Friday, March 10, 2006


Zizek has this theory (or buy it here) that the West wanted 9/11, that it was the fulfilment of an unconscious desire for the destruction of "the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe." We all wanted to wake up from the Matrix, basically. I had one of those "where were you" conversations about 9/11 a couple days ago--those few days right after there were awful, obviously, but I think they gave everyone the feeling that they were living in the real world for at least a little bit, and five years on that can make us a little nostalgic.

I say this because I'm trying to figure out what makes 24 a good show. One reason is that it brings up cultural issues in such a subtle way that you're not quite sure which side the show is on. For every bitchy mannish female boss, there's a douchebag President resorting to prayer as the last option in a hopeless situation. It should be shocking that a show about terrorism has not generated a single major protest in five years. I don't think this has anything to do with the quality of the show. It's just that no one can pin it down.

But what's the attraction of the show? It moves too fast to achieve anything more than superficial character development. And it sure as hell isn't a thoughtful examination of how one goes about stopping a terrorist plot. So it's basically counter-terrorism porn. But as with all porn, the viewer is not really sure which side they're on. Case in point: the most recent episode, in which (spoiler, but it was days ago, so get over it) CTU is the victim of a nerve gas attack. As with 9/11, the viewer is secretly rooting for the terrorists to succeed, as long as we (meaning the main characters) survive. How many faceless drones died without us giving a shit, before Edgar waddles in and supposedly makes us feel sympathy? The important part is not that we care that he's dead, but that Chloe now has an excuse to pull out her m-16. So the show is wish fulfilment in a different way: we WANT terrorist attacks mostly because it gives us justification for the fucked up things our government is doing.

Me, I'm still waiting for Jack to torture somebody who turns out to legitimately not know anything. Funny how he always turns out to be right, huh?


Christian said...

As a guy who works on a "procedural" drama, I think that I can say with some degree of authority (if not "expertise") that sometimes you get so much more attached to characters when you're only doled out occassional bits and pieces of their character. You feel as though you're rewarded for being a viewer from the beginning of, say, "Law and Order :SVU" because you know that Benson's the product of her mother being raped. It comes up occassionally, but you definitely know it from the earliest episodes for the series.

24's the same way -- having watched it from Day One (The day of the California Presidential Primary from 12:00am-1:00am) you really do know a lot more than you think about Jack in particular, but other season one characters like Tony as well. It's very effective, and it works brilliantly when you want to kill off one of these characters. I never liked Edgar and was actually very upset (not like tears in the eyes upset, but, still) and shocked that he died.

I love the bungling portrayal of the president. And, him praying reminded me of the great SNL sketch with Nixon and Kissinger: "Get on your knees and pray with me, jew-boy!"

In short: people like this show simply because it's a good show, and because Fox moves it along at this insanely quick pace, helped by the fact it airs over 20 consecutive weeks...

Jared said...

I totally agree that it's a good show, in the sense of being well produced. I'm not as qualified to go into much detail about that, though. I'm what you call an "egg-head," so I have to think about it in terms of cultural codes rather than things like shot selection and editing, or even story continuity. We watch because of those production values but also because the show deals with political issues we are concerned about.

I agree the quick pace and the 20-week season help us sympathize with the characters. (I disagree about Edgar--entirely useless IMO.) But I think 24 is one of the more interesting shows on TV because it highlights this tension between (on the one hand) wanting to suspend disbelief altogether, and live in a world in which American counter-terrorist experts are infitely capable and always right, terrorists are always pure evil, and the plot is always stopped at the last minute, and (on the other hand) wanting to wake up and turn the TV off, because these issues are so much more interesting in the real world, both the villians and heroes much more well-rounded as characters.