

I'm not going to let that one go. You can't meaningfully be "so exponential". The whole idea of exponential growth makes the "so" part irrelevant. To say it's "so exponential" is to apply a constant multiplier to an exponential, which only increases the exponential behavior by a trivial vertical stretch.

I'm not going to let that one go. No way. If you're sloppy about your understanding of natural growth patterns, how sloppy are you about understanding political patterns?
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:48 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


So: a lazily-written, easily refuted, mouth-breathing rant.
posted by LondonYank at 3:53 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a shame, because there are some valid points in there, and people don't pick on Homeland enough for its silliness. That said, this guy writes as if he's never been edited, or even corrected, in his entire life.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The author seems to have a thing about Jews:
... the American Jew Saul Berenson ...
The Jewish Berenson is married to ...
... the Jewish Berenson tells her ...
... the Jewish Berenson who ...
... declared by the Jewish Berenson ...
... the Jewish Berenson declares ...
... to the Jewish Berenson.
... they recognise Berenson as “Jewish” ...

There are only two references to Berenson that don't explicitly identify his religion, but one of those is in a paragraph where he's identified as a Jew twice. We're also told that
The racialist structure of the show is reflective of American and Israeli fantasies of anti-Muslim American multiculturalism. The African American Estes is divorced and his former wife married an American Jew. She and their children converted to Judaism.
How is this relevant?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:57 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


How is this relevant?

For anything to be relevant, you must first have a point.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:59 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a lot to say about Homeland. Homeland and racism, especially. This is not quite it.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:13 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, according to the article, why is it surprising that the Clintons like Homeland?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:14 AM on December 12, 2012


We're past all of this now. We've been in this part of dream-reality for years. We have a president whose last name rhymes with Osama, whose middle name coincides with the villain of Iraq, and whose first name came out of Africa.

I'm so confused by that weird mix of names that I think anything is possible. Maybe we can get over this odd fear of The Other, maybe we can start to live in harmony with races and cultures that only recently seemed threatening to us. That's why next time I'm going to vote for Bob Moishe Leroy Von Hitler Michael Jackson, because it will bring me peace.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:16 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, according to the article, why is it surprising that the Clintons like Homeland?

He says it's 'unsurprising'. He doesn't say why.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:17 AM on December 12, 2012


bipolar disorder (an “ailment” that succeeded clinical depression as the most fashionable American psychiatric disorder in the preceding decade).

Oh my. Oh... just....I try not to get sweary on the internet so I'll just write this: go to heck hack writer, I no longer have time for Al-Jazeera.
posted by Winnemac at 4:34 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


yah, thanks. I meant "why is it unsurprising that the Clintons like Homeland?" Or surprising. Really, why is this a thing?
posted by iamkimiam at 4:38 AM on December 12, 2012


yah, thanks. I meant "why is it unsurprising that the Clintons like Homeland?"

Oh, well, I think it was because something something white Israel Christians.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of this is . . . really odd. Guessing that someone named "Saul Berenson" is Jewish is not significantly more difficult than guessing someone named "Moshe Cohen" is. When Jessica Brody throws her husband's Quran on the floor, we're supposed to think she's acted really badly, not that we should be worried he's going to stop her from driving. (Although I would have liked to see more mention of his religion this season.)

I also think that Abu Nazir's son's name was in fact Issa, not Aisa. I'll believe that the accents are wrong, but I have rarely seen a show that gets accents right. They're hard to do.

I'm not really clear why we keep calling father/daughter relationships Oedipal when the daughters and fathers are trying to save each other.

There really is something to say about the way race is used on the show -- in particular, some of the complaints about Estes and Walker are valid, there are significant issues with their use of non-white Muslins -- and I think season 2, which I am enjoying, is doing a worse job than season 1 on that front.
posted by jeather at 5:38 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The xenophobic undertones of Homeland aren't anything worse than what's come out of American television in the past 30 years.

What's more disturbing is Claire Danes' constant chuffing like an exasperated teenager. Would they really let someone that petulant, unbalanced and unusually chatty be a high level operative in a clandestine war? Why is she sassing the polygrapher? Is she really divulging details of the investigation in a girls' locker room? Well DUH Dad, GET OUT OF MY LIFE! It's My So-Called Spy Show.
posted by Operation Afterglow at 5:43 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


The article, she is not so good. Yeah.

I had heard from several people that I should be watching Homeland. I had been put off by teaser commercials that seemed to position it as a hunt against homegrown terrorists. "What is this, 2003?" I thought. But the comments on how good a show it was kept coming. And, hell, I have Showtime.

So I watched it. I read later that there have been consistent complaints about this season. And jumping in somewhere in the middle is always trouble. But I did not like the show. Carrie was unsympathetic. Brody was an automaton.

