Fiction in any form – a novel, a movie or television show, even a magic act – requires a suspension of disbelief. The more familiar you are with the subject of a work of fiction, the more difficult it is for the fiction to inspire the suspension of disbelief required in order to enjoy it, rather than scoff at it.
Homeland is about a rogue CIA agent and her pursuit of (and love affair with) an ex-Marine who was turned into a jihadist sleeper agent while a captive in Afghanistan, and who returns a hero, eventually being elected to Congress. There is a side story involving the Marine’s family, but the show’s primary drama involves the CIA, its inner machinations and its activities at home and abroad.
I watch Homeland – although it is hardly my favorite – just as I watch the British spy show, MI-5. They are both off-the-wall, when it comes to plot, lurching zanily from one cliff-hanger to the next. I enjoy them. But I wondered what goes on in Obama’s mind while he watches Homeland. Obama gets security briefings daily; he is told by the real CIA where and whom they believe the real threats are; he is privy to the Agency’s most secret clandestine operations.
I decided that he must watch it as pure comedy. Now, with the revelations about NSA surveillance, I’m not so sure.
Many years ago I was asked by an editor at The Village Voice to write an article about the New York Police Department. It didn’t pan out, I can’t remember why, and I don’t remember what the hook was – probably something about police misbehavior. I do remember that I interviewed two desk-bound police officers – one was the director of community relations, I think. They both told me that most of the problems the Department had been having with police officers over-reacting, using unnecessary violence and breaking departmental rules stemmed from their watching too many cop shows on television. One of them told me – facetiously, of course – that if it were up to him, he would forbid police officers from watching such shows as Kojak, SWAT and Starsky and Hutch.
Might Obama’s unexpected, uncharacteristic role as rogue spy-master, assassinating bad guys with drones, vindictively prosecuting whistle-blowers, reveling in electronic gadgetry, First Amendment be damned, come from confusing the fiction of TV shows like Homeland and of Hollywood’s never-ending stream of international conspiracy thrillers with the mundane reality of being nothing more than The President of the United States?