The Clare Spark Blog

September 23, 2012

HOMELAND and the idea of the Fifth Column

Tonight September 23, 2012 will attract a world-wide audience as the Emmy Awards are handed out. It is likely that the Showtime series HOMELAND will walk away with the trophies, for this was not only a well-written and acted thriller addressing the War on Terror, the theme of the Fifth Column taps into the psychology of the viewer who suppresses the critical faculty, what I would call the inner rebel that all societies struggle to suppress in the interest of social stability. We ourselves tamp down the inner Fifth Column every day, often suppressing thoughts and feelings that could conceivably irritate families, employers, and all others with power over our future welfare. (For a narrower definition of the term, see

Although the Wikipedia entry on the Fifth Column starts its usage with the Spanish Civil War, citing Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column (1940), in effect suppressing Hemingway’s loyalty to the Soviet line that Trotskyists and Anarchists were a “fascist” Fifth Column, and secret enemies to the Spanish homeland that the Republicans and its foreign brigades were defending, the same sort of argument was deployed by Stalin in his notorious purges of the old Bolsheviks during the mid-1930s. Whether or not Ernest Hemingway transferred his loyalty to the U.S. to communist countries (first the Soviet Union, then Cuba) is hotly debated among Hemingway scholars. (For my take on the fight, see

But this blog is not about Hemingway’s conflation of masculinity with the aims of the country he believed was best defending Spain, Spain being his adopted homeland. Rather, this blog continues the theme of my recent essays, that of populist demagoguery and the widespread reluctance to get to know our deepest thoughts and impulses, to the detriment of our own capacities for free thought. It is the contention of this blog that demagogues harness our own unspoken and unacknowledged, possibly divisive, thoughts and feelings, directing them instead to a designated enemy who must be defeated to purify ourselves of contaminants, contaminants that would infect the Good Mother(land).

First, a few words on the text and subtext of HOMELAND (see . The thriller was ostensibly inspired by Hatufim, an Israeli television series shown in 2010, treating the hitherto neglected subject of returning prisoners of war, whose adjustment to family life was often fraught with difficulty, not to speak of some suspicions of their continued loyalty to the homeland. I find a more persuasive precursor to HOMELAND in the American series 24, that dealt with counter-terrorism, with some questioning the morality of its chief character “Jack Bauer,” whose methods subordinated means to ends.

Similarly, the chief argument of HOMELAND is that Americans, while ostensibly fighting the war on terror, committed atrocities (i.e., “collateral damage”) that were covered up by highly placed officials such as the Vice-President (obviously linked to Cheney and his advocacy of American power and a militant response to 9/11) and his confederate, a highly placed officer in the CIA, who obliterated the record of a drone attack that took the lives of 82 children in the attempt to kill a major figure in Al Qaeda, “Abu Nazir.” Nazir’s adorable 10 year old son Isa is one of the casualties, and this tragic loss leads Nazir to wreak revenge by attacking the entire U.S. defense establishment, using “turned” POW Nicholas Brody as his fifth column.  Season one ends with Brody’s suicide bombing attempt undermined by his own “Achilles heel” (i.e. Fifth Column): his attachment to his 16-year old daughter who pleads with him to come home to his true homeland, where he is needed as a loving and protective father.

One of the virtues of the HOMELAND series is the moral ambiguity it attaches to the actions of each of the major characters, but make no mistake: taken in all, it is a strong antiwar, anti-Republican Party statement on current controversies regarding the use of “American power” that puts “America First” rather than respecting the good Muslims who are sprinkled throughout, and who would suppress the terrorists given a more internationalist approach of the U.S. in the wake of 9/11.

[Added 9-24: Backstage after accepting her Emmy Award, Claire Danes assured reporters that the show was not “political” but was simply a “psychological thriller.” Either Danes is undereducated, or she is under orders to transmit that safer line. For a critique that nails the series for “negative images” of Arabs, see We are back in multicultural territory that demands positive images to defeat “racism”–always perpetrated by Jewish Hollywood. The reviewer didn’t understand the show.]

Bouguereau’s The Motherland


  1. Republicans cannot just enjoy something… everything has to be analysed for ideological purity.

    Comment by Richie Cahill — December 29, 2012 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

    • I am no ideologue Richie, and am barely a Republican. Perhaps you would prefer animal enjoyment of a sometimes exciting television series?

      Comment by clarespark — December 29, 2012 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  2. Main character in 24: “Jack Bauer,” not “Jack Ryan.” “Jack Ryan” is the main character in many of Tom Clancy’s novels.

    Comment by Bobtrumpet — December 10, 2012 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  3. President Obama highly rates the show. Some have said it is his ‘favourite’. (Sources 46 and 47 in the Wikipedia entry.)

    Comment by churchmouse — September 29, 2012 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

  4. Great post. Loved the end reference to Bouguereau. An under-rated 19th century master.

    Comment by Jeffery — September 23, 2012 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

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