Sunday, January 11, 2009

"24," torture, and a new political era

If you want an example of how life imitates art, which then imitates life, check out this article in the NYT about "24," torture, and a new era in politics. The show's unabashed use of torture as an intelligence gathering tool has (mournfully) influenced the actions and beliefs of West Point cadets and Iraqi soldiers. But in an age of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the increasing public backlash of toture, producers of the show have become somewhat apologetic of their show's effects. In the upcoming season, the show's main character, counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, is going to have a more reflective, nuanced worldview, one that understands the complexity of the world and the consequences of actions. This apparently may not totally influence Bauer's actions, but I applaud any effort to demythologize torture and its results.

I never really watched the show, but because there is no playoff football tonight, I will be watching the season's premiere with this in mind.


Darren Staley said...

I have an "on again,off again" relationship with 24. I watched the first couple of seasons intently, drifted off for a couple seasons, came back for a season, and this year I am back again, for now.

It is generally a very good show, but it is a show. That is what many people unfortunately forget.

There are no "ticking time bomb" situations in real life, where you shoot a bad guy in the kneecap and he gives you the location of the bomb that will destroy the world.

Number one, by the time you catch the guy, torture the guy, run through the bogus information he is giving you, any potential attack has likely already happened.

Number two, in the so-called GWOT, we are dealing with people who do not fear death, and the more pain they feel the "holier" they are in their "mission."

Torture is immoral and it doesn't work, period. 24-esque scenarios do not actually happen, period. But I am sure that out of the millions of people who watched the show over the past eight years, a good deal of them bought into the hype. This may have desensitized a chunk of the electorate to things like waterboarding and Abu Gharib.

I do not blame the show. I blame those who committed torture at a time when the public, for myriad reasons, 24 included, were succeptible to buying into the false ends justifying the means rationale.

Drew said...

your last two paragraphs are money, although i do appreciate that the producers of the show feel, in a small way, responsible for abuses overseas. and watching the show tonight, there does seem to be condescension towards Bauer's interrogative tactics.

Darren Staley said...

My last two grafs were money? What were the other five, chopped liver? ;o)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Darren completely but would add an aesthetic critique. I watched the first four seasons, and haven't watched another episode until tonight for one reason. The show became a parody of itself midway through I believe season 3. At a certain point, escalation of terror becomes humorous. The bad guys kept getting badder, their acts more evil, in a game of one upsmanship that eventually became laughable. The dialouge is so fraught at this point that it has become a soap opera with guns. My wife and I were laughing out loud at some of the dramatic reaction shots tonight. The tragic thing is that many people in power have used what has become a poorly written testoterone fueled soap opera as an excuse for barbarism and expediency. I mean, if they were quoting Lost as an example of when torture works, i would at least hear them out. But 24? Please.

Matt F.

Drew said...

Here is a clip of Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair debating Bill O'Reilly over 24, torture, and the ticking time-bomb scenario ... to your point.