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The War Against 24

by @ 8:52 am on March 18, 2007. Filed under 24, Television

It’s been a rough season for 24. Even before the new season started, Keith Olbermann was calling the show part of a right-wing plot, after Muslim terrorists nuked Valencia, California in the first four hours of season six, Arab groups were complaining that the show was anti-Muslim, then there was a hit piece in The New Yorker, heck even the United States Army was complaining that the show encourages torture.

Now, even conservatives are jumping on the bandwagon:

Agent Jack Bauer has tortured his own brother, used household appliances to electrocute a terror suspect, staged the execution of a child, and even shot a man?s wife to get information from him. On any given day, he will disarm suitcase nukes and presidential assassins. The orders of superior officers at the Counter Terrorist Unit don?t deter him, the rule of law and even the threat of death do not diminish Bauer?s iron will to defend America.

But this hero isn?t real. He lives for one suspense-filled hour each week on Fox?s cult series 24.

It?s not just Bauer?s over-the-top methods that keep audiences gripping their barcaloungers, it?s also the show?s novel format, which relies on ?real-time? storytelling. Each episode reveals the events of one hour; each season adds up to one frenetic day. The common thread is terrorism?that constant existential threat demanding self-sacrifice and frequent disregard for the polite rules of procedure and diplomacy. It?s Us or Them.

In a gentler time, conservatives would have deplored this gory primetime fare. But now, finding a worldview consonant with their hawkish tendencies, they have embraced Jack Bauer as their pop-culture icon, his name uttered as an invocation of the grit and guts needed in the Age of Terror.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t watch 24 because it vindicates my political beliefs. If anything, I think that the methods that Jack Bauer uses to save the day are repugnant and should never be followed in the real world. But 24 has nothing to do with the real world, it’s a fantasy built around a world were domestic terrorism is far more common than it is in our own, and where the office of the President of the United States has been vacated more times than an apartment (heck, as of last week’s episode every person who has served as President on the show has either been killed or seriously wounded on camera at least once).

As I said back in January before the season started:

Like conservatives who think that the success of 24 is somehow a referendum on the War on Terror, this person just doesn?t get it either. Like all good television, 24 is about the drama in the lives of the characters. If viewers hadn?t come to like David Palmer so much, his death at the beginning of Season Five would have been meaningless. Instead, over four years, we saw him grow as a character and we saw his relationship with Bauer become one of the central elements of the show.

If you really want to understand what 24 is all about, you need to go back and look at the first season. Jack was a different guy back then. A federal agent willing to take chances, yes, but more importantly a man willing to do anything to save and protect his family ? which was the one weakness his enemy that day was able to exploit. Jack has became more ruthless over the years, but it?s clear that?s only because of what has happened to the people around him and what he?s been forced to do.

In other words, the show isn?t about terrorism and violence, it?s about how the characters, and more specifically one character, have reacted to the terrorism and violence around them and what it?s forced them to become.

And what they’ve become isn’t very appealing. Which is why we should be glad it’s a fantasy.

Further thoughts at The Liberty Papers

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

4 Responses to “The War Against 24”

  1. judith says:

    methinks the key word here is FANTASY.

  2. Sally says:

    Exactly.

    I watch the show because of Jack and his character, not because of politics…

  3. yankz says:

    Great post. I’m not even a conservative, and I love 24. Jack can torture whoever he wants if it saves the world, IMO.

  4. juantag says:

    Jack Bauer has immaculate judgment–he can always tell who’s lying, and how far his torture has to go to get the necessary truth. He can also tell who is the scapegoat, who needs a little moment of special attention (and he always manages to give it), who deserves an apology (he gives that, too). Nothing clouds his judgment (at least not for long), no affection or attachment leads him astray.

    I say, let him do what he needs to do to get things done. He doesn’t have time for this!

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