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24 Fodder

The Politics of 24

Jack BauerI have absolutely no intention of making a 24 political rant, but despite the obvious fact that the show is fiction (even though it does take some plots/themes out of the real world), Jack Bauer is becoming either an argument for or against the way that the U.S. government handles today's security/terrorism problems.

In a short run-down of his appearances in political commentary, both the right and the left use him as an example of how the government should or shouldn't deal with real-world problems.

Former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan says that when it comes to dealing with issues of national security, the nation is made up of Jack Bauers.

The Left may be right on the law, but the people seem to be standing by Bush. Believing the character of this war, where the enemy's preferred tactic is to slaughter civilians with terror bombings, people seem to agree that we have to follow Jack Bauer's rules, not ACLU rules.
Blogging at The Huffington Post, Craig Crawford says that President Bush is our "Jack Bauer" president.
I have been watching dozens of back episodes of Fox Broadcasting's "24" over the holidays, and so far I haven’t seen rogue U.S. counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer stop once for a court warrant -- not even when he sawed off the head of an informant he was interrogating. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the Constitution mentioned a single time as Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, repeatedly breaks the rules to thwart terrorist plots.

This is how the President wants us to see the real world. Indeed, George Bush is the Jack Bauer of presidential power. There are no rules in Bush's world when it comes to the War on Terror -- only wimps like the whining bureaucrats on "24" balk at torture, spying, propaganda, whatever it takes.

In The American Thinker, Rick Moran says that Jack is "A Perfect Post 9/11 Hero."
Torn as America is between getting the job done at all costs while upholding American ideals, Jack simply can’t help himself. He necessarily sees the world in stark relief, a place populated by some really nasty thugs who don’t even blink at the idea of murdering hundreds of thousands of people. We recoil at some of Jack’s tactics. But we recognize that Jack is the guy doing what needs to be done to keep us safe. This makes Jack Bauer the perfect hero in a post 9/11 America.
At the liberal, blogger Bernie recaps a few other left-leaning thoughts on Bauer, and opines on the show's portryal of torture.
Now, torture on TV isn't just a slap to the head and the stakes are much higher than just keeping another criminal off our cities' mean streets. These days on Fox's 24, Jack Bauer routinely puts a gun to the head of terrorist to force them to confess where they stashed the WMDs. He even pulls the trigger when he thinks it's necessary -- or if they hurt someone he loves.

It's funny, though, how the conundrum stays the same. In the post-9/11 world we seem to be flirting -- on a global scale -- with that same American totalitarian fantasy. And this time, American political leaders are making it a reality.

Peter Suderman, writing in the conservative National Review, opines on the cultural factor of the show, saying that "lies and misdirection are as obligatory as handshakes and hellos."
In this way, the show reflects a central anxiety of our cultural moment, suggesting a world in which hidden motives and mistruths endlessly threaten to undermine everything from personal relationships to national security.
Lastly, in a recent interview with Slate, executive producer Michael Loceff says that 24 tries not to swing one way on the political spectrum.
Slate: What about the problem of representing characters or political positions honestly? Do you worry about the show skewing one way politically?

Loceff: I honestly don't think so. Over the course of the four seasons, we've had villains on the right as well as on the left. Politically, our writing staff is very diverse, running the full range from left and right. This is stuff we have arguments about all the time, and I think we've learned to strike the right balance.

I don't have a horse in this race. It's fairly obvious why this discussion is happening -- the show's use of torture, tapping phone calls, etc. all have real-world comparisons (whether or not they were intentional). I remember watching Season 2 of the show, which aired right as the country was going to invade Iraq, and thinking that the second half of the season's anti-war plot was a political statement; but after reading interviews and watching bonuses on the DVDs, the producers made it clear that the episodes were written before the build-up to the war. -- Jason Unger

update: John Kass, writing in the Chicago Tribune, says that political commentators should stop using 24 as an argument in real-life discussions.

I think I speak for the trillion or so "24" fans who steep ourselves in fantasy government-inspired paranoia and conspiracy theories every Monday evening on Fox. We don't need some real government-inspired paranoia and conspiracy theories to interfere.

So you political writers, leave the show alone. Or we'll be forced to come for you, table lamp in one hand, glass of tap water in the other. And you know what I'm talking about.


Posted by Jason on January 23, 2006 1:55 PM
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