Sunday, July 03, 2005

# Posted 2:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"24" IS NOT LIBERAL PROPAGANDA! Objections to my post abound. MV says:
For what it's worth, on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh has spoken numerous times about how great the show is (he watches them on DVD over and over, as well), and recently, he said he was invited by the cast and crew to sit in on the taping of this past season's final episode. He said the "24" crew loved him and his radio show, and a great time was had by all. If these are the same people with "pure contempt for Red State America," why is El Rushbo hanging out with them?

Now, I'm not a big fan of the show - I've seen only a few episodes, but from what I've watched, it seemed like a pretty patriotic, post-9/11, Red State-friendly show. Hunt down the terrorists and save America; that sorta thing.
In addition, the august Kevin Drum (via e-mail) provides
A cautionary note from a longtime 24 fan: the show is *all* over the map. You definitely shouldn't make too much out of that one scene, which was probably just a throwaway from a writer looking for a good way to put a blonde girl in jeopardy yet again. (An ongoing theme, as I'm sure you've noticed.) I remember that episode a bit, and my recollection is that they had written themselves into a corner, and obviously needed something really stupid in order to lose the microchip once again.

At any rate, before you write too much about 24 and political correctness, you should definitely check out season 4. It's not on DVD yet, but it was definitely kickass stuff. In fact, it was so kickass that Fox got bullied into having Kiefer Sutherland narrate a public service spot in which he told the audience that, you know, despite every single thing they were portraying in the actual TV show, Muslims are OK people and you shouldn't go out on the streets and kill them.

I truly think that 24 is about the best evidence there is that Hollywood *isn't* as liberal as people think. That is, the people are liberal, of course, but when it comes to the shows, business is business. Do whatever it takes to draw a crowd. If some PC bullshit draws a crowd, great. If kicking Arab ass draws a crowd, great. Whatever.
GP makes the same point as Kevin about Season 4 albeit from a slightly different perspective:
The good news, I think, is that the show has gotten progressively less progressive in each season, culminating in the season just finished, which might be the best yet. So just get the season 4 DVD when it comes out and enjoy the writers moving the plot closer to America’s real enemies than ever before. It’s definitely one of the greatest shows ever, regardless of politics.
So here's my situation: I've watched all 48 episodes that comprise the first two seasons of 24. So I can't respond directly to the point about Season 4, but I think that any reasonable viewer (that means you, Kevin Drum) would admit that Season 1 has strong liberal underpinnings and that the entire premise of Season 2 is drawn directly from the pages of The Nation and Common Dreams.

I will now explain precisely what I mean, but warn you all that I will be giving away all of the secret plots twists from the first two seasons. So if you haven't seen them and plan on doing so, you should stop reading right now. Anyway, here goes:

The greatest difference between reality as we know and the "reality" of the first two seasons of 24 is that in the latter, the greatest threats to American national security come from American citizens, not hostile foreigners.

In Season Two, a nuclear bomb explodes on American soil. How did it get there? At first, we learn that Arab terrorists are involved. Then we learn that rogue elements within the Pentagon and NSA allowed the terrorists to bring the bomb onto American soil.

Why would American citizens do something so evil and unpatriotic? Well, some of them want to bring down President David Palmer (played by Dennis Haysbert), and don't mind risking the lives of millions of Americans in the process. Others want to start a major war so that the Palmer, an African-American Democrat, will have to support major increases in the defense budget.

Then, later in the season, we learn that evil executives from a major international oil corporation want to start a war in order to force the price of oil skywards. Whereas the folks at the Pentagon and NSA wanted to stop the terrorists before they detonated the bomb, the oil executives actually want the bomb to go off in Los Angeles proper.

Thanks to heroic federal agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), the bomb goes off in the far and unpopulated reaches of the Mojave desert. But so what? The basic message is that the US military and its corporate overlords are the real threat to American security.

What's especially interesting about Season Two is that it is the first one to be written and filmed after 9/11. Although Season One debuted after 9/11, it was finished before. As a result, Season One provides an interesting window into how the creators of the show thought about global politics in the good old days when Bush's only crusades were against taxes and environmentalists.

The villians from Season One are genocidal Serbian terrorists. They want to assassinate both Jack Bauer and Senator (not yet President) David Palmer, because Palmer authorized a covert military strike against Victor Drazen, the Serbian terrorist godfather. And Bauer led the special operations task force that carried out the attack.

But what enraged Drazen is not that Bauer and Palmer wanted him to die, but that the attack resulted in the accidental death of his wife and daughter. So, one the hand, Drazen is totally evil even according to liberal standards, because he is a vicious human rights violator. But his animus against the United States is a result of American's own massacre of the innocent, albeit unintentional.

But Drazen & Co. aren't the only villians in Season One. Their efforts to assasinate Bauer and Palmer only succeed because there are multiple traitors within Bauer's own agency, the mythical Counter-Terrorist Unit, or "CTU"). Once again, the foreign threat only becomes possible of American accomplishes within the government.

The main difference between the American villains in Season One and Season Two is that the former have ambitions that are much more prosaic. The villians in the former function mostly as individuals who seek six- or seven-figure payoffs, not hundreds of billions of dollars. The villians in Season One are also murderous, even facilitating or instigating the murder of their own colleagues, but they never risk anything like a nuclear explosion in the middle of Los Angeles.

So, the bottom line here, to borrow a phrase from Walt Kelly, is that we have met the enemy and he is us. At the same time, there is enough patriotic material in 24 in order to support an interpretation of the "text" as pro-American. The hero of the show is a selfless and courageous federal agent. His greatest ally is a noble and selfless politician who ultimately rises to become president. According to 24, there is definitely some great good in the American character. But that shouldn't be news to anyone.

However, the suggestion that traitors from within present a far greater threat to the American people than murderers from abroad, that is something new. Or at least it is something new in 21st century. Back in the 20th century, we just called it McCarthyism.

Yes, I know that 24 is just a fantasy and that McCarthyism was real. But the message is still dangerous, even if this time it liberal Hollywood who is attacking the conservative politicians and not vice versa.
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