But also: what is this, 2003? In some other universe, the setup of a soldier turned to the other side and sent back as a sleeper would be quite entertaining. In this universe, it seemed to plucking so hard at wearied anxious harpstrings I was instantly turned off. There's no one to cheer for, so there's nothing to make up for all that tweaking of security-state memes.

Perhaps I'm missing subtext. I saw one episode. I hope that I did, actually, because based on what I have seen, the most compelling thing about the show is that any leftish sort of person likes it at all.
posted by adoarns at 5:44 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yikes. I just watched the first season of Homeland last weekend, and yes, it has some issues and some of those have to do with racist stereotypes, etc. But one thing that pleasantly surprised me is that pretty much every character (of any race) identified in some way as a "terrorist" is presented quite sympathetically and as, like, a human, at least compared with nearly every other American entertainment featuring a "terrorist" character.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:47 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are some valid points in this piece, but they are undercut by multiple logical inconsistencies and the general hyperbolic tone.

What America has to say about the Muslim world tends to 'drone' on and on.
posted by srboisvert at 5:58 AM on December 12, 2012


Perhaps I'm missing subtext. I saw one episode.

Seeing one episode out of the middle of, what? Season 2? Yeah, you've missed a lot. It's not an episodic show -- it's basically a giant film broken up into little parts.

What you saw was the equivalent of walking in on hour 8 of a Lord Of The Rings Extended Version marathon and walking out at the beginning of hour 9.
posted by hippybear at 6:13 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're going to complain about xenophobia and ethnocentrism then maybe you should Jew so much Jew to the Jew-Jewish Jew. Jew?
posted by 1adam12 at 6:21 AM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


He uses the phrase "Jewish Berenson" so often I'm starting to read it like the name of a Silver Age comic book gangster:

"Be careful, Superman! 'Two-Fist' Malone and 'Jewish' Berenson stole the red kryptonite from the museum exhibit!"
posted by griphus at 6:29 AM on December 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


The writing of Homeland has no subtlety. It wants balls-out tension, so the only way they try to deal with complexity of characters/issues/religions is by presenting garish opposites, playing both stereotypes (the rich playboy sheik) and against stereotypes (the white girl ).
This is not to say the Homeland has no depth. The characters have contradictions and regrets. The heroes have faults and the evil-doers have reservations. The main actors do a marvelous job in playing that out, but they are undone by the writers who give in to a cliched picture of the war on terror.
You could have all of the same story and faultiness of characters and do it right. Maybe David Simon could be coaxed into doing a story of the war on terror that matched his epic document on the war on drugs. Both fail for the same reasons.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Didn't get very far in this before realising it's of personal, unbalanced, blog quality. And, above all, boring. Even the title; Obama has been quoted several times as saying The Wire is his favorite show (how much he watches any of these is a different point).

Also: must absolutely everything be scrutinized (the curse of the overthinker?) Is it possible to, like, just enjoy something for what it is? Rather than drearily #fail everything according to some self-created and deliberately defeatest criteria?

I've enjoyed Homeland. It hasn't changed my political views one iota, because it's a piece of nicely put together TV entertainment to be enjoyed. And now I'll move on to the next thing to enjoy, rather than writing a several thousand word ranty journalistic piece, trying desperately to find some fault in it to give myself some kind of public credibility and a few website visits.
posted by Wordshore at 6:49 AM on December 12, 2012


I'm having a lot of trouble reconciling the article with the kind of person I imagine becoming a tenured prof at Columbia. The writing is too poor and the errors too obvious. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that this was perpetrated by an imposter.
posted by mariokrat at 6:52 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The author's insistance in "racializing" every single detail of the show is way more problematic than the show's issues themselves.
I think that the main problem with Homeland is that the writers dedicate so much time to personal interactions that the ponderous political issues that the show is supposed to deal with are now just a vague and often non-sensical background. It's become a sitcom about terrorism, which is problematic in itself. The Roya-Carrie scene in last episode is a typical example: neither of the characters make any sort of sense but the interaction was great (Roya pwning Carrie).
On the other hand, the reluctantly positive hero is a conflicted Muslim terrorist, which is certainly innovative in a mainstream fiction.
posted by elgilito at 7:10 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


SPOILERS

There's no one to cheer for

Worse than that, the central character is never wrong on her first guess. It's absurd. Occasionally they'll make her wrong on her second guess but then they quickly realize she was "right all along".

Predictable and unrealistic, sure... that's 24. But this is worse because it's like 24 on quaaludes. It's boring.

And the writing is just so... convenient. The VP finds Brody in his office. He doesn't wonder wtf, he just says "Getting a feel for the place?" Ugh. Carrie escapes with the help of Brody and her superiors ask her how she got away... "I escaped." "Oh, okay." Multiple teams of FBI do numerous sweeps of a building looking for a terrorist they are told is in the building but it takes Carrie on the last pass to notice the architecture of the room doesn't quite jibe?

