I’ve written about the Showtime program Homeland a number of times with my last comment (I think) a couple of years ago. A new season has begun and, as most of the show’s other seasons, it’s high quality and anxiety producing. Although I’ve only seen the first three episodes, the series is once again a plot driven spy versus spy versus double agents drama. And once again it has raised questions for me. In our present era when every Muslim is often seen as a potential enemy and threat, it’s complicated to look forward every week to a terrific TV series that is built around a world view I detest.
Well, I just doubled down on that conundrum. Prisoners of War (original Hebrew title being Hatufim, (which translates to “Abductees”) is the threadbare low budget Israeli show upon which Homeland is based. In fact, after Hatufim won Israel’s Academy Award For A Television Series was sold to 20th Century Fox, some of the program’s creators and cast have been directly involved with the US show. We brought the dvds home from the library and have barreled through most of Season One. Gotta say, so far it’s a much better series, focusing intently upon the two ex-prisoners of war and the effects their release after seventeen years has upon themselves, their families, and everyone in close contact. Especially the Israeli intelligence community.
No surprise I’d find Prisoners the better show. People who have read any of my Matt Jacob novels or even my Just sayin’ series Interviews With The Dead (King Richard lll, Truman Capote, Martin Luther King, Norman Mailer and more to come) know my writing is character driven. Although I’m sure there will be more spy versus spy as Prisoners progresses, fact is, the characters are already more fleshed out and complicated than those in Homeland. The truthfulness of the relationships between each of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves feels true to the bone. And more. This is a particularly smart show where the unexpected occurs at exactly the right moment with writing and acting I just love.
But here’s the rub. Prisoners of War has raised even more misgivings inside than Homeland. Anyone who knows me knows my feelings about the overwhelming abuse and injustice the Israeli government exacts upon the Palestinian people. And while Prisoners has yet to identify the kidnappers, it doesn’t take a weatherman to imagine who they were.
So here I am, once again, praising a show whose politics sicken me.
Pablo Picasso was a misogynist his entire life—using women then kicking them to the side once he was done with them. Yet it’s impossible to ignore that he was arguably the greatest artist of the twentieth century who created Guernica, the most important anti-war painting many of us have ever seen. Even Diego Rivera, whose murals closely reflect my own political point of view, was often questionable when it came to his personal life. And, of course, there’s always the Ezra Pound dilemma.
Music, theater, and literature are also overloaded with artists who created great work but I wouldn’t invite to dinner. (Actually, there are some on my list who disgust me as people, but I’d love to engage in conversation.)
Firesign Theater’s album title, How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All, only half describes my plight. I am somewhere. Stuck between my values about humanity and art I enjoy or even love, at the same time made by people who make my skin crawl. Hell, it’s hard enough to bridge the contradiction about individual artists, but when two television shows I consider art (ok TV haters, take your shots) present attitudes and behavior I abhor, that interior contradiction becomes even more difficult to transcend.
But in for a dime bag, in for a pound. Throughout my own artistic life I’ve maintained that it’s essential to separate people’s creations from the individuals themselves. I’ve always believed to not do so would lose too many important, thought-provoking, often beautiful experiences.
For all the agita these two series raise, that’s my belief and I’m sticking to it. If a creation merits consideration as art, then I’m going to view it as such—despite its content or creator. To be otherwise would undercut my convictions about freedom of speech. And just as I won’t judge a person simply by their politics or beliefs, neither will I judge creative expression only by the person who created it or the content it presents.
So how to recommend a television series that triggers serious internal conflicts? For those who don’t share my ideas about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s easy. Rent or borrow Prisoners of War and enjoy great television.
For those that do share my Middle East politics, I’d say grit your teeth and, for this series, allow art to trump.
“What is life without incompatible realities?” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin