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Author Topic: Fox TV's 24: defence or critique of the war on terror? Or is it just a TV show?
obscurantist
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posted 14 February 2006 08:40 PM      Profile for obscurantist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've watched every episode of the TV show 24 since it began four years ago (it was originally scheduled to debut on Sept. 11, 2001).

It's a bit odd to me that the show I watch the most faithfully is one that depicts Americans heroically defending their country (or at least Los Angeles) from nasty terrorists, and often finding it necessary to resort to torture. I mean, I find it appalling when Michael Ignatieff expresses in more sophisticated terms some of the concepts that recur on 24. And the British show Spooks / MI-5 tackles many of these themes in a far more thoughtful way, while still coming off as jingoistic enough for another Babble poster to dismiss the British show as "war-on-terror porn."

So why have I kept watching 24? Probably for a bunch of reasons. The sheer cheesiness of it at times (okay, most of the time. Okay, just about all of the time); the addictive plot twists that recall an old-fashioned radio serial; the quite realistic depiction of how petty office politics can affect people's ability to do their jobs.

But what political content, if any, is there to 24? Is it like the X-Files was, mining recent history and current events to merely provide an ambience of paranoia, without much deeper significance? Is it one of Fox's propaganda vehicles, glorifying the Bush administration's goals and tactics? Is there anything more subversive to it, perhaps calling into question the morality and efficacy of some of those goals and tactics? I think it does all three to some degree, but I'm curious to hear what other people think.

John Doyle, the Globe and Mail's TV critic, has become hooked on 24 much like I have:

Doyle - Jan. 30/06

quote:
...recently, I attended a fascinating discussion about 24 when the cast and producers met TV critics. On the issue of the constant use of torture, producer Howard Gordon said, "Jack's use of torture is something we don't want to trivialize. I think it's really essential to Jack Bauer's character. Sometimes, awful things need to be done to get something [good] done, but Jack Bauer pays a terrible price on his soul."

Later, Gordon also said, "Our two tropes are torture and immunity. What do you do when you have somebody and you need to stop something from happening? Those are things we use as narrative devices, so I don't think we ever pretend to advertise the efficacy of torture . . . there is a price to be paid."

The suggestion, I think, is that Jack Bauer is a representative figure for the entire United States and its culture and conscience. Yes, the use of torture brings immediate results and seems acceptable in extraordinary circumstances. But, ultimately, Bauer is a much lesser person because he has succumbed to the temptation of morally repugnant actions.

Now, some people won't buy the producer's argument and suggestions. They see no moral quagmire on the show's surface, only bang-bang action to fight no-goodniks.

Me, I think that 24 is one of the most sophisticated series ever aired on U.S. network TV. It operates on several levels. In one sense it is a profoundly disturbing drama, with its sense of doom about the inevitability of terrorists attacking the U.S. over and over. At the same time, the series manages, in an extraordinarily deft narrative manoeuvre, to offer a comic-book version of that doom-laden scenario and the necessary responses. ...


Slavoj Žižek, on the other hand, writing in the Guardian, is much harsher on 24:

Žižek, Jan. 10/06

quote:
... The pressure of events is so overbearing, the stakes so high, that they necessitate a kind of suspension of ordinary moral concerns; displaying such concerns when the lives of millions are at stake means playing into the hands of the enemy. The CTU agents, as well as their terrorist opponents, live and act in a shadowy space not covered by the law, doing things that "simply have to be done" to save our societies from the threat of terrorism. This includes not only torturing terrorists when they are caught, but even torturing members of CTU or their closest relatives if they are suspected of terrorist links. ...

The agents treat themselves as expendable, ready to put their lives at stake if this will help to prevent an attack. Jack Bauer, (the agent and central character, played by Kiefer Sutherland), embodies this attitude. He not only tortures others but condones his superiors putting his own life at stake. ...

In Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the philosopher describes how Nazi executioners endured the horrible acts they performed. Most were well aware that they were doing things that brought humiliation, suffering and death to their victims. The way out of this predicament was that, instead of saying "What horrible things I did to people!" they would say "What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!" ...

Therein also resides the lie of 24: that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in performing acts of terror, but that if an honest person performs such an act as a grave duty, it confers on him a tragic-ethical grandeur. The parallel between the agents' and the terrorists' behaviour serves this lie. ...


[ 14 February 2006: Message edited by: obscurantist ]


From: an unweeded garden | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
'lance
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posted 14 February 2006 08:46 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Therein also resides the lie of 24: that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in performing acts of terror, but that if an honest person performs such an act as a grave duty, it confers on him a tragic-ethical grandeur.