Seriously, writers, fuck off. Your decisions undermine you own work.

Makes me so frustrated that mature shows with intricate plotting and real characters--shows like Luck and Deadwood--get cancelled and this and The Walking Dead and other mindless television gets praised to the high heavens.
posted by dobbs at 7:14 AM on December 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


This show drove cheerfully off a cliff first episode of season 2. Total staggering ridiculous train wreck - not just plot but dialogue too. Danes is still an awesome actress but otherwise show not worth watching since S02E01. I was a big fan of S01 too. They should fire all the American writers and hire the Israelis who did the original. too late though,
posted by Bwithh at 7:35 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


His wife is played by the Brazilian actress Morena Baccarin who looks suspiciously brown, but nonetheless is presented as white! Baccarin’s roles on previous TV shows have mostly been in science fiction, presumably due to her “alien” looks.

I don't think that anyone could put the above words down on paper should be writing about racism.
posted by Quonab at 7:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


If in the 1970s, American children were taught on the American children’s TV program “Sesame Street” that the word “danger” connotes “Arabs” by showing a drawing of an Arab with a headdress next to the word,...

Pics or it never happened.
posted by molecicco at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2012


I didn't read the article, but I didn't watch past episode 1 of Homeland, which did indeed strike me as unpleasantly racist. Every Arab character seemed to be a torturer, a terrorist, a pimp, or a seducer of white women. Not very subtle.
posted by Major Tom at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2012


Wow, that Hussein Ibish article from the FPP is pretty interesting in light of Massad's comments about homosexuality ... (link)
posted by en forme de poire at 8:42 AM on December 12, 2012


I agree S02 is much weaker and basically a sitcom about terrorism as said above. It's still entertaining enough fluff that I keep watching it. I think the show has many political and racial sins to be ashamed of, but they are more of the "default privileged vieworld" kind, as is the case with most mainstream fiction TV since, uh, decades now. This guy's article is terrible, in any case. Also, they don't "present as white" Baccarin's character, they just never bother presenting her as more than the suffering, understanding but then no longer so, army wife stereotype, I suppose. We have no clue about her family, education, interests, or even her exact religious affiliation. When overthinking the can of beans, I think it's important to not open a can of corn instead, Mr. Scholar.
posted by Iosephus at 8:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't read the article, but I didn't watch past episode 1 of Homeland, which did indeed strike me as unpleasantly racist. Every Arab character seemed to be a torturer, a terrorist, a pimp, or a seducer of white women. Not very subtle.

I'm not necessarily taking issue with this, but it's a bit like watching Episode 1 of The Wire and saying, "This sucks: most of the African American characters are drug dealers." It's more complicated than that. It's absolutely accurate that the three main characters on Homeland are white Americans and that the Arab and Arab-American ones, at least in Season 1, aren't given any POV prominence the way many of the "minor" characters on The Wire are.

But I think the Saudi playboy, the "terrorist" professor, the Arab-Guatemalan-American CIA agent, and especially the Saudi diplomat (who I wish we saw more of 'cause he was splendid and multi-stereotype-deconstructing in the "interrogation" scene) are portrayed very like Bodie or Wallace or Stringer Bell on The Wire. The first time or two you see them, you might think, "Yeah, offensive stereotype," but then you find out they have layers.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the writing is just so... convenient. The VP finds Brody in his office. He doesn't wonder wtf, he just says "Getting a feel for the place?" Ugh. Carrie escapes with the help of Brody and her superiors ask her how she got away... "I escaped." "Oh, okay." Multiple teams of FBI do numerous sweeps of a building looking for a terrorist they are told is in the building but it takes Carrie on the last pass to notice the architecture of the room doesn't quite jibe?

All these complaints are from the last two episodes. I know the backlash on Homeland has begun, but I still think it had an really great first season with lots of tension, phenomenal performances and good to great character work. I am willing to overlook some blatant plotting failures this season because I am still coasting off of that goodwill. Homeland is no Deadwood, but it is no 24 either. Note: If I was the author of this piece, I would probably need to point out that Deadwood was created and written by a Jew.

Also, isn't Massad the guy who claimed that there was no Arab homosexuality because "homosexuality" is a Western invention. Arabs can commit male on male penetrative acts but cannot be fitted into the Western term "homosexuality" - that being "gay" is a cultural construct that the West is trying to impose on Arab Muslims who like to fuck guys but also have wives or whatever. I may be getting the details wrong, because I only half remember the controversy. In general, this "scholar" is a joke, like Edward Said on goofy pills.
posted by Falconetti at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2012


I still like Claire Danes. I'm too old to watch My So Called Life, so I have to settle for Homeland. But I wish I had kept HBO and stuck with The Newsroom instead of shifting to Showtime for Homeland. Aaron Sorkin might be a hack to some extent, but he's my kind of hack.
posted by PuppyCat at 9:25 AM on December 12, 2012


I think SNL's critique (hulu) of the show's problems is more accurate than this guys.
posted by Mick at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


And the writing is just so... convenient.

