Deep-sixing "24"

I've always found the Fox TV series, 24, morally reprehensible -- despite what a great many TV critics, Emmy voters and even former colleagues at The Dallas Morning News have said. The fact that two years ago, conservative talk-show host and Morning News columnist Mark Davis used a fictional situation in 24 to justify real-life torture only sealed my assessment of the show's glorification of brutal and illegal tactics. It's long been a pathetic irony of the debate over torture that conservative advocates of physical coercion -- such as our president, vice-president and John Yoo -- have presented themselves as hard-headed and practical when, in real life, the interrogation tactics they espouse are often ineffective and, in fact, are welcomed by the fanatically devout who wish to be martyrs. What's more, week after week in 24, torture advocates find a fantastical, extreme situation devised for dramatic purposes -- a ticking time bomb with a terrorist holding the secret to defusing it -- and use it to justify employing torture when no such imminent annihilation exists.

Now, Jane Mayer in a "Letter from Hollywood" in the New Yorker reports that even the Pentagon and West Point instructors fear 24 has gone too far, influenced too many minds, including some of the military personnel we've been training for Iraq. Radio host Laura Ingraham is quoted in the piece: During a recent hospital stay, she says gratefully, watching agent Jack Bauer torture terrorist suspects made her feel better.

There lies the real impulse behind many such tactics. Revenge.

February 20, 2007 12:34 PM | | Comments (4)



I have to weigh in in defence of "24". For me, apart from being top entertainment, it has always been a challenge to my own ethical position - when I see Bauer having to make the decisions over the personal versus the national, the individual versus the greater good, it puts me on the spot as to what I would do in that situation, although it is clearly very unlikely that I will ever have to make such tough decisions. However the thinking process makes me deal differently with the life situations I do face. For years, psychologists have been talking about whether violent films and games affect our children, and whether we should censor challenging material and there are good arguments to show that some non-discerning, or already disaffected young people can be influenced by such. "24" is an adult show pitched at those with hopefully some discernment and moral sense and forces them to think about issues normally distant. To say that it can influence adults of discernment to acts of this type is to say there is something wrong with the moral education of our societies far greater than can be influenced by a mere TV show, which is clearly disctinct from reality. "Lay not that mattering unction to the soul of society that it is the madness of "24" that speaks" (to paraphrase Hamlet), when it is individual conscience that acts. And to be honest I can't see the NSA, the CIA and Osama Bin Laden perched on their respective sofas at 12am yelling "Hit him harder" or "Infidel dogs" at the screen. I'm sure they have many more practical immoralities on their minds and consciences.

A. S. Hamrah wrote a very perceptive article on TV and film torture in the LA Times. In particular, he points to the fact that so often what we see are scenes showing the good (white) guy being tortured by the bad (swarthy) ones, when in the world--the opposite of the issue we're dealing with in Guantanamo and Abu elsewhere. Add it to your very enlightening observation that tv torture is always in response to some imminent threat--again unlike "real life"--and we can see that we're in the presence of spontaneous, insidious propaganda. Many thanks.

I haven't watched much television in the last few years so I've never seen 24. But I've often wondered,when reading about it or listening to others discuss it, just how wise it is to have that kind of program on the air in today's world. It seems likely to me that both sides of this struggle with terrorism could be wrongly motivated by such a series.

I wonder if it's finally just about run its course. Here's hoping so.

Hey, another person who doesn't like that show! I can't stand it, or, in fact, much of what purports to be entertainment on TV (or movies, which I'm mostly too cheap to go to at $12 a pop around here). It's violent, inaccurate and just plain dumb. But frightening to think that TV is what is raising our next generations.
Thanks for standing up. Hope people hear you!


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