State Actors



“Yes Senator, that’s correct. I am a director with the Department of Homeland Security.”

“Well you have to understand the backstory. Think back to 9/11. We were scrambling to get people doing something, anything. You also have to realise the enormous gap between perception and reality on this topic. The number one thing Americans fear is dying in a terrorist attack. And yet, the actual probability is like one in 20 million.”

“That’s right it’s tiny. That’s about the same probability as being killed by a vending machine, or IKEA furniture.”

“Mostly cars. But like I said, despite the difference between perception and reality we still spend $42 billion a year on Homeland Security. That’s a lot of money. And people want to see the results.”

“Well the actual guy who thought it up was a bean counter. A creative accountant if you will. I presume you’ve heard the term ‘security theatre’?”

“Well, take for example the Transportation Security Administration – think of all those uniformed TSA agents at the airports, full body screening, pat downs, explosives swabs and whatnot. All this makes the public feel safer but does almost nothing to lower the risk of a terrorist attack. And it diverts enormous resources away from the work that actually results in foiling attacks. So this bean counter asked, why couldn’t we get the ‘theatrical’ aspects of the TSA role done by professionals?”

“That’s right Senator, actors.”

“Well yes, but if you think about it, who better?”

“That’s correct, I was the first Director of the Central Casting Agency. And let me tell you once central casting started sending people over to the TSA, with proper wardrobe mind you, their ratings went through the roof.”

“Public approval ratings. Consider this: if you’ve got to be patted down by a Federal employee every time you get on a plane, who wouldn’t prefer a good looking, classically-trained actor in a tailored uniform?”

“I’m sorry Senator the ratio of actual TSA agents to theatrical agents is classified Top Secret.”

“Mostly it works very well. Your average working actor has never had it so good; employment security, public validation for their performances. And we’re now the first Federal department to meet our diversity targets on race, gender and sexual orientation.”

“Thank you. And I also ensure our casts, I mean teams, when they interact with the public that all their interactions pass the Bechdel Test.”

“That’s where at least two women talk to each other about something other than a man. Of course with the success of the TSA roles there was pressure for more, shall we say action. The Secretary wanted to see the ‘money on the screen’ if you will. So I hired a couple of well-credentialed second unit directors and some stunt co-ordinators to storyboard a few ideas. We ran a pilot. These were quality people you understand, you’d know their work.”

“The Bourne films, some of the early Marvel tent poles.”

“In our defence Senator, the other thing to appreciate is how popular culture has made the public so disappointed that real life doesn’t conform to a satisfying narrative structure. It’s a nightmare for elected officials everywhere.”

“Well, people like a happy ending for one. You know, the good guy saves the day, the princess, the world. Are you familiar with Joseph Campbell’s work?”

“Oh it’s terrific. Joseph Campbell is to mythology what John Maynard Keynes is to economics.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Keynes.”

“Anyway, so our journey to confront and overcome terrorism can be understood as an archetypal hero’s journey.”

“That’s right Senator, America is the hero.”

“Well, the first stage in the hero’s journey is the ‘Call to Adventure’.”

“That’s right Afghanistan.”

“Well depending on who you talk to we’re either stuck in the ‘Belly of the Whale’ or part way along the ‘Road of Trials’. I digress, I was telling you about the action sequences. The scene at Woodruff Park was one out of the box I’m afraid. I mean who could have foreseen that a real terrorist plot would unfold while we were shooting a staged one?”

“Woodruff Park is in the centre of Atlanta.”

“Because Georgia is a camera-ready state with excellent financial incentives and great post-production facilities. Look it turned out okay in the end. On the face of it Woodruff Park was packed with people, but they were all extras. Aside from the crew the only two non-actors present were the real FBI agent chasing the real terrorist. Fortunately the director called, ‘cut!’ just in time and the terrorist was the only one still running. [laughs] It really was a great comic moment. Chaplain would be proud. And let me tell you, that FBI agent is not only up for a Presidential citation but possibly a Daytime Emmy.”

“Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series.”

“Well I can’t say too much about what we have in development. But let me just say this. If you liked the work of SEAL Team Six, you’re going to love SEAL Team Seven! It’s a real game changer.”

“No thank you Senator. The show must go on.”