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August 17, 2006


I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out, but yesterday it finally dawned on my that the television show 24 is propaganda for Bush's "War on Terror." It should have been obvious: the heroes are federal counterterrorist agents; the villains are (usually -- in two of the four seasons I have seen so far) Islamic fundamentalists.

In any case, it became totally blatant in the two (season 4) episodes I watched yesterday. The counterterrorist agents apprehended an American citizen, Joe Prado, who was trying to help a known terrorist flee the country. They were fairly certain that he had information regarding the location of Habib Marwan, the lead terrorist who had just stolen a nuclear warhead, so they brought him into CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit) for questioning. Marwan didn't want them to get any information out of Prado, so he called a lawyer from "Amnesty Global" to prevent Prado from being questioned (which would have involved torture), on the basis of his American citizenship. Just as the CTU agents are preparing to torture Prado to find out where Marwan is, a smarmy (Jewish) lawyer shows up to protect Prado's right to not be tortured.

In real life, I would say that torture is never acceptable, especially the torture of an American citizen who hasn't even been charged with a crime. In real life, I support Amnesty International. But, while I was watching 24 last night, I totally wanted them to torture the guy. The audience knew he had the information they needed and that torture was the only way to get it out of him.

In the next episode, the (new) President (who is, in fact, a complete weenie), refuses to let CTU torture Prado, but Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland -- our hero) does it anyway. He has Prado released and resigns from CTU, and then, acting as a private citizen, tortures Prado in the parking lot until he reveals Marwan's location. Jack is then reinstated at CTU to head up the tactical team to capture Marwan. When the President finds out what Jack has done, he orders Jack's immediate arrest, and sends the Secret Service after Jack, who is now about to capture Marwan. The arrival of the Secret Service tips off Marwan to the fact that CTU is about to apprehend him, and he gets away, effectively foiling CTU's mission. The President then admits that he totally f---ed up: he should have let Jack torture Prado to begin with, but in the actual event, even though Jack acted illegally, he should have just let it slide so that they could get Marwan.

These two episodes really bothered me. The writers and directors obviously wanted the audience to support CTU and to believe that torture was the right move in that instance. After all, the audience knew that Prado had the information CTU needed. We also knew that Marwan was in possession of a nuclear warhead, which he was preparing to use against the United States. The question is: was it acceptable to disregard Prado's rights in order to save countless American lives? One of the many recurring themes of the show is that one life is never more valuable than millions. Over and over we see people being sacrificed in order to save numerous others. So it seems that, according to the same logic, it would be okay to torture Prado in order to prevent a nuclear attack. After all, they didn't even kill him. But if we take this logic too far, how long will it take before we are living in Orwell's 1984?

The other thing I noticed yesterday is that all of the characters on 24 say "nucular" instead of "nuclear." My theory? The directors of the show hope that, if we hear "nucular" enough, it won't sound so wrong when President Bush says it. After all, the show is on Fox!

Posted by eklanche at August 17, 2006 07:18 AM


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