CONTAGION has already received plenty of kudos in prior Homeland Security Watch posts. Arnold Bogis and Alan Wolfe who seem to agree on nearly nothing, nonetheless each endorsed the movie. In his New Yorker review David Denby writes, “The film suggests that, at any moment, our advanced civilization could be close to a breakdown exacerbated by precisely what is most advanced in it. And the movie shows us something else: heroic work by scientists and Homeland Security officials.”
But Contagion is not the only artifact of popular culture touching on homeland security issues.
HOMELAND a new series from Showtime asks “who’s the hero – who’s the threat? When MIA Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody returns home to a hero’s welcome after eight years in enemy confinement, brilliant but volatile CIA agent Carrie Mathison isn’t buying his story. She believes that Brody has been turned and is now working for Al Qaeda. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse with nothing short of American national security at stake.”
TAKE SHELTER, a new feature film from Sony, considers the consequences of taking action in response to an encroaching sense of danger. In his New York Times review, A. O. Scott suggests, “It is a quiet, relentless exploration of the latent (and not so latent) terrors that bedevil contemporary American life, a horror movie that will trouble your sleep not with visions of monsters but with a more familiar dread. We like to think that individually and collectively, we have it pretty good, but it is harder and harder to allay the suspicion that a looming disaster — economic or environmental, human or divine — might come along and destroy it all. Normalcy can feel awfully precarious, like a comforting dream blotting out a nightmarish reality.”
“THE SUBMISSION is a gorgeously written novel of ideas about America in the wake of September 11. It tackles subjects like identity politics, undocumented immigrants and the stress fractures of democracy,” so writes Maureen Corrigan in her enthusiastic review of the debut novel by Amy Waldman. Claire Messud in the New York Times is more restrained, but still strongly endorses the book. “Elegantly written and tightly plotted, “The Submission” ultimately remains a novel about the unfolding of a dramatic situation — a historian’s novel — rather than a novel that explores the human condition with any profundity. And yet in these unnerving times, in which Waldman has seen facts take the shape of her fiction, a historian’s novel at once lucid, illuminating and entertaining is a necessary and valuable gift.”
YOU THINK THAT’S BAD, a collection of short stories by Jim Shepard, has given a new sense of context to my professional life. His careful narratives explore disasters large and small. The specificity of each story exposes humanity’s struggle to minimize pain and maximize pleasure, to be fulfilled selves in relationship with others, to differentiate good from bad (or at least better from worse). I finished thinking homeland security can be a label slapped on a whole host of widely held yet vaguely understood hopes and fears.
While around quite a bit longer than any of the foregoing, try reading GILGAMESH from a homeland security angle. The modern challenges tradition, civilizing expectations in tension with primeval urges, male versus female, otherness and strangeness attract and repel while opportunities for reconciliation are engaged and lost and recovered and lost…
The new fiction agrees with the old that reality is difficult to decipher and choosing our way is treacherous. What matters most are our relationships. Is this just a classic literary device or something more profound?
Professionally I try to more precisely define the most meaningful role and comparative value of homeland security. Personally I increasingly wonder if homeland security is a kind of Jungian encounter with the collective shadow. (You’ll have to check out the link to make sense of that claim, otherwise it would take waaay too long. You can get a quick notion here.)
Perhaps more simply, certainly more positively:
A young man — not yet 25 — recently wrote me, “The context of my life has been pretty shitty, but my life itself has been pretty good. The conflicts are real. The troubles are real. I have absolutely no confidence regarding the future. But consider the last century or two or ten. Hasn’t confidence in a specific future always been an illusion? Conflict is perpetual and troubles have been as bad or worse. There is no sense of certainty deluding me. The way ahead will be tough, but one way or the other I’m going to walk it. Might as well do it with as much creativity, care, and courage as I can muster.”
The young man points to the Y2K threat, 9/11, fear of terrorism, oppression in Darfur, poverty in Washington DC, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, catastrophe in Haiti, and economic contraction as dominating his perception of the exterior world.
Yet he faces forward and intends to make his way. What were we saying about resilience as the essential capability?