Jack is back! The eighth season of 24 got underway last night and promises the usual chills and thrills for fans of the long running drama.
But it is the character of Jack Bauer that fascinates us – has fascinated America – in that the changes undergone by Bauer in the previous seven incarnations of the show have mirrored our own conflicts and doubts that have arisen since the debut of the show a few weeks before 9/11/01.
Jack Bauer, is one of the most consequential fictional characters ever created for dramatic television. He has been the subject of numerous cover stories and articles in Time, Newsweek, and other news magazines, while being featured in long articles for publications as diverse as The New Yorker, and Mother Jones. He has even been the topic of scholarly dissertations and was used as a subject for a Heritage Foundation symposium.
If that weren’t enough, Bauer may very well be the only fictional character ever accused of inspiring war crimes. Indeed, the US army’s professional interrogators were so concerned about Bauer’s impact on their men that they sent a high level delegation to the set of 24 last year, pleading with the producers and writers to portray the results of physical torture more realistically. Their point; that torture doesn’t work, but that Bauer’s continued successful utilization of the tactic was having a bad affect on their men:
The third expert at the meeting was Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq. He told the show’s staff that DVDs of shows such as 24 circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq. Lagouranis said to me, “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.
But it is the evolution of the character of Bauer that has been the most remarkable gauge of how America sees itself and the War on Terror over the last decade. The fictional hero has gone from a super-patriot with a telling devotion to duty and fanatical desire to win, to a conflicted man, burdened by conscience, whose forays into the deepest recesses of the corrupt American state are animated more by personal vengeance than national security.
Some of this is certainly a result of how Jack’s adversaries have changed over the years. The show has gone from being one of the only dramas to portray extremist Muslims as the true terrorist enemy to having Jack face off with rogue elements in the American government and big business.
Many of Bauer’s foes today are the same enemies that liberals believe are ruining the country: neo-cons, corrupt, power hungry officials, and greedy businessmen. Last season’s biological attack during the show was planned by a Blackwater-type private security firm worried about losing Defense Department contracts. The premise was so laughably and outrageously unrealistic that even critics panned it for its idiocy.
The presence of a shadowy, military-industrial complex with contacts in the executive branch, the FBI, and other government agencies who facilitate their lawbreaking breathes life into liberal conspiracy theories that have dominated since the early Bush years. Stand ins for not only Blackwater, but Haliburton have been used. Even a Nixon-like president, ordering assassinations and terrorist attacks on his own country, was utilized as an evil Bush twin.
But through it all, Jack Bauer has persevered. The enemy is not as consequential to Bauer as much as winning has been. Defeating the designs of evil men by bending, stretching, and even breaking the law has been a hallmark of Bauer’s crusade and that is not likely to end this year, despite the fact that our hero is now a grandfather and desperately wants to stay out of the game.
In last night’s premiere, Bauer was pulled back into action by both his sense of duty and his loyalty to an old friend. These are qualities that have endeared him to conservatives in the past. And while it is doubtful the show will give us a realistic portrayal of our enemy, many of us will continue to watch if only to follow the exploits of Bauer who remains, despite everything, the iconic post 9-11 hero.
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