The defenses of the show that I've read are quick to brush aside the show's increasingly massive plausibility issues. ("It wasn't that plausible to begin with!" "I'm not bothered by implausibility!")

But when you end Season 1 with Saul telling Carrie in no uncertain terms that her CIA career is over, then go on to Season 2 with Carrie running ops and handling assets like she never left, suspension of disbelief becomes impossible.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2012


Also, while Angela Chase will live in my heart forever:
Carrie is, well, nuts. We know this because in the first season Danes went about establishing Carrie's mental illness with what I can only describe as insane levels of overacting. Every scene featured the same twitching, face-pulling, hair-flicking, wildly smirking over-the-top performance from Danes as she made damn sure even the dimmest, most chowderheaded viewer was alert to the terrible, terrible inner turmoil Carrie is living with.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:44 AM on December 12, 2012


. . . Arab consultant tell them that the name of “Abu Nazir” itself means “father of Nazir,” Nazir being his eldest son, so that they would refrain from making the elementary and laughable mistake of referring to “Abu” as his first name and “Nazir” as his last name!

Uh, show me where this happened. I don't know Arabic, and even I know this. Where. WHERE does anyone refer to Abu Nazir by "Abu"? Without that, you're just making things up.

This whole critique misses every mark so broadly I'm surprised it was published.
posted by exlotuseater at 9:49 AM on December 12, 2012


Homeland would have played better if the mentally ill agent had fit into the story less like Jack Bauer from 24, where she's America's last great hope, and more like Tarr from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where she could be the crucial but problematic keystone of a much larger case. What if the main character also suffered from some sort of affliction, but in a more muted and functional way, and then it brings up painful thoughts and feelings as the main character realizes that this seeming crank had been right about something all along?

I dunno. Homeland Season One was pretty good, but I was underwhelmed.

Also, Claire Daines' performance is interesting, but it looked nothing like any manic episodes I've seen in my life. I'm reminded of how phony Russell Crowe's paranoid schizophrenia looked in A Beautiful Mind, whereas Ralph Fiennes in Spider had it down pat. I'm sure that different people's experiences vary.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2012


This is turning in to a discussion of the dramatic qualities of the show, and ignoring the original article, which is being roundly dismissed as being of low quality.

So I gotta ask the original poster: kiskar, why did you think it was worth posting? Are we missing something interesting about it?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:02 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Salvor Hardin: I haven't seen the show, but I can't say I'd be surprised if the makers of "24" produced something that misses the ol' ethically/socially responsible bullseye.

Yeah, that was my take. I remember when it first debuted, there were people going on about how maybe the converted-to-Islam soldier would not be in fact a terrorist, and I laughed and said yeah, right. And indeed, Muslim = secret terrorist undermining our Sacred Values, surprise surprise. People keep going on "oh, but the _acting_ is good", but I don't have any need for well-acted bigotry.
posted by tavella at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2012


The SNL video was awesome, thanks for this!
posted by nostrada at 10:40 AM on December 12, 2012


A good critique of this show that outlines its (apparent) anti-Arab or pro-Jewish stance is made harder by the central conceit of the show itself: that few of its central players are wholly good or bad.

Carrie Matheson is the Learish jester. Brody is painted as a good man who consistently makes bad decisions under pressure. Saul Berenson is a good man, but he is naive. The vice president is a bad man, but his realpolitik is not itself unusual or cartoonishly abhorrent*. Estes is also, it appears a bad man, because he is the enemy of the show's antihero. Abu Nazir is not a wholly cartoonish bad guy: his target is a bad man.

What the article touches on, somewhere in its mess, is that with a bit of distance the show does take the mainstream anti-Arab and non-white racism for granted.

Its non-white characters are are broad brushstrokes: Abu Nazir, Roya Hammad, David Estes, Tom Walker. We learn little of their internal lives, and how they have arrived at their respective positions, the struggles they have had between good and evil. By contrast, Brody, Matheson and Berenson are painted more richly. The romance between Uncle Mike and Jess Brody is complex and fraught. Brody's father-daughter relationship, as we learn they mirror each other and can act as one another's saviour has depth. But the love between Brody and Nazir strikes a false note. Nazir reveals he is using Brody just like everyone else. When he releases Matheson it looks less like an act of faith and more like a puppeteer who knows he has already pulled Brody's strings.

