Television and Our Culture

Earlier in the month the television series Homeland was in the news regarding some Arabic graffiti in a particular episode. Graffiti artists highlighted the shows stereotypical and often derogatory portrayal of Middle Eastern and Muslim characters through their work on set. This apparent editorial oversight was blamed on rushed production as it reignited conversation about the show’s not-so-subtle racist overtones. This incident raises issues regarding the amount of care and precision that can be given during the filming and editing of a show as well as the broader implications for the messages the show is trying to portray.

Ultimately, the fact that they didn’t get somebody to ‘proof-read’ the Arabic graffiti was blamed on the need to finalise the show; the graffiti artists themselves commented on how rushed and chaotic things were behind the scenes. This highlights an issue that many media industries face as a result of the world we live in. It is not uncommon for young viewers to download entire series and watch them from start to finish in one sitting. In the removing of traditional time frames, larger amounts of media are presented to viewers faster and companies must adapt to a new ‘all-at-once’ demand for content. Unfortunately the way most companies adapt to this situation is by pressuring producers and bringing up deadlines. This has an overall effect of reducing the amount of care and detail editors can put into episodes before they are rushed into post-production. Simple oversights, such as the graffiti case, are thus the result of production teams who do not have the time to double-check small details; graffiti artists were given task outlines and were assumed to have followed them. Last week it was mentioned that, other details have also been missed in the show’s representation of spying technology as well as hacking. Whether this is a result of a decision to not hire a tech-expert to give an accurate representation or to simplify advanced technology for mass viewing is another topic for another article. There remains, however, a balancing act for producers to try and appease mass consumerism but also not present a product with poor writing or attention to detail.

An example of the various shots featuring the graffiti as well as the subsequent social media discussion. Original embed from @aut-omnia

Unfortunately for televisions shows, as well as other media forms, the problem doesn’t stop at higher production demands. We need to understand that media plays a part in forming users’ cultural identity and thus should be focusing more on the quality of product and not just meeting deadlines. Greater attention to detail, not relying on character stereotypes and even taking a chance on writers from different backgrounds are perhaps luxuries that directors cannot afford in a time of mass media consumption. However there is an argument that these things could bring better representation of technologies, social issues and potentially increased viewers or user enjoyment. It is important when a television show becomes as popular as ‘Homeland’ it has a huge effect on it’s audience; as it both reflects and influences current popular culture. Touted as Barrack Obama’s favourite show in its first season, viewers find a sense of pride as well as enjoyment in watching each new episode. It is for this reason that media producers should not be sloppy (even if accidentally) with the production of such products as they have a larger and wider cultural impact.

In the past few weeks Homeland has made a few honest editing errors that, potentially time rich, Internet denizens picked up on. Such small details are indicative of certain pressures that companies and individuals face to produce new media texts and this also can be seen in other fields; journalism, music and film. However we should not let such oversights off so lightly as, ultimately, these forms of media comprise our social and cultural consciousness. Opinions and ideas can be soaked and absorbed through interaction with such media and this is why we should take care with them.

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