Monday, February 12, 2007

Why 24 is awful, and why it matters

via Digby, this New Yorker profile on "24" creator Joel Surnow is crucial reading:
This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his “call” was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”...

Finnegan 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.”

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.” Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”


Lord Kitchener's Own said...

If students, any students, anywhere, are saying "if torture is wrong, what about 24" the problem is most definitely NOT 24 (a thouroughly AWESOME show!). It seems to me, kinda like saying "if robotics research is good, what about Battlestar Galactica?" or "if malpractice is bad, what about House?".

When people can't separate fiction from reality, why do we always blame the fiction?

I blame reality.

john said...

"When people can't separate fiction from reality, why do we always blame the fiction?

I blame reality."

The problem is assuming that people draw bright, uncrossable lines between what they learn from fiction and what they learn from fact. I learned that Australia was a penal colony from the Simpsons. I'll guarantee you that more people have watched Spike Lee's "X" or Stone's "JFK" than have read Malcolm X's autobiography or the Warren Comission Report.

People don't think like that, they don't live like that, and pretending that they do runs in to obvious problems.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I just don't think it should be up to the creators of fiction to mitigate the fact that people are basing their views of reality on fiction.

People don't need to (nor should they) draw bright "uncrossable" lines between fiction and reality, but I don't think it's the fiction writer's role to draw the lines for us. It's great that you learned that Australia used to be a penal colony from the Simpson's. But if you also (think you) learned from the Simpson's that a common punishment in the Australian legal system is being kicked in the buttocks by a comically oversized boot, that's not Matt Groening's fault. If we're gonna modify 24 (or ask its creators to modify it) we'd better get Jon Stewart off the air first. It's a fact that many young people get their news from the Daily Show (in fact, Stewart often makes fun of this fact) but that doesn't mean he should modify his show as a result.

One is certainly free to write their undergraduate history paper on Malcolm X based on just viewing Spike Lee's movie. Just don't blame Spike when you fail.

My point is that people need to learn to think critically, and artists shouldn't be hogged-tied by some segment of the public's inability to do so. Pretending all people are intelligent and capable of critical thinking certainly can cause us to run into problems, that's true. Many fewer problems, however (I would argue) than we would encounter by simply pandering to the lowest common denominator, and assuming the audience is entirely without the capacity to rationally evaluate the world around them.

john said...

"My point is that people need to learn to think critically, and artists shouldn't be hogged-tied by some segment of the public's inability to do so."

I agree, of course. I wouldn't support censoring "24". But I feel free to call it awful and corrosive to basic decency and morality, as well as the worst form of snuff porn.

And yet still I watch, transfixed by the awfulness of it.

Viagra said...

the show is no so bad, however have something that is a little annoying in it, maybe is Kiefer Sutherland.