Nazir actually becomes one dimensional, perhaps the only character in the show to do so. In series one, it doesn't look like it and it signals a subtle change in the show's direction as it plays to a wider audience. By series two, in Nazir's jousting with Matheson the viewer is told the conclusion it is meant to have by Matheson, who gets the last word: he is a terrorist. It is a sop to the viewer that a man avenging the death of his son is written off so crudely. As the Bin Laden-esque cipher we only get half the story, too. Like Hammad, he is Palestinian. But why Palestinians might resort to terrorism of America is left unsaid. A scab too big to pick to TV, even presented unsympathetically. But if that is the case, why make them Palestinian? Bin Laden wrote copiously of his dislike of Americans in Saudi Arabia and Jews in Palestine, his dislike of America's support for the corrupt Saudi monarchy. Nazir doesn't, so far, get even the madman's rant. It is a cop out to make him Bin Laden but not.

That Saul Berenson is Jewish is a distracting, anti-semitic and particularly ugly red herring in Massad's screed. It is also wrong: Berenson is an old school arabist and the only character in the show that understands Nazir. He is a voice of hope and sanity, which is why he seems like a secondee from the State Department and an anachronism in Estes' set up.

But above all, the most caustic aspect is the portrayal of the small army of Arab sleeper agents. It creates the picture, and I suspect false picture, that there is such a network. It tells us every Arab man and woman in America is suspect. This is particularly ironic given that the source material is Israeli, and Israel's use of sayanim is known and documented.** It plays to America's worst fears: the kindly tailor who has served in his community for years isn't just an Arab sayan, easing the logistics of the cause. He is a bombmaker. The conspiracy dates back years. The old antisemitic trope of Jews in the media is also turned on its head: the most famous female reporter in America is an Arab woman working to bring its downfall. They are amongst us, imperceptible.


* Although he does look like Donald Trump, so one feels the material was there to work with.
**Most notably by Victor Otrovsky and Gordon Thomas in their respective books. Although fairness dictates mentioning Otrovsky has faced accusations of embellishment.

posted by MuffinMan at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was midway through the second paragraph when I first thought "I wonder what the Arabic for 'plate of beans' is?"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:56 AM on December 12, 2012


I was midway through the second paragraph when I first thought "I wonder what the Arabic for 'plate of beans' is?"

It's "shut up, ful"
posted by MuffinMan at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Hussein Ibish link is really interesting.
There are good points in the main article, and there are good points, but the whole way of working in the ME is conspiracy theory and corruption, which is at least one good reason that no sane government should let themselves be led by Israeli or Arab interests. And no sane television company should adopt any Israeli or Arab TV show.
posted by mumimor at 11:05 AM on December 12, 2012


It's a shame this article is so bad, because I think there's some legitimate points lurking in here. I think Homeland is fairly clever and subtle for TV writing (although it's no Sleeper Cell). But it still relies heavily on the basic tropes of terrorist fantasy TV. I'd like to read a more precise takedown of the show than this. Particularly one honing in on Saul Berenson; he's a great character, and not just because of Patinkin's awesome acting.

Has anyone watched חטופים / Hatufim / Prisoners of War, the Israeli show Homeland was based on? There's a version with American subs lurking around the torrentsphere, but I haven't looked at it. I'm really curious to see how it plays to me as an American, I've never watched Israeli TV before.
posted by Nelson at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2012


I think Homeland is fairly clever and subtle for TV writing. . . . But it still relies heavily on the basic tropes of terrorist fantasy TV.

In a lot of ways, it's just Dexter with terrorists in place of serial murderers. I'm not sure why it's regarded (or marketed?) as having some sort of geopolitical gravitas.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:29 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why it's regarded (or marketed?) as having some sort of geopolitical gravitas.

I don't think Homeland's defenders harp on any perceived geopolitical gravitas. What I see lauded and dissected most often are characters and performances. The relationship between Carrie and Brody is unlike anything else on TV (for good or ill, I guess) and season one painted a nuanced and even disturbing picture of Carrie's mental illness. It was easy, at least, to imagine what kind of torment she was going through. And it didn't fluff that, not even in the final moments of the final episode, which was pretty devastating. Damian Lewis as Brody was pretty compelling, too.

Season two is a completely different story. Even at its worst (the recent Carrie abduction storyline) it's way better than Dexter, but many (most?) of the critics who championed it lest year have been more measured in their praise this year — and in the last couple of episodes many riders have gotten off the Homeland bus entirely. I recommend season one pretty unreservedly (despite some misgivings about the apparent one-to-one equation of Islam with terrorism, which I wish had been treated as less of a gimme) but I'd say season two is only for fans.

Then again, if I said I wasn't really freaking curious about what's going to happen next week, I'd be telling a big ol' fib.
posted by Mothlight at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2012


I'm rather taken aback by the negative responses to this article. I don't see it as badly written. I see it as a sophisticated, lucid critique of how world powers harness discourses of race in the interest of imperialist ideology. I don't understand the critiques above, many of which (e.g. "so exponential" and his use of the Oedipus complex) strike me as petty. I'm surprised to read so many versions of "this man raises some good points, but let's join in the chorus of voices saying that this Columbia Professor or Modern Arab Politics should never write anything again.