I haven't seen 24, but "tragic-ethical grandeur" is a good phrase for the tone Michael Ignatieff seems to strive for in his gassy emanations.


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Cueball
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posted 14 February 2006 09:11 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Zizek

Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

Zizek made the point that Rumsfeld missed the "Unknown knowns" which are the things we know, but don't know we know them, these things being in fact "ideology."

[ 14 February 2006: Message edited by: Cueball ]


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Américain Égalitaire
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posted 14 February 2006 09:32 PM      Profile for Américain Égalitaire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I agree with Žižek but there's much more to it. I think 24 mentally conditions the American people to accept torture as a means of policy and also to accept these incidents and the extra-legal means portayed to 'solve' them. The American mind idolizes the Jack Bauer charcter - he's a "man of action" who "gets the dirty job done" and all those bullshit stereotypes. We don't like moral ambiguity or shades of grey or complexity. His world may be confusing, but the plotlines are all black-white, good-evil, us-them. There is a political bent to this show whether the writers wish to admit it or not. And I do believe that television does so much of the government's dirty work in molding public attitudes through repeated, dramatic exposures of violent images and actions that carry potent political messages most having to do with typical American authority hero worship.
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clersal
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posted 14 February 2006 09:42 PM      Profile for clersal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Someone suggested that I watch 24. I watched two episodes, got bored as there seemed to be terrorists ad nauseam with poison gas, that the good guys were going to blow up, but didn't.....I completely lost track and didn't give a damn.
From: Canton Marchand, Québec | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 14 February 2006 09:45 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
24 is one of my guilty pleasures.

But I am in complete agreement with Žižek. The program perpetuates the "ideological lie" that good and decent people can commit murder and torture and remain good and decent.

It fits like a glove with the official U.S. concept of a permanent war against ruthless foreign purveyors of mass murder and destruction, who are already living among "us", and who have traitorous accomplices in the highest levels of government and the innermost sancta of the security and counterintelligence establishments.

One inescapable message conveyed by the program is that torture and other atrocities are necessary, and therefore acceptable, tactics in the (never mentioned by name on the show) War on Terra. And despite what producer Howard Gordon says about Jack Bauer paying a "terrible price on his soul" we don't really see that. His character hasn't changed at all since Episode 1 Season 1.

I'm frankly shocked that Kiefer Sutherland has anything to do with this. I had him pegged for a more liberal worldview.


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
obscurantist
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posted 15 February 2006 01:32 AM      Profile for obscurantist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
AE, M. Spector, I fear you may be right, and that 24 will have to remain a "guilty" pleasure for me, or at best an insight of sorts into what's happening in the US. There have been elements in the show that seem to run against its general political bent, but perhaps these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

In the second season, aired between late 2002 and mid-2003, the main plotline is about a plot by military / intelligence / oil industry officials to fabricate evidence implicating a few Middle Eastern countries in a nuclear attack on a US city, in order to trigger a war against those countries. The parallel with real events is obvious enough (although in the show, the nuclear attack actually takes place). The second season tested my patience in a number of respects, but in hindsight, perhaps that's as critical and independent-minded as the show was ever going to get. They recently recycled that plotline over the course of a single episode, with a presidential adviser trying to trigger a terrorist incident in central Asia as a pretext for increasing American military involvement there.

But by and large, the "dilemmas" of the show occur within a fairly narrow range, as on the last episode -- would you allow innocent civilians to be killed if you thought it would increase the odds of stopping a far larger slaughter? The question of how such a dilemma might come about in the first place, like, what events led someone to target civilians, is just window dressing. "Well, you know, the Russians, they are oppressing our people! My wife is in prison!" Whatever. As Žižek points out, 24 is set conveniently at the point where there's supposedly no chance for reflection on root causes. There isn't time!

Yeah. I guess it's just Michael freaking Ignatieff with background music and car chases.

Dammit!


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Briguy
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posted 15 February 2006 08:53 AM      Profile for Briguy     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
24 is my guilty pleasure (along with CBC's great dramas). I watched the first season rather uncritically, because it was a fresh new idea. 24 hours in the life of somebody doing Something Important. I rather enjoyed it, even though it was over the top, and the timeline seemed a bit improbable.

Then came the second season. I almost did not watch it, because I thought the premise of the show (24 hours blah blah blah) necessitated a one-season idea. I gave it a chance, and was fairly disappointed. I started noticing that torture was actually yielding useful results for the agents (something which all real-world evidence indicates is not accurate). Nonetheless, I was entertained.

