By Louay Khraish
To watch the depiction of Beirut in the first couple episodes of Showtime’s award-winning drama series, omelandomeland and not have one’s intelligence insulted is an onerous feat. To maintain suspension of disbelief, one must forget that the New York Times ranks Beirut as one of the top places to visit in the world and that Lonely Planet lists it as one of the ten greatest comeback cities in the world. The Beirut of Homeland has nothing to do with what the Wall Street Journal describes as a city that has “innovative food, hip clubs and cutting-edge boutiques [as well as] a thriving avant-garde culture.” The creators, producers, and writers of Homeland seem unaware of Beirut’s current reality. While they have probably never visited the city, one would expect them to read newspapers like the New York Times and the Walls Street Journal or at least, have their research team do.
The second episode of Homeland is titled “Beirut is Back.” The title is a flagrant appropriation of titles of numerous articles written on Beirut. In 2004, Travel & Leisure published an article, titled “Beirut is Back,” proclaiming that the city has reclaimed its position on the tourism map. The Guardian followed suit in an article titled, “Beirut is Back… and It’s Beautiful,” describing how Beirut reemerged as “2010’s most glamorous tourist destination.” Also in 2010, A London Cosmopolitan article, “Beirut is Back on the Map,” was re-blogged by Lonely Planet as part of their “Blogs we like” series. In 2011, the Toronto Star published an article titled “Believe it — Beirut is Back,” and the following year, the New York Times published “Resurgent Beirut Offers Haven Amid Turmoil of Arab Spring.”
Additionally, Harvard professor of law Noah Feldman, who was named by Esquire as one of the “most influential people of the 21st century,” writes in the Wall Street Journal, “If the word Beirut makes you think of bombs, it is difficult to imagine how exciting, vibrant and wide-ranging the cultural life of the city is right now—or how much it stands out from other Arab capitals.”
These articles maintain that Beirut is back to its pre-war status as a major tourist attraction and a cultural center on the eastern Mediterranean. It seems that the creators of Homeland have disregarded the facts presented by prestigious, respected, and credible newspapers like NYT, WSJ, and The Guardian as well as travel magazines like Travel & Leisure and Lonely Planet while conducting their research on Beirut and the Lebanese. The team behind Homeland insists on taking the audience to a stereotyped Beirut that seems to only exist in the mind of the original creator of the program, Gideon Raff, who just happens to be Israeli.
In an interview with Ben Affleck on his new film, Argo, the filmmaker reveals that the film maintains “a spirit of truth” in its depiction of Tehran. Affleck relies on archival images and videos to achieve realism as it is revealed in the closing credits of the film. While Affleck is incapable of filming in Tehran, he chooses to film in Turkey to present the most realistic portrayal of the city to his audience, including a mountainous backdrop that resembles the ubiquitous Alborz Mountains, which dominate the skyline of the Iranian capital. While Homeland is of course allowed dramatic license to make a compelling storyline, the program, unlike Argo, does not even have a breath of truth when it comes to its depiction of Beirut or the Lebanese. The Homeland team does not even rely on Google images to aid them in their portrayal.
For example, Carrie Mathison (Claire Dane), the protagonist of the series, feels the need to don the hijab when she is in Beirut for her safety and for blending in the streets of an unrecognizable Beirut where every woman is veiled. In reality, only 25% of Lebanese women are veiled, a reality to which Homeland seems oblivious even though a simple Google search could have lead them to Professor Leila Nicolas Rahbani’s paper, “Women in Arab Media.” The paper references a United Nations ESCWA report that states, “75% of the Lebanese women are unveiled and have freedom of dress.” Carrie Mathison also feels it is necessary to wear a brown wig to cover her blond hair and brown, contact lenses to hide her blue eyes as if blond hair and blue eyes look too foreign in Beirut. Again, a simple Google image search of Lebanese women, as the photo below shows (click to enlarge), could have revealed to the Homeland team that colored eyes and even blond hair are not exclusive to American CIA agents and are as common in Lebanon as they are in Israel, the shooting location of the program.
By far, the most ridiculous depiction the series achieves is that of Hamra Street, which the Los Angeles Times calls a “bastion of liberalism [that] embraces multiple religions and political views….” Apparently the Homeland team does not read the Los Angeles Times either. As Peter Mitri has tweeted, perhaps Homeland should “spend two minutes to Google ‘Hamra’” instead of picking a random alley in Tel Aviv to stand in for one of Beirut’s most famous streets. The alley used does not even come close to what Hamra Street looks like as the comparison on the bottom shows (click to enlarge).
