Is “24” Shaping U.S. Foreign Policy?


My first inclination when discussing Fox’s hit show “24” is to say that it’s a terrible show. That may put me at odds with the vast majority of American’s who love to watch the most unrealistic, least intelligent show on all of television, but that’s ok. The problem here is is that I still watch the show. Actually, I sort of half-watch it while surfing the web or playing with the puppy. One reason I watch is because I think my wife might have a secret crush on Jack Bauer and so I get through it in order to be a good husband. Second, I think the real reason I need to watch the show is because I’m addicted to the irritation it gives me. It’s hard to explain. It’s not that it’s SO bad that it’s good. It’s worse than that. But for some reason, I am still compelled to watch it. My suspicion is that the majority of the “24” audience actually believe that it is a show rooted in reality and that it should somehow help us shape the ways we think of our foreign policy and treatment of our enemies. While I watch the show, I can see clearly why the majority of people in this country aren’t outraged at the Bush Administration’s use of torture and their consistent oversimplification of the evil that’s somehow only found in our enemies and not in ourselves. As far as they know from watching the show, torture is perfectly acceptable and it works every time and most everyone of Middle Eastern descent should be suspect to, at the very least, a watchful eye…..if they are lucky.

I stumbled upon this story at the Carpetbagger Report that documents how this show is being used by several different voices on the right to hopefully influence public opinion and foreign policy. My suspicion might be a bit cynical, but this story seems to partly confirm my concern.

Does anyone else here think that “24” is bad for America? If you don’t, I’ll tie you down to a chair and shoot you in the leg and THEN we’ll see what you think! 🙂


22 thoughts on “Is “24” Shaping U.S. Foreign Policy?

  1. You may have a point, but for the sake of it Zach I’ll disagree – BRING IT! Just try it and I’ll get Jack Bauer on yo’ ass!

    [p.s. uh I feel dirty, I meant ‘arse’ ;)]

  2. with slight trepidation, i must admit that i am a 24 fan.

    (hops into back of pickup truck, hootin’, shotgun in hand)

    seriously, though, the issues you raise are very important. it’s one thing for a fantasy character on a show with less grounding in reality than “lost” to engage in constant acts of torture, but an entirely different thing to perform these acts of terror (yikes, i said it) on real human beings.

    just to add to your list of how the show distorts the nature of torture:
    * any reasonable, flag-waving, red-blooded american would see that there is simply no other way to gather the required information
    * it doesn’t dehumanize the torturee (because they deserve it anyway, damn it!)
    * it doesn’t dehumanize the torturer (because they feel bad about it. kind of.)

    (sigh) zach, please don’t write about any other television shows. i want to be able to watch “the white rapper show” with a guilt-free conscience 😉

  3. I’d agree that any show that desensitizes our capacity for compassion and that glorifies violence for our entertainment is a terrible travesty.

  4. I will admit (even in the minortiy) that I am a big fan of the show. I think that it is sad that there is so much discussion about the politics of entertainment. I do see that many shows on tv do have politically charged themes which may or may not be intentional but personally I just like 24 for being an action packed dramatic addition to the TV schedule. Understandibly it does go a bit far with the torture issue but I would hate to think that there are people who would look at 24 and say “Gee, maybe I should do that” but maybe I just give people too much credit.

  5. MMmmmm….tasty discussion. Must bite.

    I don’t believe watching violence desensitizes …me. I believe it could possibly desensitize some people. I’ll explain:

    It actually reminds me of my sensitivity to the fact that these things are happening to real people. When someone on the show (or in any ‘violent’ movie/show) gets shot, I cringe. And I’ve seen probably as much violence in the media as the average American. Which is a fair amount.

    As Americans, if we never see it, would we think about it often?

    That’s a general defense for viewing violence, not a defense of the show. I think those that watch mindlessly can slip into forgetting that it happens in reality, and I do think the show is just a repeating series of the same stupid plot.

    My point is this: those of us who are willing to engage in this discussion probably have a heightened sense of awareness regarding personal sensitivity to inhumane acts, and may not be subject to this desensitization that many people are so worried about. I suggest a balance.

  6. Only saw the show a few times, but here’s what I’ve got.

    It didn’t seem to dehumanize the torture (the scenes seem almost painful to watch…then again, maybe I’m a wimp) or the torturer (you have a pretty good idea why he’s doing it). To be honest, I think it is a humanizing show, but just one that tries to deal with the problem of evil.

    The show seems to present Bauer as a guy with a clear vision of right and wrong (as long as he’s right) and I think that that clarity is attractive to people (even though that clarity itself is probably one of the less likely aspects of the show).

    However, I would like to hear more about Jamie’s question. What do we see as entertainment’s role in our lives? How are we to draw the line as Christians (without falling into the trap of seeing anything worldly as ‘wrong’ or the worldliness as ‘good’). How does morality play into it all?

  7. To respond to Eric, I don’t think viewers watch the show and say “That’s cool, I think I should torture now.” Instead, I believe a majority of viewers are swayed by the techniques used in the show and are then more sympathetic towards the use of torture by our government. Like I said in the post, I do believe it contributes to a posture in this country where the torturing of our enemies is acceptable.

