Unethical Comment of the Month: Homeland Co-Creator Alex Gansa

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“We wish we’d caught these images before they made it to air. However, as ‘Homeland’ always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can’t help but admire this act of artistic sabotage.”

—-Alex Gansa, co-creator of Showtime’s hit series “Homeland,” discussing a recent episode in which the Arabic street artists the show hired to paint  graffiti on walls used as a backdrop to a scene spray-painted messages that translated into “ ‘Homeland’ is racist,” “There is no ‘Homeland’, ”  ‘Homeland is a joke,’and “ ‘Homeland’ is not a show.”

It might be (generously)  called an act of artistic sabotage if the artists snuck onto the set and changed the Arabic graffiti on their own time and dime. That was not what they did, however. They accepted money under false pretenses, and did not deliver the services promised. This is not merely sabotage, but fraud, dishonesty and a breach of trust. Rather than engage in civil disobedience and accept the consequences, which would be a principled and courageous act (however misguided)  Egyptian artist, Heba Y. Amin, decided to profit from it as well.

If they at least had the integrity to return their fees, they could win back some ethics points. Continue reading

TV Ethics, Viewed From A Sickbed

This isn’t how I look. This guy looks BETTER than I look…

[ As regular readers here might have guessed, I am ill, and have been since Thanksgiving. I can barely read, can’t really research, and whatever appears below was composed in 10 minute increments with hours or days in between. I’m hoping to be catching up very soon. Thank you for your patience]

What do you do when any movement or exertion makes you cough your guts out, when you can’t sleep but have to rest, when your brain is so blurry from viruses and medication that you can’t even compose a blog post for three days? (Sorry.) If you are me, and I hope for your sake that you aren’t, you watch TV.

I got one jolt of legal ethics horror that I hadn’t remembered re-watching Kevin Costner’s “The Untouchables,” directed by Brian DePalma. In the movie’s climax, Al Capone’s trial on income tax evasion has come to a crisis point, as Elliot Ness (Costner) realizes that the jury has been bribed to acquit him. Despite documentation of that fact, the corrupt judge tells Costner that the trial will proceed, whereupon Costner extorts him to prompt “a change of heart.” Now the judge shocks the courtroom by announcing that he is trading juries with another trial next door. The new, un-bribed twelve will decide Capone’s fate.

This is, of course, beyond ridiculous. Adversary attorneys must be able to choose a jury in voir dire, where each potential juror is questioned. Trading juries just invalidates two trials. Even if they could trade juries, which they couldn’t, the Capone trial would obviously have to start all over again since the new jury wouldn’t know what was going on.

None of this occurs to Al Capone’s panicky lawyer, however, who, realizing that the jig is up, announces that “we” are changing “our” plea to “guilty.” Chaos reigns. Capone (Robert DeNiro) punches his lawyer in the face, and I don’t blame him one bit.  A lawyer can’t plead guilty against the wishes of his client! The judge couldn’t accept such a plea, and Capone wouldn’t be bound by it. This would be an embarrassing distortion of the justice system in a Warner Brothers cartoon, but for a movie based on historical figures and events to sink so low is unforgivable. (“Carrie” aside, Brian DePalma was a hack.) Continue reading

The “Homeland” Dilemma

In “Homeland,” Showtime’s excellent Emmy-winning drama starring Claire Danes, a G.I. named Nick Brody imprisoned for years returns to the states a hero, and, secretly, a converted Muslim and terrorist. By Season Two, which premiered last night, Brody has risen to be a member of Congress, where he is working from the inside to benefit the interests of his captors. He has kept his conversion to Islam secret from everyone but his teenage daughter Dana, who accidentally caught him praying to Mecca in the basement in the first season.

Now Brody’s name is being floated as a possible running mate for the current Vice President, who is a presumptive presidential nominee. The Veep tells Congressman Brody that if there are skeletons in his closet that his researchers wouldn’t have found—I’m pretty sure being a secret terrorist would qualify—Brody needs to air them. Brody says there aren’t any. We know better.

Meanwhile, at Sidwell Friends, the tony Quaker private school in D.C. that all the pols send their kids to, Dana is fuming because she has to listen to the  Vice-President’s obnoxious son  go on about how “Muslims aren’t like us” and “don’t respect human life.” Dana, having been admonished for insulting him, blurts out, “Well, my father’s a Muslim!” in class.  Dana’s subsequent position is that she was joking to make a point. At home, however, her outburst causes a domestic crisis, as her mother feels that Brody has been lying to her, which he has.

I’ll leave Rep. Brody out of this ethical dilemma, as he is suffering from an Islamic strain of the Stockholm Syndrome, but what about the family? From their perspective, which is that they don’t suspect for a second that Brody is a traitor, what is their ethical obligation should he announce that the Vice President is going to choose him as a running mate, and that he expects them to keep his secret?

His argument, of course, is that his religion shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. It is true that the “public would want to know,” and also that the public would probably not feel very comfy electing a Muslim these days to be a heartbeat away  from the Presidency, fair or not. The family knows he is a good man (they think) and like the idea of being Second Family; there is no reason to sink his career and their aspirations to celebrity by allowing irrational bigotry to take hold. Is there?

That’s not the whole truth, however. Brody has lied to the Vice President and to his constituents, and they do have a right to know that. In my view, both wife and daughter have an ethical duty as citizens to tell husband and father that if he accepts the nomination, they will be forced to expose him. They should also tell him that he needs to resign from Congress, or, if he’s willing, tell the public about his deception and ask for their forgiveness. I think, in short, that this is a John Edwards situation.

Is that what you would do, in their place?

And my favorite hypothetical of them all, that I refuse to believe wasn’t lurking in the minds of the writers:

Michelle discovers Barack praying to Mecca in the basement.

Tomorrow.

What would be her ethical duty?