Media Spectacle

25 Nov

In 24, terrorist attacks are grand-scale events that only occur on the privileged few days that make up the series. Although it obviously takes time to set up these attacks and all of the circumstances that allow so many crises to coincide on a single day, the show provides no context and no important developments other than the decisions made in the moment. Terrorism is portrayed as a rare, isolated event. Homeland, however, is structured differently. Terrorism is more insidious, and a constant threat. The action takes place slowly, over a longer period of information gathering.

This is emphasized not only by the timescale of each series, but also by the relationship to the news media within the shows. In season 5, episodes 3 and 4 of 24, there is a big media presence, but it is all about the spectacle. It’s about the liveness, contrasting the hostage situation with the treaty signing. Both of these are huge media events, and the coverage provides information to both sides (terrorists watching the press releases and signing, President watching the terrorist’s video in the airport). As Kirsten discussed, the characters have no power over the media, and seem to not be able to control the situation until the last moment. Shocked by the present situation, everyone is unprepared and Jack just barely manages to save the day.

But in the pilot of Homeland, terrorism is an ever-present concern, as is the media portrayal. In the plane, the characters are worried about Brody’s appearance before cameras, and the coverage of ceremonies in the days following his return. At the end of the episode, Carrie theorizes that Brody is trying to communicate with someone through hand gestures while he’s on TV, when he knows someone will be watching. Carrie’s realization can only take place because of the news cameras that followed Brody in his first few days home. This speaks to the constant media coverage of the war on terror, and the consciousness of a terrorist threat. Carrie is always suspicious and waiting for an attack:

CARRIE: I missed something once before. I won’t, I can’t let that happen again.

SAUL: It was ten years ago. Everyone missed something that day.

CARRIE: Everyone’s not me.

For Carrie, at least, the threat is always real, and she is always prepared for an attack. In 24, it seems that Jack comes in (or is accidentally present) to save the day, and does it because he is superhuman and the only one who can do it. It feels more realistic in Homeland that Carrie, who is constantly on guard, would be able to make a difference in the event of an attack. In the pilot, she doesn’t swoop in to save anyone from Brody, she sets herself up to gather evidence, so she knows what she’s up against. She won’t be paralyzed by shock and turn to a Jack Bauer to save the day.

Even in The Wire, which parallels the war on drugs and the war on terror, treating the drug problem like a rare event controlled by the media does not really improve the situation. After Kima is shot, the higher-ups at the Baltimore Police Department want to make a show of putting “drugs on the table” and raiding Barksdale’s main stash, asserting their power through the media coverage this will attract. However, this plan throws off Daniels’ investigation, and weakens his case against Barksdale. The spectacle for the media disregards what might have been a more effective plan in the long run.

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