Couldn’t the location scout of Homeland find a better street in Israel? I conducted a simple Google search on Tel Aviv streets and in a couple of seconds found one that resembled Hamra more realistically as the photo of Ben Yehuda Street below demonstrates.
Why then didn’t Homeland shoot at a more realistic location? Is it simply a blatant denigration of Beirut’s image?
The creators of Homeland have no excuse for their systematic and bigoted portrayal of Beirut and the Lebanese. Scott J. Simon, wrote in his essay “Arabs in Hollywood: An Undeserved Image” that of all the ethnic groups portrayed in media, “Arab culture has been the most misunderstood and supplied with the worst stereotypes.” It seems Homeland is continuing in this appalling tradition, and coming from an Emmy-winning drama, it is disheartening and disappointing.
But perhaps, it is not surprising of an American series, which is adapted from an Israeli one. While not a believer in conspiracy theories, the series this season leaves me wondering whether Homeland has an agenda, other than entertainment, after all. The creators behind the program could learn a thing or two from Mr. Ben Affleck.
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They are accostumed to choose what people think in their movies, not the reallity. In Brazil they show only favelas, violence, samba, soccer and sex. So our image to the world is this, unfortunatelly!!!
Even though I’ve never been to Lebanon, I know some Lebanese people and the portrayal of Beirut in Homeland also struck me as odd. Especially, given the fact that the show has been quite realistic and it’s given a relatively balanced view of (radical) Arabs in my opinion.
It’s not a black-and-white story that the show presents. So as much as I agree with you on the fact that Beirut was portrayed falsely, I think it’s ridiculous to even think that Homeland has “an agenda, other than entertainment”. Have you seen other episodes of the show?
And I don’t see why it’s important to note that the original creator is Israeli. So what?! (I can imagine the original creator (and his nationality) must have a lot to do with how each location is portrayed in the show’s second season…. #sarcasm)
you are correct but when you live in Lebanon, finding out that the director is from Israel is a big deal 🙂 we are not friends with a nation that tried to occupy us for many years just like it is doing to Palestine. I am a Christian Lebanese and proud but when someone tries to portray me in a movie depicting i am something else it sends out a wrong image to people everywhere. it is a sensitive country still trying its best to keep surrounding nations influence out of the way.
Well written! Bravo!
We are all disappointed of the “very” bad image they are giving about Lebanon!
Thanks Joseph. Hope you come back check out the blog again.
I’ve never been to Beirut either but this was insulting one’s intelligence. I was wondering where they really filmed it. Also Western media is all about giving the sheeple the images they want, therefore you get all the stereotypes. UK media BBC and Ch4 are even worse, especially with their vacuous food and cookery shows, going through Italy in a FIAT 500 or driving through with an English Aston Martin. Its all about cultural imperialism. Anyway rant over. One@newsprofiler
Thanks for taking the time to read it. Hope you visit Beirut someday.
Very well written and said. I just created a fb page, maybe we could all upload pictures from Beirut to show the world what the city really looks like…
Great idea Ryan. I will like it and tweet about it.
Great article! Very much to the point, however when I read that it was filmed in Israel.. well that’s all what we need to know
Glad you enjoyed reading it. More to come.
well, there have also been a few researched points that were good, i find, like the airport (by name) and the little details of the car plates (white with a blue stripe). but too bad about hamra, they could have just made it in a non-descript street, saying it was nab3a or basta or 6aret 7reyk. too bad.
Exactly! Why use in particular Hamra Street?
I am an American but I have traveled to Beirut and love the city. However, in Homeland’s defense, Carrie posing as a covered woman with brown hair and brown eyes is less likely to draw attention to her and the CIA’s mission. This is not because the majority of women are covered, which as you point out, they are not, but because of the servility of the Muslim women who are.
It is not that the entire episode was unrealistic. It is not even that the streets of Haifa do not resemble some of the streets of Beirut. It is the pretense that the series is offering a genuine idea of Beirut’s conflict today that brings discomfort to the Lebanese. It shows Lebanon today as if it were Fallujah in 2004. An insecure place where disorganized armed gangs go about randomly shooting at anything suspicious, where the local population is no more than a wild mob attacking foreigners.
I have not yet seen the full episode, and will do so. But the small excerpts already available only do not seem to put any humanity in the Lebanese people.
