In D.C. Stories, Geography Is Destiny

Megan McArdle shares a lament with some of us here about Homeland’s errors in Washington, D.C. geography:

The anomalies started small. A marine sergeant and his young wife seemed to be living in a fairly sizeable ranch house on a large lot located fairly close to Washington, a configuration that I am not sure exists — but which I am really quite sure is not available on at E-6 pay grades. A terror suspect was described by a CIA officer as living in “Truxton Circle”, a neighborhood which happens to be just southwest of ours. However, the appellation is a new one, and since both Truxton Circle and my own beloved Eckington are both on the outer frontier of gentrification, I can testify from personal experience that it’s highly unlikely that a CIA officer who lives in Virginia would be able to name the neighborhood; if he called it anything, it would far more likely be something like “way the fuck over on New York Avenue”. Furthermore, if he did somehow manage to apprehend that a suspect’s address was in “Truxton Circle”, anyone he reported this to would respond with a puzzled stare. Right now, the area is known less by its name than by its notorious housing projects.

We will not even ask why someone who is supposed to be teaching at one of our fine local universities — all of which are located west of 20th street NW — would be living miles away in an area that is at least an hour from work via public transportation.

This is true in all cities, but there’s an extent to which geography is destiny. And failing to understand the geography of Washington, D.C. is to fail to understand how power in the city works. Megan’s right, of course, that Farragut Square is fairly small, and that people don’t necessarily linger there. But it also gets very busy during lunchtime, particularly during the summer when it’s surrounded by lunch trucks, and it’s close to the Old Executive Office Building, which means that some of the people who go there during lunch are reasonably important. That, combined with the closeness of the space, and its proximity to two major Metro stations, means that a targeted, powerful attack there could be even more devastating than the one depicted in the show.


More broadly, not getting that the Brodys might not be able to afford the house that they have means that the show doesn’t entirely get how running for office and getting plugged into Washington’s power elite would change the family’s lives. Not knowing, for example, as the remake of State of Play didn’t, that Georgetown doesn’t have the Metro means you don’t know what it means for a young congressional aide to live there, to pay the extra rent, to have a car or schlep on the bus. Not getting the shifting dynamic of neighborhoods, the social realignment of the city, is to be stuck telling stories about the Washington that was, and may yet be. Not to understand that people in Washington are powerful but not as wealthy as the most powerful people in New York or Los Angeles is not to understand the particularities of the elite here — it’s not that there aren’t members of the 1 percent, lobbyists make bank, but proximity is more important than acquisition, and certainly more important than style. Motivations matter. And geography can be a measure of what someone — or a city — thinks counts.