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24 And The War On Terror

by @ 7:30 am on June 29, 2006. Filed under 24, Television, War On Terror

Reporting on last week’s Heritage Foundation 24 Symposium, Timothy Carney writes at NRO about what the popularity of Fox’s 24 means for the War on Terror:

Make-believe antiterrorism and real antiterrorism have some things in common and many things different, but they matter to one another in this respect: What Americans watch on TV about counterterrorism operations, whether fact or fiction, affects what they expect in real life. Further, what we expect of their homeland defenses affects politicians, which in turn influence the agencies. This is where 24 matters to our real war on terror, it seems: Jack Bauer sets our expectations, which can make things tough for our leaders.

?The show sets expectations in some sense,? said David Heyman, who directs the Homeland Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ?They do set expectations in terms of how quickly we can get things done?how easy it is to get things done.?

As Carney points out, if Americans really do believe that America’s anti-terrorist agencies are as all-seeing and all-knowing as CTU-Los Angeles, and that America’s intelligence agents are as effective as Jack Bauer, then there is a danger that we will become complacent; believing that we don’t really need to worry about terrorists, because the government will take care of it.

That’s not really the message 24 conveys, though:

On deeper examination, however, this overdependence-on-Washington criticism does not apply to 24, because 24 is a true American drama and Jack Bauer is an American hero. When I was in Germany a few years ago, a Cabinet official said that Europe was once half-full of free-thinkers and independent spirits, but then they all got up and moved to America. The American hero is the cowboy: He is Maverick, he is Han Solo, he is Batman (though, when Batman is in trouble, he turns on the Jack Bauer signal), he is the rag-tag minuteman fighting the well-trained Lobsterbacks.

So Jack Bauer is not Big Brother, and he is not the establishment. Jack Bauer was expelled from CTU and he disobeys orders. He does what needs to be done and he does it in his own way. (Jack Bauer once played Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun, and won.) He is the fitting heir to Rambo and Maverick.

And like Rambo and Maverick, Bauer?s inhuman excellence (Jack Bauer, for example, could strangle you with a cordless phone) still doesn?t keep us from identifying with him. ?Jack Bauer is an everyman,? Writer and Executive Producer Howard Gordon said on Friday, ?he is the guy who stands for that American, can-do thing.?

Agreed. There are those who look down on Americans who look up to fictitional heros like this, but they’ve been a part of America ever since we’ve been telling stories. Paul Bunyan was one. As was John Henry. Jack Bauer is just the latest incarnation of the American hero.

And if anyone is really worryed about this, Carney makes this point:

If we believe 24, we don?t think Bill Buchanan or President Palmer will keep us safe. We believe Jack Bauer will keep us safe (if everyone on the show listened to Jack Bauer, the show would be called 12), but we also believe we are Jack Bauer.

The Capitol Dome stands today because of a handful of regular Americans?not soldiers, not bureaucrats, and not even ?first-responders,? but American guys who got on a plane on a September morning. A couple of months later Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was wrestled by flight attendants and ?subdued? (read: ?pounded?) by two passengers.

They had, you might say, their own Jack Bauer moment.

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