The last two seasons, I've watched simply for the yuk factor. The show is unintentionally hilarious. Most of the characters are frikken robots, who always know the right "protocol" for the right situation. They are all cartoon superheroes, really. The faux power struggles within the Agency are generally laughable. People recover from major injuries within an hour or less (just in time for the episodic cliffhanger, typically).

This year, they gave Kiefer's character a love triangle to deal with. I giggled for a solid fifteen minutes over that plot element. With all respect to Mr. Sutherland, who performs his role with passion and really seems to get into the character, the show is pretty much only good for laughs right now.

The one saving grace this season? The President is a complete imbecile who is constantly out of touch with is underlings and with the events going on around him. That's pretty much as accurate a portrayal as we'll ever see...

[ 15 February 2006: Message edited by: Briguy ]


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rinne
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posted 15 February 2006 10:25 AM      Profile for rinne     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think it is propaganda designed to make torture acceptable.

I watched it the first year and began to watch it the second until it struck me that, once again, the plot seemed only an excuse to justify the use of torture. I haven't watched it since.


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M. Spector
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posted 15 February 2006 11:45 AM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wasn't the second season the one where, within the first half hour of the first episode, Jack Bauer shot and killed in cold blood a witness who was being held in FBI protective custody, and cut the head off the corpse with a hacksaw to present it as a token of good faith to ingratiate himself with the "terrorists"?
From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
Pogo
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posted 15 February 2006 12:21 PM      Profile for Pogo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think the second season was also the one where the 'terrorists' were torturing Jack by stopping his heart and restarting it. Until Jack seeing an opportunity is able to overpower his captors. It was at this point that my daughter referred to him as Rubber Jack.

While torture gets an easy ride, it is because of the framework. How do you get an answer in 30 seconds from an opponent, because you need to move the plot along. The simple answer is to threaten him and have him capitulate.

The military culture also gets picked on a lot. Every year has an Oliver North/Bay of Pigs angle where someone high up abuses their power to support some scheme (scapegoat terrorists, raise the price of oil, alter an election).

24 thankfully has become so cartoonish that one can watch it for the adrenilin rush of constant plot turns while not taking it as representative of real life. More people are murdered in a one hour 24 show than in Detroit in a month.


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CMOT Dibbler
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posted 10 May 2006 04:04 PM      Profile for CMOT Dibbler     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
typical American authority hero worship.

Americans worship authority!? I thought they hated it.


From: Just outside Fernie, British Columbia | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 10 May 2006 04:23 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by CMOT Dibbler:
Americans worship authority!? I thought they hated it.
Yeah, those Americans are just a bunch of anarchists!

They are a republic that wishes it were a monarchy. But they blew their chance in 1776...


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kman242
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posted 10 May 2006 04:49 PM      Profile for kman242     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Considering that this season the republican president turned out to be the bad guy, fomenting terrorist attacks in Russia and seizing oil interests in the Middle East, I wonder how many conservative fans feel betrayed by the show? Rush Limbaugh, a big 24 fan, is apparently still in denial about this.
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CMOT Dibbler
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posted 10 May 2006 05:07 PM      Profile for CMOT Dibbler     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Yeah, those Americans are just a bunch of anarchists!

I know it sounds silly, given the authoritarian bent of so many American politicians(and the fact that it's silly to generalize about 300 million people), but Americans do seem to have a tendency to worship rugged individualists and rebels rather than establishment figures like lawyers and doctors. Jack Bauer seems to fit the rebel archetype perfectly, which is why I find it odd that AE should think that Americans have an authority jones.


From: Just outside Fernie, British Columbia | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 10 May 2006 06:02 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What makes you think Jack Bauer is a rebel?

He's a spook who is prepared to lay down his own life (as well as the lives of a whole lot of other people) to protect the President and the American way of life. He only works against authority when it is usurped by evil people who seek to destroy him and harm the "interests" of the USA.

Whatever the opposite of a rebel is, that's Jack Bauer.


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
CMOT Dibbler
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posted 10 May 2006 08:47 PM      Profile for CMOT Dibbler     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
He only works against authority when it is usurped by evil people who seek to destroy him and harm the "interests" of the USA.

But in the show those people are presented as the establishment.
He is willing to break the rules set out by such individuals in order to achieve a higher purpose. Just because Jack's character is as flat as a pancake and his politics are horrid, dosen't mean that he isn't rebellious.

[ 10 May 2006: Message edited by: CMOT Dibbler ]

[ 10 May 2006: Message edited by: CMOT Dibbler ]


From: Just outside Fernie, British Columbia | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 10 May 2006 09:09 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by CMOT Dibbler:
But in the show those people are presented as the establishment.
Nonsense. They are renegades who must be destroyed in order to preserve the existing order.

If anybody is a "rebel" in the current season, it's the evil President Logan.

