photo credit: Victor Bracco

As I write this post, families across the nation are settling in to watch the season premiere of 24. I’ve talked to a few individuals who have come to use this show as a bonding experience in their family; since each person in their family enjoys the show, it becomes an opportunity for everybody to spend some time in the same room… staring at a TV screen.

I once was an avid fan of the show myself, and had a bit of fictional “hero worship” pointed in Jack Bauer’s direction. But a few seasons into the show, I became disgusted with what I was watching. At that time in my life, I began making a habit out of scrutinizing the philosophical and moral implications of everything around me. Rather than just doing something for fun or out of habit, I would try to rise above the issue to get new perspective and assure myself that the action was acceptable.

It was roughly during the same time period that I became intensely interested in politics and philosophy. With the new personal interests and constant analysis, I soon came to an epiphany that I was surprised I had not before realized: my favorite TV show was absolutely detestable!

The reason is quite simple, yet effectively subtle. I only noticed its presence in the TV show after having studied the methodical deterioration of the rule of law in the Bush administration, and the lopsided media campaign used to shape public opinion and drum up support for the abandonment of time-tested doctrines such as the Just War theory and the golden rule.

In 2000, George Bush ran on a successful campaign that continually asserted the need to have a humble foreign policy, follow the rule of law, not police the world, nor build other nations. Like the man himself, Bush’s most ardent supporters quickly began an evolution of ideology that resulted in a 180 degree shift. Under the threat of terrorism, these individuals soon supported foreign intervention, nation building, policing the world, and even torture—the very things they had not long before so vocally opposed.

Once the scales fell off of my eyes, I realized that Jack Bauer embodied every one of these principles, and perhaps aided in deceiving the people that safety is even worth the price of liberty.

You see, the entire premise of the show 24 revolves around a lawless individual pursuing whatever methods he thinks proper to stop the antagonists. These antagonists usually pose some immediate threat, and so the viewer is treated to one ethical violation after another, all in the name of safety and defense. Whether chewing off an enemy’s jugular with his teeth, or blowing off somebody’s kneecap with his gun, Bauer never shies away from torture and violence as an acceptable method of protecting the homeland. In the world of 24, the end always justifies the means, whatever they may be.

Like any other form of media, this one is not without its implications for affecting the human psyche. After being tantalized with explosions, hard-hitting last-minute scenarios, and general lawlessness, the viewer is left with a surge of adrenaline, but also with a (likely unnoticed) depreciation in the value of liberty, the rule of law, and due process.

In my own informal surveys I have found that fans of the show do indeed condone similar actions conducted by the government, carried out in the name of safety and defense. I believe that this show is partly to blame for creating a culture of tolerance for the rejection of the rule of law. That each episode is saturated with violence only further augments the moral arguments against it.

Like the Bush administration, it is my hope that everything Jack Bauer stands for will one day be generally recognized as destructive, amoral, and antithetical to liberty.

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