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All dark on the homeland front

The Boston attack brings back to the US a war its pop culture was earnestly fighting, writes Shreevatsa Nevatia.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2013 22:45 IST

As one explosion followed a blast in Boston, al-Qaeda’s pet theory of eternal return proved true.

The number that some of the 176 injured must surely have dialled was also the exact date that talking heads on various televisions referred to across the globe. Even if reluctantly, the US was perhaps forced to accept that the aftermath of 9/11 still lingers.

Some would rightly argue that a comparison between two acts of terror would always be flawed. While amateur footage of people running across blood-stained sidewalks is common to the visual records of both Boston and 9/11 New York, the sheer contrast in their magnitude renders any correlation sensational.

But using this as evidence to dismiss the single-digit death count of Boston as unimportant would be missing the point. The fact that an attack on the world’s oldest annual marathon was not instantly accompanied by the chest-thumping of Osama’s Al Jazeera days seems ample proof of a transformation in the tale of terror.

That change, it would seem, was already being reflected in the manner that American popular culture had adopted in an effort to faithfully tell it.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of how terror came to lose its famed protagonist, Osama bin Laden. CIA operative Maya, who is the film’s protagonist, is seen surviving the 2008 Islamabad Marriott hotel bombing, while her colleague Jessica is killed in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack in Afghanistan.

For all its inaccuracies, the Oscar-nominated film succeeded in being able to highlight America’s investments — emotional and monetary — in the hunt for Osama, but more importantly, it made for an obvious inference — ever since 9/11, America’s war on terror has always led to casualties outside its shores. The twin blasts in Boston again bring home a fear that had taken some more than a decade to forget.

Interestingly, Bigelow was forced to postpone the release of her film to after the US presidential elections because of fears that the Obama administration would use its prominence for triumphant campaigning. It was Barack Obama who had got his man in Osama, and the quiet on the carnage front was raising hopes of an end to a well-choreographed but thoughtless war.

The Boston attack has unfortunately dirtied that slate all over again. If the American president, however, was being honest when he confessed to watching Homeland when alone, he would probably find some relevance in a rerun of the tenth episode of the US television series’ first broadcasted season.

True to its title, Homeland concerns itself with the lives of CIA operatives whose business it is to preempt and prevent attacks on American soil. As the Emmy-award winning drama veered towards a climax on December 24, 2011, Carrie Mathison, the show’s spy protagonist, found herself on the injured list of a low-intensity terror attack in Washington’s Farragut Square.

It is perhaps essential to note that even though the attack only claims the lives of five persons, it is not viewed as an isolated incident of superfluous violence in Homeland’s narrative.

As Carrie’s somewhat crazed but accurate revelations make clear, the attack not only speaks of the ever-changing nature of terror, it is also a marker for seemingly novel future strikes that her State can no longer claim to be immune to.

Homeland further blurs the distinction between home-grown and foreign terror by turning the loyalties of an American marine toward hardline Islamicist ideology. The devil, as Osama had shown, lies in the detail, but the details, America’s big pictures prove, might be as confusing as they are familiar.

First Published: Apr 17, 2013 22:33 IST