Many of the above cited quotes make perfect sense to me. Like the one-drop rule and the West's erotic obsession with brown people's sex lives. Like how the specific categories of race on the show reflect a particular fantasy of what he calls "anti-Muslim multiculturalism." Like how second-wave feminism has been co-opted to participate in ideologies of white supremacy and, ironically, misogyny. Kate Beaton has made essentially the same point, but I don't see her receive the same vituperation.

I guess I'm saying that this article touched a particular nerve on MeFi, and that nerve isn't the "bad writing makes me GRAR" nerve. It's a different one.
posted by Catchfire at 2:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe not Sesame Street, but Leave It To Beaver had some less than stellar moments.
posted by xedrik at 2:54 PM on December 12, 2012


I see it as a sophisticated, lucid critique of how world powers harness discourses of race in the interest of imperialist ideology.

I see it as a simplistic, one-note, incoherent, unsupported, and rambling critique of how world powers harness discourses of race in the interest of imperialist ideology. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


many (most?) of the critics who championed it lest year have been more measured in their praise this year

Boy, I'll say. If you want a good laugh, try reading the usually thoughtful Matt Zoller Seitz's season 2 recaps at NYMag's Vulture site. The way he dances around the show's increasingly idiotic plot and absurd politics while insisting the show only sorta sucks and don't we all love it anyway! is hilarious. I couldn't bring myself to watch beyond episode 8 of season 1 before the stupid and the cliches got too strong to bear; everything I've read about the plot of season 2 reinforces the decision.

The xenophobic undertones of Homeland aren't anything worse than what's come out of American television in the past 30 years.

Yeah, that's the problem. In 2012, it should be better. Much better. Anyway, count me among those who think the over-reaction to the article here surprising; it raises what seem to me fairly standard points about race, realism and propaganda on US television, and does it in a relatively thoughtful way. Even the weakest of its claims - that the show's Israeli roots have something to do with its vehemently anti-Arab depictions on American television (the bit about Beirut being shown like a remote Afghan village was interesting) - hardly seems like an outrageous statement.
posted by mediareport at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kate Beaton has made essentially the same point, but I don't see her receive the same vituperation.

It's not the points being put forward (as others have noted, there is a lot to criticise about Homeland), it's that the arguments are largely spurious and poorly made. Kate Beaton's are not. Also, she's a cartoonist and humorist, not a university professor writing on their area of expertise. The standards applied are (quite legitimately, IMO) different.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:40 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see it as a simplistic, one-note, incoherent, unsupported, and rambling critique of how world powers harness discourses of race in the interest of imperialist ideology.

Ha. That's a pretty good description of Homeland right there.
posted by mediareport at 3:43 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ha. That's a pretty good description of Homeland right there.

Touche.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2012


Sounds like a lot of MeFites should be applying for faculty positions at Columbia.
posted by Catchfire at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2012


I wouldn't be surprised is some MeFites are professors at esteemed universities. People are allowed to critique Massad, even if he is a professor.
posted by Falconetti at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2012


Yes, no doubt. I work at an esteemed university myself and disagree with colleagues plenty. But I would never dismiss their work on their specialty subject matter as simplistic, one-note, or rambling without first checking to see if the gaps in knowledge were in me, rather than in an award-winning author who worked very hard for very long on this very subject.
posted by Catchfire at 4:42 PM on December 12, 2012


But I would never dismiss their work on their specialty subject matter as simplistic, one-note, or rambling...

One of my specialities is writing, which gives me some leeway in critiquing essays regardless of topic. I know crappy writing when I see it and frankly so do most people for whom writing is a daily task.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:49 PM on December 12, 2012


Writing is a daily task for me too. I just got through a stack of first-year papers, so bad writing and me, we're pretty close. I don't agree that this OpEd is poorly written--and I know that it's not so poor as to warrant the exclusive and vituperative focus we've seen here. My contention: something else is at stake.
posted by Catchfire at 5:04 PM on December 12, 2012


Really, one of the main problems with Homeland is that it went into a second season.

The first season was a nicely tight story arc which could have reached a good ending even with the end that was written. There was no need for a season 2 from a storytelling perspective.

I've enjoyed season 2 well enough, but it's been sloppy and non-credible a lot. I love watching Claire Danes, so I keep watching the show, but it's not as good as it was. I fear the longer the show runs, the more successive seasons will taint the bold brilliance of season 1.

Seriously, US television needs to learn the value of a story having a beginning, a middle, and an end, all within a planned out finite length. American Horror Story is doing this the right way -- draw together a cast, create season-length stories, and have them actually end. Bring back the cast with a new completely different story for each season, but don't try to drag things out beyond their natural length. And that first season of Homeland... that was pretty great.
posted by hippybear at 5:10 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My contention: something else is at stake.

Then by all means, please elaborate.

