24's Political Agenda

Hopefully by now you've read that article about the creator of 24 and his politics. Full disclosure: Jonathan and I are both rabid fans of 24, in spite of the fact that we snicker about the predictability of the ethnic stereotyping and some of the dialogue and improbabilities (e.g., Jack shoots down a helicopter with a handgun). The article is really interesting, and I'd like to extract some of the parts I found particularly intriguing:

[U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point] told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

Wow. I never would have expected the cadets to take 24 that seriously. Could they have just been kidding around with Finnegan?

I thought it was interesting to juxtapose the New Yorker article with the In Media Res project by Jennifer Holt. (Aside: I am one of the founding members of the editorial board; hooray!) In her commentary, Holt writes, "In light of the current clamor about this show’s alleged right wing agenda (which I would argue are far too simplistic) and the debates over the limits of indecency on television as (not) defined by the FCC, Jack Bauer is literally going for the jugular on both counts." I wish Holt had gone into more detail about "far too simplistic," but I realize that the In Media Res blurbs are supposed to be short. In sum, the political slant of 24 seems pretty right oriented to me, but I do agree with what Jane Mayer writes here:

Indeed, the story lines sometimes have a liberal tilt. The conspiracy plot of Season Five, for example, turns on oligarchic businessmen who go to despicable lengths to protect their oil interests; the same theme anchors liberal-paranoia thrillers such as “Syriana.” This season, a White House directive that flags all federal employees of Middle Eastern descent as potential traitors has been presented as a gross overreaction, and a White House official who favors police-state tactics has come off as scheming and ignoble.

Also, for what it's worth, Kiefer Sutherland, the article says, places himself left of center on the political spectrum.

What are your thoughts on 24 and what it may or may not be inculcating in the audience? And how about The Half Hour News Hour, the conservative fake-news comedy after the style of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report? I can't wait to see what that's like.


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Cadets and Finnegan

Nope. In this case, Cadets are entirely forthright, and many of them think torture's OK. Keep this in mind: most of the time, Cadets will not lie.

General Finnegan is absolutely right. Fox's fiction is crappy and stupid masturbatory nationalism. I've watched it, and I won't watch it any more, because doing so is the equivalent of jacking myself off on the American flag while asking swarthy dark-skinned strangers to beat me with sticks and then declaring what a wonderful martyr I am for doing so.



It doesn't surprise me all that much that some of the cadets would be okay with torture; what DOES surprise me is the "If torture is wrong, what about 24?" logic. I just figured the cadets would be more sophisticated than that.

In other words, I would think that in an apologia for torture, cadets would at least cite Rumsfeld's memos, not 24. Not that Rumsfeld's argument is all that great -- actually it's essentially the same argument, right? that sometimes civil liberties must be sacrificed for national security? -- but it's (technically) not fiction.

Ideological Fiction

I think it's not so much a question of logic as it is a question of ideology -- and I don't think it's limited to Cadets. 24 isn't shaping syllogistic reasoning, it's shaping attitudes. When you're dealing with pathos rather than logos, the fiction/nonfiction distinction becomes a moot point.


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