24: Fantasy, Reality, and the War on Terror

Tonight's season premier of 24, the innovative 'real—time' television series portraying (over 24 one—hour episodes) an eventful day in the life of Jack Bauer, counter—terrorism fighter extraordinaire, has generated unusual buzz for a television series well into middle age, as the dog years of TV network drama series are calculated.

This renewed popularity once again proves correct the old Public Relations adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Last year, the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) was 'shocked' that the series would actually portray Muslim Americans as involved with terrorism:

"At first I was shocked," organization spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed told the Daily News. "In this particular case, they show an American—Muslim family and they portray them as terrorists."

As viewers of Hollywood fare realize, Muslims are rarely if ever involved in terrorism. It is usually Serbians, fictional African countries, and, of course, neo—Nazis who perpetrate the terror violence coming from our PC fantasy factories.

In response, the honchos at Fox had series star Kiefer Sutherland appear in a public service announcement noting that most Muslim Americans are loyal. The disclaimer, televised only once, garnered much press coverage and commentary.

The New York Times also did its part, generating a controversy and outrage in some quarters over a National Security Agency project to monitor international telephone calls coming from or going to known al Qaeda associates when those calls involved someone in America — a practice quaintly and inaccurately described as 'domestic surveillance' by the Times and other partisans.

The question of how far we should allow those entrusted with protecting us from terror to go has been discussed, polled, and argued to the point where virtually everyone is aware that it is important. To all those who raise such questions, Jack Bauer, the hero of 24 provides an unequivocal answer: whatever it takes.

Fox Television obviously appreciates the momentum, and is showing two episodes tonight, followed by another two episodes tomorrow night, lavishing one—sixth of the entire season on a single holiday weekend. It is canny gamble. The series is utterly addictive, and supplying four episodes in two days is the same strategy employed by drug pushers hanging out in schoolyards. try a free sample a few times and you will be hooked

The ancient Greeks developed a term for what Jack Bauer supplies us. It is the narcotic of catharsis. We live in a perpetual, usually unconscious, state of anxiety over what will become of us in the face of terrorists who do not hesitate to inflict mass casualties of the most horrible order. Many of us are also genuinely troubled by the potential loss of freedom if our civil liberties are infringed. As a result, we live with tension, the release of which generates pleasing endorphins in our brains.

And Jack Bauer does provide release. He Does What Needs to be Done. No worrying over constitutional protections, or even fear for the legal and personal costs when responsibility is put on his shoulders. Torture the suspect (or last season, violate the diplomatic immunity of a Chinese consulate), and protect America.

Because Jack is a fantasy figure, a gritty version of James Bond, whose ammunition never runs out, who is never the one brought down in a hail of fire, and whom we know will go on to protect us again, all of this escapism works and works well. Even as we are caught—up in the dramatic tension, we know that it is 'only' entertainment.

Fantasy and reality, when confused in a human mind, can produce psychosis. But when their antipodean harmony is artfully balanced to speak to our hopes and fears in a meaningful manner, they entertain and even enlighten us.

Series creator Joel Surnow, the writing staff, and cast and crew of 24 seem to have a wonderful sense of the manner in which their fantasy television series informs and is informed by the central realities of our time. And, if the experience of a friend of mine is any indication, they have a sense of the responsibilities which lie on the shoulders of those who deal in deep fantasies about serious realities. Here is what my friend recently wrote me:

The reason we began watching in the first place was because they were filming the second season at a house near my brother—in—law's house in Southern California. 

Although we'd never even heard of the show, we wandered over to watch, and were just in time to see Kiefer Sutherland sit down in his chair.  We had the two children with us (my son was 2 or 3 and my daughter 4 or 5), and had been working with them on distinguishing the phony from the real —— always a problem for children with TV. 

We noticed that Sutherland was coated with fake blood, and went over to ask if he'd let us show the children.  Sutherland was charming.  He had a cigarette in his mouth, which he instantly put out so as not to blow smoke on the kids.  He then spent some time showing them the fake blood, and letting them touch it and see that he was fine.

If only those who think that America can enact a Bill of Rights for al Qaeda, that an update of Secretary of State Henry Stimson's comment that 'gentlemen do not read each others mail' is just the thing for us now, had such a profound sense of the relationship between fantasy and reality, America would be safer.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.

