Writers don’t write from experience, though many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. I want to be clear about this. If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy. – Nikki Giovanni
You Guys: I have SO much TV to catch up on. The above epigraph may seem incongruous, but to deny that popular art, and in this case TV dramas are reflections of our collective lives is just dishonest. As a creative writer, I know this. I know that I need a metaspace to organize a set of experiences, memory to mete out what makes sense. There is a great deal of empathy in the life and work of artists. I understand a great deal of policy intellectually. I’m able to incorporate it in conversation and argument with friends and peers as we try to make sense of news headlines. We get it. You get it. We also know the moment when we put a human face and story behind those numbers, it becomes extra real. The story becomes your story.
Reading blogs and reactions to some of TVs hot new shows, I recognize this. (And after sitting through two weeks of conversation in bars with my friends as they unpack the wisdom and flaws of “The Newsroom”, I’m going to designate some time this month to understand hoopla and the furor.) But it’s “Homeland” that has captured my curiosity (and has moved to the front of the queue), primarily because its creator and Emmy winner, Gideon Raff adapted the Israeli drama for an American context, exploring classic literary themes of alienation and loyalty, in the high stakes world counterterrorism and national security. Graff tells Ruth Margalit of the New Yorker that: “He conceived of the idea for “Homeland” during his visits to Israel. “When you live far away, home looks a little different every time,” he told me. “So I thought about someone who returns home and wants everything to be the same, but it’s not—and how everyone at home wants him to be the same, but he’s not.” Raff was also interested in exploring Israel’s unique regard for its captured soldiers, and the prominent place that these soldiers occupy in the public’s consciousness.”
I’ve thought about the lives of soldiers returning home for some time now. It periodically shows up in some of my fiction work. I can tell you that it was borne from a place of empathy. From several bus trips to downtown Milwaukee with homeless vets sitting next to me rambling something incoherent but necessary to say. From an inconsequential pool game in a dive bar in Brooklyn at two in the morning and a soldier tells us he felt safer in Baghdad than he does in Brooklyn. To assimilate back into a culture as if nothing ever happened, as if death is only an abstraction rather a real and constant reality, isn’t easy and we as a greater collective community could do better (individually, beyond simply pointing to a host of support services) to connect with our servicewomen and men to aid that transition better.
A couple of great short stories I’ve read in recent years that dramatize this difficulty of re-entry is George Saunders’ “Home” (forthcoming in his new collection “Tenth of December” and Danielle Evans’ “Someone Ought To Tell Her There’s Nowhere To Go”. Toni Morrison’s Frank Money in her latest novel “Home” dives into large questions of identity, re-entry and racism he experiences upon returning home from the Korean War. (Interesting side note: Obama has been reported to be reading “Home” and is a fan of “Homeland”. Hmm.)
“Homeland” Season 2 premiered this weekend on Showtime. If you are already part of the initiated, here’s a pretty solid recap.
Consider for a minute that art as an organizing principle. So the batty infinite news cycle, culture wars, the every day of living history, a story or poem suspends reality briefly, enough for us to connect to the experience of others. Certainly the goal of TV is to entertain, but writers like Sorkin, Raff, even Rhimes, are asking TV audiences bigger questions. Raff’s Brody stretches empathy, breaks the convention of Stockholm syndrome. Brody’s struggle is rooted in an empathy that humanizes (much to chagrin of some hawkish folks I’d imagine) the ‘enemy’. The TV is a mirror. Books are a mirror. Art is a mirror.
Are you guys watching this show? What art do you turn to center yourself in the middle sea of information?