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The Effects and After Effects of “24” May 26, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in society, television, Uncategorized.
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A few days ago, I heard an NPR interview with Kiefer Sutherland. The topic was the upcoming nine-season—eight television seasons plus one season when the show had to be suspended because Kiefer was in the pen—finale of “24.” One of the people interviewer Robert Segal quoted—I forget who this was—called “24” the “signature show of the Bush administration” and the “single most significant factor in the American public’s relatively new acceptance of torture as a military and counter-terrorism tool.” For the last nine years, 24 times a year, the American public sees Jack Bauer save the United States from immediate ruin using information obtained by what would surely be classified as torture. The American public, perhaps believing that “24” is a TLC reality show in the style of “Little People/Big World” or “Jon and Kate plus Jon’s 19-year old Girlfriend minus Kate,” come away believing that the CIA or FBI or Homeland Security—or whichever federal agency or sub-agency CTU is supposed to represent—routinely tortures people and routinely obtains reliable relevant information as a result. Or perhaps it’s nothing that sophisticated. Perhaps just regularly seeing torture on prime time network television—for whatever reason—desensitizes one to about torture, suppressing the gag reflex, and deprecating torture from something which is unspeakable to something which is both speakable and watchable on prime time television. Of course, Sutherland’s answer was expected. He essentially said that “24” was more a reflection of the post 9/11 world than a driver of it and that if it took several elements to the extreme, it was justified in doing so because everyone understands that “it’s just a television show” and “violence equals ratings” and “come on, it’s just a television show.”

Yes, we get it. “24” is (was) “just a television show.” And it wasn’t a very good show, either. I admit I used to love it. I have only enough attention to watch one show per season and for a few seasons—4 and 5?—”24″ was it. I watched the first two seasons on DVD also. In parallel with season 5 I think. But when the show took a year off, I switched over to “Fringe”, itself not the best of shows with no less tiresome acting, but with a more interesting plot than “24” at least. I mean, how many separate times can someone’s daughter be kidnapped in one 24 hour period?

Yes, “24” was not the best show. And it glorified torture and violence a little too much. But the twisted glorification of violence and torture was full on even outside “24.” Witness the whole “torture porn” film genre exemplified by the Saw series. As well as the GPU-enabled increasingly graphic nature of video games. “24”‘s bigger problems, in my opinion, were a cast of characters that changed by the minute as seemingly central players kept getting killed off—other than Jack you couldn’t get attached to anyone, not that you really wanted to get attached to Chloe—blatant abuse of techno-babble—really? it’s possible to download sattelite photos to a PDA over a secure link in under a second?—and its depiction of US President Charles Logan as an outright criminal. On second though, maybe “24” was the signature show of the Bush administration.

I will say this for “24” though. In addition to desensitizing America to torture, it also desensitized to the notion of having an African American president. I really believe that without “24” Barack Obama would not be president today. The country had to see it on television first.

P.S. Gregg Easterbrook has something to say about “24” also.

P.P.S. As if I didn’t like LEGO® enough already. Now I find out that they are manufactured to a tolerance of 2µm so that they can snap together tightly but still be pulled apart without excessive violence or torture. 2µm! The Intel 486, shipped in 1989, used transistors with a 1µm channel length. LEGOs are manufactured to roughly four times the tolerance of circa 1990 microprocessors! You can probably run Windows 3.1 on LEGOs!

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