May 24, 2007
Clarence Page, the man himself, says what needs saying
: America needs to remember that 24, the Fox TV show, is only compelling because it creates impossible situations that demand hard choices. Those situations, however, exist only in TV Land. It's pretty easy for a writer to write a ticking time-bomb. It's tougher to actually find one.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love 24 like a family member. Kiefer Sutherland is the only man that scares Chuck Norris, and Chuck Norris is physically incapable of experiencing fear. But it's so good only because it's the equivalent of the modern, highly successful yet terribly formulaic prime time police drama. Police work is super boring; but when you throw in an Andy Sipowitz, a little bit of the third degree and hints of true crime, you get a marketable franchise. Same with 24. Actual intelligence work is quite dreary. It, like modern warfare, generally succeeds or fails based on logistics, not operations.
I've heard actual cops say that the most accurate depiction of present-day police work is The Wire on HBO (which is also beloved like a family member). The reason, however, is that it really does get down into the nitty gritty of how you go about getting a warrant or a pen register or a Title III tap. Moreover, it also shows (and dramatizes) the wages of abusive policing, as well as the often moral opacity of the American criminal justice system. In short, it's nuanced.
But, for "tough on terror" candidates, you need something quick and dirty---and Jack Bauer is nothing if not quick and dirty. As Mr. Page so eloquently says, however, it's just a show guys, it's just a show.
From his column:
Here's a real-life scenario that the presidential candidates should hear about: Last November, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind "24."
Accompanied by three military and FBI interrogators, he described how the show actually was undermining the academy's classroom lessons with the false message that torture is a jim-dandy idea in the real world.
As investigative journalist Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker in February, the meeting discussed how the show's ticking-time-bomb scenario makes a thrilling hour on TV but is virtually unknown in real life.
And it would be a big help, the dean told the Hollywood folks, if "24" at least would sometimes show how torture produces false information and actually damages counter-terrorism efforts.
Entertainment Weekly reported that the show's top producer, Joel Surnow, has decided to shy away from torture, not because it is an immoral or impractical technique but because it has been overused as a device in his show. That's showbiz.