You are right that the camouflage might bring less attention, but the image of Beirut is exaggerated. Even in Hezbollah’s stronghold there are Christian and Muslim women that are not veiled. Why give the impression that Lebanon is nothing but a radical Islamic country run by Djihadist radicals allied with Al Qaeda? (even more unrealistic as Al Qaeda in Lebanon is known to have been financed by Saudi Arabia with US blessing to fight off Hezbollah)
Val – Muslim women who wear the hijab are not servile, whether in Lebanon or anywhere else.
I already posted this article on their FB page. Lets start posting pictures of real Lebanese people and our beautiful country
Someone created this page on FB today: https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsBeyrouth for this purpose. 🙂
It’s just a show, there are much much worse depictions if you really want to look for them , mainly fox news? Just get over it and don’t watch it if it bothers u that much……(And yeah am a proud lebanese)
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Hi Dr. Kraish,
I am a Lebanese living in Toronto who grew up in Beirut until the age of 17. Well written article highlights the ignorance and intentional efforts of different “western” parties in feeding their people brainwashed information.
But to counter your arguments I want to ask the question why should we even care? It is well known that the United States of America has long used their many forms of media (Fox news, hollywood, CNN, ABC etc.) to brainwash and isolate their citizens from the rest of the world. We also know that their economic system runs on mass consumption of so many products, people are bred to BUY if they’re sad BUY if they’re happy BUY BUY BUY. Someone once said “The american dream is called a dream because you have to be sleeping to believe it”. This is a great way to put it because, how can you convince 300 million people to ignore the fact that your system destroys entire ecosystems, kills thousands of people, mentally oppresses its people – yet claims to have “Freedom of speech” and to be the land of the free the “land of the free”.
I present these points not to damn America and choose to wage verbal and psychological war on them but to make my point which is – whoever watches the show (I doubt there are many) LET them go home and watch their stupid show and continue to be in a bubble of ignorance -there is no sense getting worked up about it! Because the human beings that care, will know t educate themselves better than to take these images of beirut as what is real.
Let us have our Beirut! 🙂
thank you a bit more eloquent than mine but agree with u, we only give it unecessary importance . for instance now am keen to watch homeland which i wasnt before because i was pretty sure the islam refeences would be completely ill educated! i surely hope not as ba as those in “true lies” , durka durka khabibi (team america ).
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I find it a shame that instead of working to improve Beirut, and Lebanon as a whole, the focus is set on what the producers of a TV series consider to be Hamra street and thus, Beirut.
I believe, that constructive journalism should focus on helping in solving Lebanese issues (internal, that is) which portray a much much more horrible image to tourists, than a disfigured Hamra street, be it poverty, unsafe roads, theft and robberies, kidnapping, lack of proper infrastructure and thus vital services such as Electricity and clean water, and the list goes on and on and on, rather than write an essay that in fact helps market a TV show rather than change anything real.
With all due respect to the people who wrote, edited, and published the essay, I find it hard to believe that everyone writes how “Homeland” has struck a hit to tourism by mentioning “Beirut” and showing clips from some tiny village by the sea in Palestine, rather than how it describes “Hezbollah”, an entity known worldwide to be present and active in Lebanon (Beirut being its base of operations – southern Beirut at least), as a terrorist militia cooperating with Al Qaeda, and not expecting such a description to warn tourists off!!!
In all cases, Homeland is a well structured TV series based on an Israeli book, with many Jewish actors in the cast, just like 90% of the movies and TV series we get on Showtime and MBC….. and not a program with a deeper agenda meant to strike at the non-existent peace in volcano-top Lebanon. It is a shame that someone, somewhere, considers it or any other TV show a threat…
This is much much worse for tourism, I believe……
How about you write something effective about this then???
I have posted your blogpost on Homeland’s facebook page this afternoon… and tonight it’s not there anymore!
Thank you for posting.
As an American who lived in Beirut between 1966 and1970, I was really looking forward to the show, hoping that they were really filming in Beirut. Of course, as soon as I saw the street that they were calling Hamra, I knew it wasn’t Beirut – Hamra didn’t look like that even 42 years ago!
Thank you for the fb link. I’m going to go there now and see what Beirut REALLY looks like, after 42 years. Beirut was an intriguing city – so modern that it’s hard to believe you’re in the Middle East, until you notice the venders selling roasted chestnuts and pita sandwiches (I’ve forgotten what they’re called) on the street or visit the souks area. I enjoyed living there and would love to go back and visit. Viva Liban and its warm and charming citizens!
