An Army of Jack Bauers

Seeing as I haven’t posted anything for exactly two weeks, I am ashamed to admit that I am a terribly unreliable blogger. I have several drafts in the works, but I haven’t felt like finishing them lately. However, all this dreadful AWOL behavior shall cease immediately because I hate feeling unproductive.

To celebrate my return from the doldrums, I thought we’d talk about torture today! (Yes, Sophia is all rainbows and butterflies.) Recently, I read an interesting article in Newsweek called “The Fiction Behind Torture Policy” by Dahlia Lithwick about how the show “24” influenced US torture policy. While I am dubious about some of her claims (they’re probably a little exaggerated) , I think it’s a good example of the difference between learning from literature and confusing fiction with reality.

In a nutshell, the article shows how the television show’s heroic portrayal of Jack Bauer as a man who saves the world by extracting information through torture has been cited by Bush lawyers as a defense for the torture methods employed in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. The examples within the article seem to suggest that the admiration for a fictional character resulted in a misplaced belief that Jack Bauer style torture was justifiable on a wider scale.

An excerpt from the article that shows why fictional role-models can be misleading:

U.S. interrogators rarely if ever encounter a “ticking time bomb,” someone with detailed information about an imminent terror plot. But according to the advocacy group the Parents Television Council (which has declared war on “24”), Bauer encounters a ticking time bomb an average of 12 times every season. Given that each season represents a 24-hour period, Bauer encounters someone who needs torturing 12 times per day. Experienced interrogators know that information extracted through torture is rarely reliable. But Jack Bauer’s torture not only elicits the truth, it does so before the commercial. He is a human polygraph who has a way with flesh-eating chemicals.

Even though it is often said that art is an imitation of life, I suppose sometimes people need to be reminded that an imitation or reflection is still not the same as the real thing. I remember seeing a video at the Getty Museum last May of this guy awkwardly attempting to walk while shifting all his weight from one hip to the other. This contrapposto posture in statues may appear natural and aesthetically-pleasing to the viewer, but, as the short film shows, it is still in a way forced and fabricated.

I don’t think it’s fair to criticize “24” or any other show for “corrupting the youth (or government) of America.” Art, literature, and film were always meant to be a little larger than life. They’re not meant to act as a play-by-play of reality; in my opinion, the humanities can never be objective enough to serve as a perfect mirror for society and this is precisely why it is so given to multiple interpretations. Instead, the arts make us privy to its creator’s perspective upon a certain subject. Whether we support or deny the work’s message is really our own choice. In fact, it’s really our fault if we fail to think critically about what we watch or read and just passively ingest what we are told.

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4 thoughts on “An Army of Jack Bauers

  1. I always forget when watching 24 that each episode is only an “hour” of a day and not more. 12 torture-ees per day. Goodness, Jack Bauer apparently is a “time-bomb” magnet… haha

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