It's very nice to have your dissenting voice in the threat, catchfire - please don't take my vociferous objections to this article as hostility towards you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:57 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What we have here is not an argument against "Homeland" or the President. It's an argument against tenure.
posted by knoyers at 6:45 PM on December 12, 2012


I am totally going to use the expression 'Man, that's soooo exponential!' from now on.

No, I'm not.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:07 PM on December 12, 2012


Ugh, the linked article is a mishmash of... of... I don't know exactly. It's more of a rant than anything else. And an uncomfortable one for the reader as it skirts the edge of flat out anti-semitism with it's constant sneering tone about that Jew Berenson. It's just terrible and not worthy of a well educated college student much less a professor at a top tier school!

That said, at least he has seen the program. So many people in this thread haven't seen it or have seen one episode and yet are convinced it must be nothing more than jingoistic crap.

My opinion? The first season was superb and a case can certainly be made that it deserved the Emmy it won for Best Drama. The second season is not on the same level. Its still very entertaining with great performances but it actually does play much more like a high-end adult version of 24 which the first season managed to avoid with a couple of exceptions.

But I've only seen every episode so what do I know. I should have watched less of it to have a better opinion.
posted by Justinian at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2012


Then by all means, please elaborate.

Well, I can't know, obviously. Maybe it's simply because this person is criticizing a show I like, and it's in my nature to consider criticisms against cultural texts I identify with to be criticisms against me. It's the same dynamic at play when you tell me you like Rush, it's not that I discover you like a band I think is bad, it's that I discover that you are actually a bad person.

Or maybe that my identification with Homeland makes me afraid that I identify with the show's racist content too, but since as a good liberal I know I can't defend racist content, I defend the show against something spurious, like how the editorialist doesn't really understand how exponents actually work.

Or maybe I don't really care about the show at all; maybe I haven't seen it. But I identify with America, and even though I know America has problems, I don't want to believe the extent of them--and, more significantly, the extent to which I am complicit in those "problems" (sic). In fact, I don't even want to hear about it. Maybe I've convinced myself that I am perfectly aware of America's role in economic and subjective oppression, imperialism and domination--and maybe that's even a little true. Maybe I support Palestine statehood and oppose war in Afghanistan.

But maybe that clearheaded understanding of geopolitics and global capitalism doesn't actually effect change. Maybe all the tweeting I do, the articles I write, the protests I attend are just part of a circus which doesn't only have no discernible effect on hegemonic power, it actually upholds and perpetuates it. And then someone writes a small article on a television series most people haven't heard of which posits one radical idea among many that, for example, multiculturalism, isn't a colour-blind practice of equality and fraternity, but a white supremacist fantasy which maintains the status quo and has ramifications as far-reaching as Israeli state politics, NATO and international diplomacy.

And even though the article is little more than a review of a television show of which I haven't seen much, I freak out about a tenured Columbia professor and award-winning author's bad writing because I have no idea with how to deal with my worldview being confronted as a murderous lie.

Then again, maybe it's just a television show.
posted by Catchfire at 8:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just like American whiteness, which is always completely pure that only one drop of black blood makes an American black, American heterosexuality is equally pure, so much so that a once-a-week homosexual experience renders a man married to three women (and presumably has heterosexual sex with them for the rest of the week) “gay”! Clearly Arab society is so horrific that it forces gay men not only to marry one woman, but three!

I'm not exactly sure what I was reading there, or even what it meant, but it put me off the whole article.


Catchfire has covered this aspect far better than I ever will but on this I'd like to add my 2 "brown" rupees worth, as a perspective "from the outside" yet with the experience of American high schooling and then decades later, residing for a decade in the country.

Yes, the articulation of this paragraph is pretty bad and the writing can be tightened up, however, what it touches upon is the simplicity of the general perspective one percieves in the American media. Imho, it feels like an extension of the "silver bullet" preference - one single simple solution to a global wicked problem or corporate uplift that's very typical of institutions and MNCs and even, big B schools.

Lifestyles are crafted and clearly delineated, pigeonholing if you will, and black and white lenses often used for nuanced and layered human complexities, politics, social or otherwise.

For an adult outsider, not steeped in that mindset and worldview, particularly one from a far more nuanced, subtle, layered culture/language etc such as the author's, it can often feel this way.

As for Homeland, would you really make a sitcom out of terrorism? How frivolous can you get? There are people dying everyday. There is a war on. The world has changed for travelers. /end

Perhaps this is that single point that is driving the writer, whose ethnicity and background must have offered him the same or worse possibly, experiences every time he might choose to fly out of the country or pay his childrens school fees. Yes, Virginia, the banks call foreign born residents to ask them what they do with their money, or at least they used to back in 2007. The first decade of this century changed the temperature of the water the frog is in.

/no skin in this game, just adding some thoughts.
posted by infini at 8:48 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Catchfire, don't misinterpret passionate criticism for 'freaking out'. Most of the commenters in this thread, myself included, have noted that Massad has some valid points, and that are criticisms to be made about Homeland.

