Wednesday, January 17, 2007


"24" Another Government Spin On Torture

I hate to say “I told you so,” especially since I really didn’t say anything—but I thought it.

The hit Fox show, "24," is back with us, showing us how much we need someone who doesn't have to be constrained by the laws. These, we're reminded, and evil times and tens of thousands of evil people (along with thousands of well-meaning terrorist-fellow-travelers) are trying to destroy All That Is Sacred. Again.

It's the Lone Marauder gone anti-terrorist.

The Lone Marauder is an old American stand-by. It’s John Wayne, Zane Grey, Max Brand, Mickey Spillaine—the list could go on for page or two. The Lone Marauder stands, at best, beside the law. He—or she, but I can’t think of any female analogues—is outside the law because The Times Are Bad and Regular Law Is Powerless, or something like that. Steven Seagull karate chopping the bad guys, Mike Hammer blasting them with his .45, add your own anti-hero.

Jack Bauer is another in the long line of such characters. We love them. In our hearts, we feel scared and powerless (thanks to shows like “24”!) and we want those evil bastards to go down. Hard.

But...Yeah: we got along fine for years and years. At least until the authoritarians got what they needed in the way of power and excuses. And now, over and over, we’re being told this is the way it has to be.

Bull puckey.

Fox Show "24": Torture on TV
By Jon Wiener,
Posted on January 15, 2007, Printed on January 17, 2007

"24" is back on Fox TV -- the hit show starring Kiefer Sutherland, which premiered Sunday night, once again features at least one big torture scene in every episode -- the kind of torture the Bush White House says is necessary to protect us from you-know-who.

The show is much more convincing than the White House at making the case for torture; its ratings have gone steadily up over the last five years, while Bush's ratings have gone steadily down.

In "24," Sutherland plays special agent Jack Bauer, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He fights some of his biggest battles not with the dark-skinned enemies trying to nuke L.A., but rather with the light-skinned do-gooders who think the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit should follow the rules.

Back in season four, for example, the bumbling bureaucrats released a captured terrorist before he could be tortured -- because a lawyer for "Amnesty Global" showed up whining about the Geneva Conventions. Jack had to quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and become a private citizen in order to break the suspect's fingers.

It's especially unfortunate to see Kiefer Sutherland play the world's most popular torturer -- because his father, Donald Sutherland, has been a prominent antiwar activist since Vietnam days and starred in some great films critiquing fascist politics, including "MASH" and Bertolucci's "1900" -- and also because Kiefer's grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was Canada's first socialist premier, and was recently voted "the greatest Canadian of all time" -- because he introduced universal public health care to Canada. The grandson meanwhile is being paid $10 million a season by Rupert Murdoch to shoot kneecaps, chop off hands, and bite his enemies to death (Sunday's special thrill).

The show's connection to the Bush White House and the conservative establishment became explicit last June, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff appeared alongside the show's producers and three cast members at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation to discuss "The public image of US terrorism policy." The discussion was moderated by Rush Limbaugh. The C-SPAN store sells a DVD of the event--price reduced from $60 to $29.95. Sunday night's two-hour premiere again argued not just that torture is necessary but that it works -- and it's also really exciting to watch. The show as usual made the "ticking time bomb" case for torture: we need to torture a suspect, or else thousands, or millions, will die in the next hour.

It's the same case made by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who proposed that judges ought to issue torture warrants in the "rare 'ticking bomb' case," and by University of Chicago law professor and federal judge Richard Posner, who has written, "If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used." He added that "no one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility."

Thanks to "24," tens of millions of TV viewers know exactly what Dershowitz and Posner are talking about. As Richard Kim pointed out in The Nation in 2005, those are the cases where "the stakes are dire, the information perfect and the authorities omniscient." Of course that's a fantasy of total knowledge and power, and of course the U.S. has never had a real "ticking time bomb" case -- but Jack Bauer faces one every Sunday night on Fox.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Are the media scholars and practitioners going to check the manner in which a spectre of make-believe-terror threats and imaginary foes is being marketed and capitalized upon as primetime entertainment?

One wonders if all this is driven by a fetish to feign a gung ho mentality. The question is to ask to what extent such reel world image will help American secure their economic stakes and protect security the interests in the real world?

It is clear that some media outlets and their pen soldiers have a long tradition of keeping the specter of war vivid by stoking fears and harping about some real but many more imaginary threats. TV channels have a long tradition of popular series about official agencies, from the police and the military to the secret services featured as headstrong mavericks who refuse to play by the rules, they're still public employees who work for the state. Hence, the viewer can't help being manipulated into a kind of complicity with the machinery of officialdom, warns Adam Sweeting and asks: “So are TV's legions of secret operatives, surrogate outriders for official government policy, warning us of the bottomless pit of horrors lurking within the global anti-terror struggle? As surveillance and state intrusion soar to disturbing new levels, are the telly-agents helping to soften us up for further systematic repression of personal freedoms?”

After Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and White House guidelines about what kinds of torture are officially acceptable, many have been struggling with the realization that the use of torture is no longer one of the ways by which you can recognize the bad guys. Not for Fox’s super spy opera star Sutherland's Jack Bauer and his fellow agents, there's never any question of civil liberties or other liberal wimpishness taking precedence over the urgency of their mission. For Surnow, there's no question that torture can be a legitimate counter-terrorism tool. It's shocking to find this once-deplorable practice embedded in a TV drama, as if it's routine enough to serve as a mere strand in TV's entertainment mix.

Mainstream press points at a flawed tendency that is increasingly visible recently. According to New York Times, the U.S. has imposed more restrictions on reporters in Afghanistan than in any previous U.S. war, but Hollywood has carte blanche to make feel-good "reality TV" shows about the adventure as in '24'. Maureen Dowd notes that that the Pentagon is teaming with Jerry Bruckheimer, for producing a TV docudrama about the war on terrorism. "I'm outraged about the Hollywoodization of the military," says Dan Rather. "Somebody's got to question whether it's a good idea to limit independent reporting on the battlefield and access of journalists to U.S. military personnel and then conspire with Hollywood."

Instead of taking notice of how “entertainment is being metamorphosed into propaganda, daydreamers like Kincaid wish to see an episode of ‘24’ where Jack Brauer will take out the real enemies i.e. Television channels like Al-Jazeera English …players in the global information war whose work, when taken seriously, results in America letting down more of its guard.”
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