It was reported recently that the Lebanon government is taking action against the producers of Homeland for its potentially damaging portrayal of the formerly infamous city of Beirut. In the second episode of this season, Beirut becomes a bull’s-eye of terror when the CIA narrowly misses assassinating their most wanted target. Afterwards, a band of hooligans chase our hero through the streets, seemingly for no good reason, and fire an onslaught of weapons at her.
While I admire Homeland very much, I have always been a tad skeptical about the delicacy with which it handles very touchy topics. Homeland doesn’t take on hypothetical Russian extremists like Die Hard or GoldenEye, but people in cities that today are in constant turmoil or, in the case of Beirut, slow positive transformation. Of course, for Americans this stuff is just entertainment. But in other nations, as seen by the recent violent protests ostensibly sparked by an anti-Muslim video, these types of portrayals are taken very seriously. The moment in Homeland where Abu Nazir is nearly murdered didn’t feel like an offensive portrayal of any nation. In fact, in some ways it might prove the eradication of problematic people in these nations. However, the scene where Carrie is chased through the streets did strike me as strangely stereotypical. There’s also some outcry over the production design of the city. Having never been there, I can’t say, though it did seem a bit antiquated.
News of Lebanon’s anger at Homeland made me think of two concepts that seem to get put on the back burner in America. Are we too ignorant about the power of media? And do we spend too little time protecting the image of other nations? It would be easy to say that Lebanon is getting all hot over something that was “just TV.” In fact, I’m sure most Americans think this is another example of “crazy Arabs” running around being “crazy.” But really, media of any form, when given the exposure of Homeland, has the power to change, or even ruin, lives. Are we simply too relaxed about the effects media has on our culture, letting it hurt us insidiously? While we may laugh at Honey Boo Boo, shows of this kind are more reflexive about the people taking it in then we may want to admit. Perhaps more outcry over media would benefit us?
Now to my second point. In non-fiction, we are forced to jump through major hoops to protect the images of our people. Americans. And if those people are major corporations or public figures then it’s not uncommon for them to force the media outlet (say, a documentary) to show them the final cut of a project so they can say, “Yay” or “Nay.” However, when it comes to foreign entities, we pretty much have free reign (ok, not entirely free) to do or say whatever we like. I’ve run into this many times. The short conversation goes something like this, “This person didn’t sign a release.” “But they’re from Japan.” “Ok, so they’re good.?” “Yup.”
The irony, of course, is that Lebanon wants to promote that they are no longer a war torn nation, but instead a destination for tourism and consumerism. In many ways, they want to be all that America has become, corporate conglomerate warts and all. Nonetheless, they need to build their economy to survive, so no matter how vapid the alternative may seem on the surface, it’s better than being wrongfully shown as a nation of crazed animals.
So, I do wonder if Homeland spends too little time worrying about the gravity of its topics at the expense of putting out good, solid, American entertainment. Nonetheless, this news story certainly proves once again that the show has most definitely arrived.
Here’s a short making-of video about Homeland shooting the offending episode in Lebanon’s neighboring rival, Israel. (Note: check out the fiery comments on YouTube)