With respect to the rest, I'm going to let others take it from here.

However, I will note that while Massad is a tenured professor at a prestigious university and has won awards, those achievements have absolutely no relevence to the question of whether this particular piece of writing is poorly argued or badly written.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:57 PM on December 12, 2012


As one of the "first responders" my argument still remains (as Htwrt said above) that there were valid points to be found in the article, but that the points were so badly made that I was having trouble taking them seriously, because the writing seemed to me to be of the same standard that one would expect from any member of the public plucked off the street with strong views, a healthy bit of bias and not a complete grasp on logic.

I have a member of my extended family who is an avowed Zionist, whose passion for his cause is matched only by his idiocy, and this family member writes screeds in much the same fashion. I have had to remove him from Facebook as any time I mentioned anything vaguely to do with the Middle East, he took over the comments of my post and filled it with mouth-breathing, one-sided ranting.

So I don't think it's the points that Massad has made that I have a problem with (in general), it's the question of why this piece in particular was seen by Al-Jazeera as of suitable quality to associate itself with. Surely there are scholars in the Western world and in the Middle East who could have made the same points without resorting to grasping at straws and tired old conspiracy theories laced with the very racism that the author purports to attack?
posted by LondonYank at 1:24 AM on December 13, 2012


Your comparison with Zionism is quite telling. Zionism is a violent and racist ideology bent on humiliating and banishing Arab people from the place they call home. This article is trying to point out how American cultural artifacts promote American ideologies and fantasies of world hegemony. I fail to see how a parallel can be drawn between Zionism and Massad's critique; other than a Jon-Stewart type celebration of the middle, which, of course, is a celebration of the status quo--exactly what Massad is critiquing.

I have yet to see any evidence that this article is poorly written. It certainly isn't racist--on the contrary, the repetition of "Israeli Jew" means to a) pinpoint Zionism as part of Israeli national policy so as not to smear all Jewish people worldwide, and b) distinguish between Israeli Jews and Israelis of other ethnicities. Again, I think the charge of bad writing rings hollow, and is instead a redirection of a more visceral reaction to the article's radicalism.
posted by Catchfire at 7:46 AM on December 13, 2012


I didn't draw a parallel between Zionism and whatever Massad's ideology might be. I drew a parallel between the slapdash and amateurish way both my relative and Massad attempted to frame their arguments.

The argument over whether the article is poorly written is by its nature a subjective one and therefore "proof" of the quality is a slippery concept; however I would argue that sufficient holes have been poked in it just from our learned colleagues above to at least call the perceived quality into question, and (unlike most other comment sections found on the internet) I would trust MeFites to be able to separate their own objections - or lack thereof - to the core arguments, from the question of whether or not those arguments have been framed in an effective way.

The author resorting to repetition of tired tropes about imperialism, repeated invocations of the religions of the characters (as in "the Jew Berenson") and totally unsubstantiated allegations of collusions between the makers of the program and the Obama administration mean that, to a Western audience, he has weakened his own argument significantly.

It may well be true that the program promotes American ideologies and fantasies of world hegemony, but if so shouldn't that be self-evident from just looking at the program itself, and relying on the facts at hand, without adding conjecture about a conspiracy right from the very top?
posted by LondonYank at 8:06 AM on December 13, 2012


It certainly isn't racist--on the contrary, the repetition of "Israeli Jew" means to a) pinpoint Zionism as part of Israeli national policy so as not to smear all Jewish people worldwide

And the constant reference to the Jewish Berenson? So as to make sure everyone knows he's talking about the Saul Berenson who is Jewish and not the other Saul Berenson, the Episcopalian from Cleveland?
posted by Justinian at 8:32 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess being under constant surveillance can be mentally exhausting.
posted by infini at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2012


Your comparison with Zionism is quite telling.

Hoookay, then...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:13 AM on December 13, 2012


zoo: "Arab Danger sesame street. It's probably urban legend."

I bet it's actually the Spellbinder from the Letterman cartoons (which were actually on the Electric Company, also known as Sesame Street for cool kids). Gene Wilder! Joan Rivers! Zero Mostel!
posted by theredpen at 4:39 PM on December 13, 2012


Surely you mean the Jew Gene Wilder, the Jewess Joan Rivers, and the Jew Zero Mostel.

The be-turbanned Spellbinder (bin Der?) must toil while Jewish Joan Rivers talks over him. At the end, the Gene Wilder (born Jerome Silberman), who is Jewish and equipped with a varsity blazer (symbol of WASP acceptance in the USA), swoops in to foil the laughably inept plot of the Arab-looking Spellbinder. As further humiliation, Spellbinder is voiced by the Jew Zero Mostel, son of Israel Mostel!
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:57 PM on December 13, 2012


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