Tonight's season premier of 24, the innovative 'real—time' television series portraying (over 24 one—hour episodes) an eventful day in the life of Jack Bauer, counter—terrorism fighter extraordinaire, has generated unusual buzz for a television series well into middle age, as the dog years of TV network drama series are calculated.

This renewed popularity once again proves correct the old Public Relations adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Last year, the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) was 'shocked' that the series would actually portray Muslim Americans as involved with terrorism:

"At first I was shocked," organization spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed told the Daily News. "In this particular case, they show an American—Muslim family and they portray them as terrorists."

As viewers of Hollywood fare realize, Muslims are rarely if ever involved in terrorism. It is usually Serbians, fictional African countries, and, of course, neo—Nazis who perpetrate the terror violence coming from our PC fantasy factories.

In response, the honchos at Fox had series star Kiefer Sutherland appear in a public service announcement noting that most Muslim Americans are loyal. The disclaimer, televised only once, garnered much press coverage and commentary.

The New York Times also did its part, generating a controversy and outrage in some quarters over a National Security Agency project to monitor international telephone calls coming from or going to known al Qaeda associates when those calls involved someone in America — a practice quaintly and inaccurately described as 'domestic surveillance' by the Times and other partisans.

The question of how far we should allow those entrusted with protecting us from terror to go has been discussed, polled, and argued to the point where virtually everyone is aware that it is important. To all those who raise such questions, Jack Bauer, the hero of 24 provides an unequivocal answer: whatever it takes.

Fox Television obviously appreciates the momentum, and is showing two episodes tonight, followed by another two episodes tomorrow night, lavishing one—sixth of the entire season on a single holiday weekend. It is canny gamble. The series is utterly addictive, and supplying four episodes in two days is the same strategy employed by drug pushers hanging out in schoolyards. try a free sample a few times and you will be hooked

The ancient Greeks developed a term for what Jack Bauer supplies us. It is the narcotic of catharsis. We live in a perpetual, usually unconscious, state of anxiety over what will become of us in the face of terrorists who do not hesitate to inflict mass casualties of the most horrible order. Many of us are also genuinely troubled by the potential loss of freedom if our civil liberties are infringed. As a result, we live with tension, the release of which generates pleasing endorphins in our brains.

And Jack Bauer does provide release. He Does What Needs to be Done. No worrying over constitutional protections, or even fear for the legal and personal costs when responsibility is put on his shoulders. Torture the suspect (or last season, violate the diplomatic immunity of a Chinese consulate), and protect America.

Because Jack is a fantasy figure, a gritty version of James Bond, whose ammunition never runs out, who is never the one brought down in a hail of fire, and whom we know will go on to protect us again, all of this escapism works and works well. Even as we are caught—up in the dramatic tension, we know that it is 'only' entertainment.

Fantasy and reality, when confused in a human mind, can produce psychosis. But when their antipodean harmony is artfully balanced to speak to our hopes and fears in a meaningful manner, they entertain and even enlighten us.

Series creator Joel Surnow, the writing staff, and cast and crew of 24 seem to have a wonderful sense of the manner in which their fantasy television series informs and is informed by the central realities of our time. And, if the experience of a friend of mine is any indication, they have a sense of the responsibilities which lie on the shoulders of those who deal in deep fantasies about serious realities. Here is what my friend recently wrote me:

The reason we began watching in the first place was because they were filming the second season at a house near my brother—in—law's house in Southern California. 

Although we'd never even heard of the show, we wandered over to watch, and were just in time to see Kiefer Sutherland sit down in his chair.  We had the two children with us (my son was 2 or 3 and my daughter 4 or 5), and had been working with them on distinguishing the phony from the real —— always a problem for children with TV. 

We noticed that Sutherland was coated with fake blood, and went over to ask if he'd let us show the children.  Sutherland was charming.  He had a cigarette in his mouth, which he instantly put out so as not to blow smoke on the kids.  He then spent some time showing them the fake blood, and letting them touch it and see that he was fine.

If only those who think that America can enact a Bill of Rights for al Qaeda, that an update of Secretary of State Henry Stimson's comment that 'gentlemen do not read each others mail' is just the thing for us now, had such a profound sense of the relationship between fantasy and reality, America would be safer.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.