I hope you visit Beirut again soon!
I agree! I lived in Lebanon as a UNIFIL PeaceKeeper and found the city (and the country) absolutely stunning and beautiful. And Yes the food is wonderful too!!! I hope to come back soon!
Hope you visit soon.
Being a Lebanese citizen, I can feel this frustration.
But if you can remove yourself from the picture, and how you personally feel.
we are a lousy Country when compared to the US, Israel, or any EU country (even with their failing economy).
We do not have any concept of human laws, regulations to respect and provide human lives. Thus, as we live in what used to be a country, we should forget to defend this illusion (That we exist).
We do not have any kind of industry, we are famous for nothing except our dying Cedars (which are hardly preserved anymore).
We are filled with criminal and terrorist organizations that live normally out in the open.
I can then understand, that if I live in a civilized or near civilized country, I can just ignore Lebanon as a country and depict it as a small piece of land, where terrorist group and plan their actions.
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Dear Dr. Kraish
Yesterday, i read your article and although i did not to post a reply on your blog, the events of yesterday made me change my mind because as a Lebanese i am amazed how far off some of my fellow countrymen are when they talk about our country and how much they are bent on defending the undefendable although the truth is right in our face.
Sometimes i wonder if they believe in what they say or if they drive by the same neighborhoods i see on a daily basis! Maybe asking them to take a long and deep look in the mirror might be too scary.
I do not intend to defend the questionable, erroneous and incomplete depiction of Beirut in the series but after the events of yesterday, i will post here my initial reply on Facebook. The message below was actually intended to our minister of tourism who was offended by the same episode of Homeland as you were, complaining to the french journal Le Figaro that it was giving a bad image of Lebanon.
Original Post on Facebook
A zero for the series for its cliches but also a zero for our minister of tourism and other defenders of our great capital since it seems that maybe they have not seen that burning tires and shooting each others, blocking the road to the airport, dumping your garbage in the sea, selling bad meat, getting food poisoning, having no electricity in 90% of the country, corruption, selling out your country to syria, israel, Iran, the states or any other foreign and so much more is still very much a HUGE REALITY nobody with any sense of logic can deny although a few if us do try by going into drunk and fun nights outs spending money we do not have on unrealistic high priced houses and cars, while still breathing one of the most polluted smog in the world…and no amount of millions spent in publicity will change that…so excuse me Mr minister..but spend your millions (and those stolen everyday but our political elite of all parties) to clean lebanon and educate my fellow Lebanese first (maybe we should start by teaching our brothers and sisters that throwing your dump out of the car while driving is not good for tourism either!)
END OF POST
To sum it up, a zero for the series and a zero to those of us who think that ignoring the underlining reality on which the series based its episode will make it go away when it is based on real facts: Beirut is a hub for spies, traitors, terrorists and no amount of nice restaurants, nice parties, beautiful women, amazing nights out or snowy mountains will change the fact that most lebanese live in poverty and pollution, under corrupt leaders who only worry about their cut of the cadaver my country has become.
Maybe Lonely planet should contact me next time they are in town and i will show them the hidden side of Beirut. The one the lucky few chose to ignore although it is hard and sad reality that we must confront if we want our country to have the future it deserves instead of conveniently hiding our dirt under the carpet.
Thank you for your comment. No one is denying that the city can be “a hub for spies, traitors, and terrorists” as you describe, and no one is expecting the city to be only portrayed by Western media as a tourism center. The purpose of the article was to reject pigeonholing Lebanese into one stereotype. While there are corrupt, lawless Lebanese, one cannot generalize that the entire population falls into this description. The article was a critique of “Homeland”‘s lack of proper research and one-sided representation of the city, of Lebanese and Arabs in genera–something that is common in Hollywood as I point out in the article. Keep in mind that other than a couple of supporting characters like Kathy Najimy in “Veronica’s Closet” and Jamie Farr in “M.A.S.H.”, the last positive portrayal of a Lebanese in American media was on “The Danny Thomas Show” in 1957.
Right on, brother, right on
The same thing happens when they portray Puerto Rico on TV and movies. I still remember the movie Contact, where the scientists at the Arecibo Radiotelescope were shown as living in primitive bungalows with crappy rotary phones, and talked about having to drive to San Juan (over 50 miles away) to get basic foodstuff and supplies… when in reality there are shopping centers and even Wal-Marts and Sam’s Club less than 10 miles away from the Radiotelescope (in Arecibo, a centuries-old city with a population of over 100,000).
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