    In response to the question of violence in entertainment, it wasn’t my intention to suggest that violence in entertainment is inherently bad. Some of the most powerful anti-war, anti-violence films contain loads of graphic violence. “Paths of Glory” and the more recent “Letters from Iwo Jima” come to mind. It all depends on how the violence is used in the story. In my opinion, the use of torture in “24” is a poor use of violence in a show. It oversimplifies and the ramifications of torture and it overestimates it’s results.

  8. I agree with you Zach. I think the problem comes in when we don’t allow violence to be truthful. Violence is something we have to be careful not to glorify or use for entertainment.

    For instance, Children of War recently told the story of a world overcome with violence. Even the “good” characters resort to small acts of violence which translate as shocking. I liked that about the movie because it points to the ideal that there is an alternative.

    (I must confess that I have been reading Michael Nagler’s “Is There No Other Way.”
    I highly recommend this book).

    I will say that I have struggled with this question before as an artist–what is the kind of content I want to explore; and conversely, what is the kind of content I want to ingest?

  9. I appreciate the feedback and comments on my previous post.. Going for brevity may have caused me to misrepresent my intentions.. Partially, I did want to play devil’s advocate and in a tongue in cheek way bring light to what I felt was a bit of overexaggeration of the subject.
    I do agree with many responses (including Zach) about the use of violence in entertainment but cant make the jump to people seeing 24 and thinking that torture is ok, particularly as one other poster had said many of the instances of torture in the show make me cringe which says a lot coming from a guy who loves the “Braveheart” style movies. Regardless, Zach thanks for the open forum to discuss such issues and enjoy following along.

  10. There’s about 4 or 5 of my friends that get together and watch this show each week. I’ll admit, I really got into the first 3 seasons or so. I thought it was pretty entertaining. I didn’t give much thought to the torture stuff, but I’m really beggining to see it more now, especially watching in a group.

    Here’s some other observations:

    Firs of all, count how many times the phrase “within the hour” is said. It’s like they have a quota

    2nd, life changing, earth shattering events don’t happen every hour on the hour.

    Okay. those two can slide cause it’s just a TV show.

    The thing that I have found VERY interesting is the reaction some of my friends have to two of the characters. On the one hand you have the President’s aid (I don’t remember his name, he’s the one that blackmailed the one woman out of her job, if you watch the show you know what I’m talking about). Anyways, every one hates this guy because he’s trying to manipulate the President to strip citizens of their civil rights and put the whole country on lock down.

    Then you have the President’s sister. Without giving too much away, she’s the lawyer for this guy in one of these lockdown prisons and the government is using him to get information and completely abusing his civil rights. The Presdient’s sister is trying to get him out and gets into arguments with FBI agents.

    So back to my friends. They hate the President’s aid for the manipulation and deciet he practices to strip the country of their civil rights YET they also get even MORE angry at the President’s sister thinking that it’s this man’s duty to give up his civil rights to get this information. I really feel like it probably has more to do with the fact that she is a black woman and my friends are white than with the whole principle of the thing, but it’s just an interesting observation I’ve seen.

  11. I’ve never thought about the undertones of the torture on the show. I can see your point, Zach. They do seem to glorify it.

    Ironically, it seems like civil rights come up every season and inevitably the person who is attempting to undermine civil rights is the goat.

    I’ve been, admittedly, oblivious to the whole thing. All this time I thought I was just watching an over-the-top, explosive, action-packed Steven Seagal-inspired television show. Now I have to watch for political jabs.

    Thanks a lot!


  12. wow, this is a good discussion. I haven’t seen 24, so I guess I’ve mised out on some of my american social education. i think the themes of the existence of violence in wisdom and of oscillating on the morality of terror/torture/violence are cool to think bout.

    I can say that I was invited last week to a marathon of season one by a mixed group of Israeli arabs and pastey british dudes. Apparently cheesy action is pandemic? Sadly I couldn’t go, so I am still at the mercy of this discussion :o)

  13. saw this post linked from another one like it…the difference between what you are giving as examples for drawing sympathy for the bush administration’s tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan and the show is that the attacks are occuring on american soil…24 is not about our nation going over to demolish other nations. i really doubt there would be tremendous opposition to the use of torture had we known about 9/11 beforehand and could have stopped it…not from the family and friends of the 3,000+ that died.

  14. Rachel, I think this distinction you make here is irrelevant. As a nation, we can only be for or against torturing our enemies, regardless of the circumstances. If we are ok with the use of torture to try to avoid a 9/11-type of attack, then why would we not be ok with the torture of individuals overseas who might have less important but still beneficial information.

    Rachel, I suggest you watch a documentary currently running on HBO called “The Ghost of Abu-Ghraib”. It very clearly documents what happens when human beings are given the freedom to treat other human beings even the slightest bit of inhumanity.

    The Bush administration has encouraged our military to cross that line and I would argue that shows like “24” aid in creating an atmosphere in America where our safety is more important than our decency.

  15. I’d like to add that, as I’m sure its been covered, torture is a shit way of getting accurate information, its a good way of getting someone to speak quickly, but people will tend to say anything to make you stop. e.g. if one were to torture some of 9/11 plotters before 9/11 they’d likely have divulged information on a rival islamic group

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