The events of September 11, 2001 have had a vast effect on the way that America is viewed not only by the world, but by its own citizens. A great nation suffered a tragedy that infected the collective conscious of its people. In the time following WWII America built itself to be understood as a beacon of stability and a nation that could not be touched by foreign foes that disagreed with western ideals or looked to exercise any form of physical aggression (at least not on American soil). The events of 9/11 caused these notions to crumble and the post 9/11 America has become tainted by paranoia about the intention of “others,” harbors a consistent feeling of uncertainty about the world around us, and is being forced to redefine what it means to be American.
The first episodes of Showtime’s Homeland are heavily playing to the aforementioned themes, right down to the opening sequence (first seen in episode two). Although Clarie Danes once told Stephen Colbert that she was unsure of the meaning of the opening of her own show, I must contend that the opening actually fits quite nicely with the premise of the show. The use of Jazz, in and of itself, signals something quintessentially American born. Jazz’s use of syncopation, which highlights the oft present but hidden offbeat is an astute metaphor for the work that is done by intelligence officers who are tasked with uncovering secrets. This music often heavily relies on improvisation, a suitable homage to the often-unpredictable circumstances and quick reactions of agents in the field. Call and response, another common component of jazz, also comes to mind as it is so often compared to human communication. Call and response relies on a “back and forth” where each player is directly influencing and mutually creating a musical environment, which is a great symbol for both the political and personal “calls and responses” throughout the show that work together to shape the convoluted narrative.
The imagery of the opening sequence is just as important as it highlights the complicated political backdrop from which the show’s story emerged. This end is accomplished through the use of actual news clips of past American presidents and historical events alongside maze imagery that calls attention to the complicated (and sometimes disorienting) nature of politics. The visuals also suggest a loss of innocence through clips of children playing alongside more catastrophic world events (such as 9/11). The glitching and upside down orientation of some of the images adds to the notion that, for Americans, the world has “turned upside down,” has become tainted, and that there is an unease or uncertainty about the future.
In addition, every individual within the main cast is depicted in such a way that the audience can be reasonably skeptical of the character’s motives. Carrie Mathison clearly has a brilliant mind, but operates with a questionable (or at least personally prescribed) set of morals and has a secret (yet to be specifically disclosed) mental disorder that requires the use of heavy anti-psychotics. Nicholas Brody comes home after years of living at the mercy of “the enemy,” taking on “their” faith, at times speaking ill of the war and American intentions in the middle east, displaying disturbing behaviors, and even providing some questionable intelligence regarding his time as a Prisoner of War. Each of these characters walks precariously along a fine line between hero and anti-hero, each episode providing evidence about the protagonists that strengthens claims that each of them could arguably belong on either side of that line. This muddling of binaristic ideas has become something of a preoccupation across post 9/11 media, forcing audiences to recognize their entertainment (and ultimately the world around them) through a more complex lens (Schopp 32). This idea becomes even more complicated by the end of episode four, in which there is a clear flirtation emerging between these two individuals.
This tainting of the world and the seeming unreliability of the show’s narrators invites the sense that the world of Homeland is essentially a dangerous iteration of the carnivalesque where the usual authority holds little power and the general rules are tossed to the wayside. This paradigm draws in the television audience to a world in which what they think they know is constantly being called into question. Within the narrative space, the lines that separate the good and bad are continuously challenged. This paradigm pulls the audience of Homeland into a narrative in which paranoia is at the center.
Where human nature tends to favor certainty, Homeland‘s first episodes are capitalizing on a cultural zeitgeist that has been tarnished by uncertainty and paranoia. From the first four episodes, audiences are able to find a place to stew in their own cultural uncertainties and find characters that affirm their own feeling of unease about both America’s future and, ultimately, their own.
Schopp, Andrew and Matthew B. Hill. “Introduction: The Curious Knot.” War on Terror and American Pop Culture: September 11 and Beyond. Madison, WI: Associated UP, 2009. 11-44.