Whether on a fictional TV program or in a real literary account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, audiences seem to be gravitating towards media that makes America's enemies knowable.
The 20th century had the world wars and the long-term Soviet-American rivalry of the nuclear age to provide the material for all sorts of books, television, and films dramatizing the era. This new century, though, is largely dominated by new themes of global upheaval stemming from September 11, 2001 and the ensuing events. Turmoil is endemic throughout recorded time, but in the past decade or so, the Internet has led to an almost unfathomable increase in the speed with which information ricochets around the world. Countless incidents of bloodshed, repression, and hateful imagery are instantly replayed, adding to the sense of widespread mayhem. No Easy Day and Homeland, two much-discussed recent cultural works, show how Americans audiences gravitate towards seeing this turmoil depicted—and overcome—in both nonfiction and fiction.
The best-selling nonfiction book this very busy season is No Easy Day, a vivid and apparently scrupulous account of the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden last spring. The author, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen (but immediately identified as Matt Bissonnette, a member of the team), has been harshly criticized and threatened with legal action by the Pentagon for bypassing prior review of his version of this undisputed triumph in the effort to destroy al Qaeda. Such criticism may be warranted, but as USA Today said in a thoughtful editorial, Bissonnette's account apparently "corrects the historical record and so far it appears to have come at no direct cost to anyone." At the same time, the book has received excellent reviews for offering the most verisimilitude out of the many action-packed war stories and Washington-based insider tales to be published in recent years about the anti-terrorism battlefronts. Tony Perry, the Los Angeles Times reviewer, called it an "important historical document." Janet Maslin of the New York Times said the book's emphasis is on "explaining a SEAL's rigorous mind-set and showing how that toughness is created." It is worth going to the 60 Minutes website to read the transcript of the only interview with Bissonnette in which (under cover of his pseudonym Mark Owen) he insists that he had no political or revelatory objective in writing his book. "I'm not talking secrets," he told CBS's Scott Pelley, "I'm not talking tactics. I don't even get into any of that stuff. But I really try and give the reader a sense of what it's like to be there."