Thursday, June 12, 2014

Previously on 24...

Previously on 24...

...renegade counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), faced with the prospect of being detained by the authorities, deliberately sprayed bullets into a crowd of innocent British civilians protesting the American use of drones. When confronted with his actions a couple of episodes later, Jack responds with irritation: "I barely grazed them!"

"How do you know that?" the astonished interrogator asks.

"Because I was the one doing the shooting," Bauer growls.

I laughed during both scenes, but not for my usual reasons. I started watching 24 not as a drama but as a farcical comedy sometime during the second season. But this pair of scenes was different, and I'm not finding the show as funny as I used to. This time, I laughed in disbelief.

Others have written with far more eloquence than I about 24's troubling worldview, one that pits religions and ethnicities against each other, one with no room for cooperation, compromise or negotiation, one that enthusiastically embraces torture and violence as the only sound public policy in a world bubbling over with apocalyptic levels of terrorism. This is a world where terrorists have set off nuclear weapons and caused meltdowns in American cities, where plague has been unleashed, Presidents assassinated and fifty percent of authority figures are traitors. Jack Bauer, who is always right, is the violent force of nature who has electrocuted suspects, chopped off heads with a hacksaw and literally tore an opponent's throat out with his teeth, like a vampire. This is the show's hero - not a protagonist, but explicitly a hero, practically worshipped by all right-thinking supporting characters on the show. Those who doubt or question Jack are inevitably proven wrong, sometimes (often!) with fatal consequences.

I could laugh at 24 because as each season went by it seemed to me that the creators were taking the show less and less seriously. It began to serve as a window into the paranoid worldview of hyper-extremists, those fearful few who have created the surveillance society the rest of us now begrudgingly inhabit.

But Jack's assault on those British protesters this season was ugly, mean-spirited, and played without any sense of irony. Cues in the direction, editing, script and music make it clear that the producers intend audiences to sympathize with Jack's psychotic violence as right and proper under the circumstances. He was only doing what had to be done for the greater good - in this case, ostensibly to protect the citizens of London from American drones hijacked by terrorists, but really to protect American interests and the right to continue using drones for their "proper" purpose. The message is clear: anyone stupid enough to protest against drones (or, metaphorically, state-sponsored violence as public policy) deserves to be shot.

I would like to think that reasonable people can have a rational discussion on the use of drones in the so-called war on terror. 24 makes it clear that even to question the use of drones, and by proxy the war itself, is tantamount to treason against Western values...whatever those might be in this troubled age.

(Stephen Fry's participation in this season (he plays the British Prime Minister) is particularly disconcerting, since Fry has through word and deed consistently shown himself to be a pretty intelligent, progressive human being. Then again, Kiefer Sutherland himself has described himself as a socialist and supports gun control, and I suppose actors aren't required to limit themselves to roles and projects that support their political views.)

24's big first-season hook, the concept that made it different, was its claim that "Events occur in real time," as stated at the beginning of each episode. It's become clear that the events of 24 now occur in what might be called "unreal time," a twisted funhouse mirror of the real world, a place of blood and shadows where no one can be trusted, power is the only virtue and compassion is weakness.

1 comment:

"Jeffscent, Part II" said...

Full disclosure: I haven't watched a minute of 24, any of them.

Even so, I think you can cut the team some slack. I looked it up: 24 had nine seasons! The first season (from what I read) had a fairly standard good-guys versus bad-guys premise. The events of 9/11 changed all of that, and the plots became a lot more charged with America fighting ultraviolent terrorists.

So nine seasons of this, they are going to run out of creative things to do. After 80-100 episodes, or Season 4, most shows go into "syndication mode", where instead of paying per episode, the studios will pay for blocks of episodes, since proven shows sold in bulk are cheaper, like Costco for TV. The crews (but not the talent) usually end up with cheaper contracts.

Or put another way I know you'll understand: Rascals and A Fistful Of Datas are back to back, Joe Piscopo is a featured guest star, Vic Fontaine?!? and Janeway finds visiting an Irish village for entire episodes irresistable, pretty much the entire last season of Enterprise... and Spock's Brain is the ultimate Star Trek Episode!

However, as far as the morality of 24 goes in its run over nine seasons, I would have to agree with you. 24 is too dark for me to want to watch. I prefer Benny Hill over Capitol Hill.