[ 10 May 2006: Message edited by: M. Spector ]


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
otter
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posted 10 May 2006 10:14 PM      Profile for otter        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It's the character of Jack's daughter that provides the greatest horrors. What a bonehead! If there is a wrong way to do anything she is sure to find it. The writer[s] of this character must really have it in for teenage girs. Or perhaps its just the old blonde prejudice playing out again?
From: agent provocateur inc. | Registered: Feb 2006  |  IP: Logged
BlawBlaw
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posted 12 May 2006 12:10 AM      Profile for BlawBlaw     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
This brings to mind the movie "The Siege" or even "The Untouchables" when the Canadian Mountie comments "I do not approve of your methods!"
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obscurantist
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posted 24 May 2006 03:32 PM      Profile for obscurantist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Basically, it's "The Office" with guns.... John Doyle's take on 24 in his column this week: it's a workplace drama, more than anything else.
quote:
What has been happening is a drama about beloved and reliable colleagues being laid off, transferred or fired. All that dramatic stuff about the President being a weasel and a puppet of mysterious forces? It's really about not being able to trust your boss and having the suspicion that he's not really a leader, that he's being manipulated by somebody else. His loyalty is not to the company you work for; it's to his own bosses, the bosses you never really know. All those twists in the plot about Homeland Security taking over the Counter Terrorism Unit and screwing up? Ditto. It's about working for a company that is taken over by another company.

Over several seasons, 24 has often been emphatically about office politics. Internecine workplace politics are the important subplot, supporting the main thriller plot. ... Everybody can identify with the squabbling, egotism and power-plays that occur in that grey, badly-lit CTU office. Week after week, there are scenes in which people are sneaky and pretend to be taking care of one task when they're actually doing something else.

In recent weeks, as this season moved toward its climax, we had the matter of the creepy Miles going behind his boss's back directly to the President to get permission to interfere in the job-at-hand. Every office has somebody like that -- the creepy careerist who goes over somebody's head and stabs a colleague in the back.

And then there is Jack himself. ... The audience members who truly identify with Jack are stressed, managerial-type men who transfer their anxieties and fantasies to him. The Jack character appeals directly to well-off, fortysomething dads. Like many dads in the corporate world, Jack feels guilty about neglecting his family. ... He works in a place that's alive with deceit and betrayal. His job is to stop terrorists and save millions of people, but his work environment is really no different from the viper's nest that many hard-working people face at the office. Somebody is always intent on undermining Jack's career. The bosses are always asking Jack to do utterly impossible tasks.

And the hours the guy puts in! ...



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Disgusted
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posted 24 June 2006 01:53 AM      Profile for Disgusted        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Just saw a piece about 24 on Nightline tonight. Seems it's a big hit with the Republican Establishment, including such notables as Dick Cheney, Michael Chertoff, and Rush Limbaugh, as well as a whole whack of other mentally deranged sick fuck chickenhawks down there. I guess the torture part is one of the big appeals for them. In typical backasswards pop culture-twisted logic, they seem to think it shows how useful torture is and how justified the Bush regime is in using it.

I dunno, maybe you guys here who are fans might want to do some deep introspection as to why you like the show ...!


From: Yukon | Registered: Mar 2006  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 24 June 2006 08:00 AM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Nothing you said surprises me.

I'm sure that most of the people who watch 24 are cheering on the torturers, and that whatever messages the show contains about the abuse of power or the human fallout from torture and terror are completely lost on them.

This is why I am so disappointed that Sutherland is associated with it, though I am sure he would deny the accuracy of my opinions on the subject.

I still watch the damn show because (a) it's gripping; (b) it feeds my cynicism and paranoia about US proto-fascism; and (c) I like to be au courant with popular culture trends.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed that Nightline program.

Related thread

[ 17 January 2007: Message edited by: M. Spector ]


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
obscurantist
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posted 24 June 2006 04:28 PM      Profile for obscurantist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
whatever messages the show contains about the abuse of power or the human fallout from torture and terror are completely lost on them.
Yeah, that's the thing. Maybe the show is not particularly subversive in its message, and it's certainly a stretch to suggest that they're attempting some sort of deep irony or satire. But even if they were, it's likely that most people wouldn't pick up on it, as irony and satire seem to be dying arts.

I remember when Tim Robbins made the movie Bob Roberts, about a right-wing folk singer who runs for the U.S. Senate, he decided not to put out a soundtrack album. As he put it, he was worried that some people would take the lyrics of the songs at face value -- perhaps even use one of them in a political campaign, like Reagan used "Born in the USA."


From: an unweeded garden | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged

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