Overthinking the Wielding of Power on HOMELAND

…A show we, btw, think is pretty damn nasty. As in how it demonstrates conclusively how having just about any power almost always corrupts. (And TV execs sure as hell have a lot of power…maybe even more than their fictional CIA spies.)

Do you know how hard it is to find a pic from HOMELAND w/o Brody? But we did it - for YOU.
Do you know how hard it is to find a pic from HOMELAND w/o Brody? But we did it – for YOU.

by Richard Rosenbaum

In the first two seasons of the Showtime drama Homeland(SPOILERS for the first two season ofHomeland, btw), CIA officer Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) tries to prove that a United States Marine named Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis) has become a terrorist following his release from years of imprisonment and torture by Al Qaida leader Abu Nazir in Iraq.

In contrast to Hatufim (English title Prisoners of War), the original Israeli television series on which Homeland is based – which was more concerned with the psychology and trauma of the former hostages and their families – Homelandfocuses at least equally on the strategies and processes used by Matheson and her CIA colleagues in their attempts to prove that her double-agent theory about Brody is correct.

Homeland’s pilot episode has Matheson, unable to convince her CIA boss to allow her to set up surveillance cameras to watch Brody’s behaviour, illegally wiring up his house for observation anyway and subsequently spending most of her available time clandestinely peeping at him and his family. From that point on, one ofHomeland’s primary tropes and concerns is the nature and implications of seeing and being seen, and particularly being recorded.

You might think that this would be a perfect opportunity to critique the so-calledsurveillance state in America and its ostensible motivation: to root out crime, especially terrorism. Of course the foremost analysis and attack on this idea – of an omnipresent human organization empowered to watch and judge our every move – is French theorist Michel Foucault’s description of the panopticon, a hypothetical prison design conceived by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, constructed with a central tower from which a guard can view the entire structure and all its occupants but which guard cannot be seen himself. The idea is that whether or not anyone is actually inside the tower watching, prisoners will always know that they could beobserved which, the theory goes, will prevent them from doing anything that’s against the rules.

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