The End of 24

By Matt Zeitlin

I know the series finale aired on Monday, but I just wanted to link to some good stuff written on the political implications of the show. As Jane Mayer reported in 2007, the show was created by Joel Surnow, a conservative who said that the show “makes people look at what we’re dealing with”  and that, in reference to Jack routinely ignoring both the law and the instructions of his superiors that “There are not a lot of measures short of extreme measures that will get it done,” and, finally, “America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He’s a patriot.”

This is all true so far as it goes. Jack routinely tortures, gets useful intelligence from doing so and has few hesitations about killing lots of people. Other parts of the government are routinely stocked with quislings and traitors who obstruct Jack in his ugly-yet-necessary path to save America from, literally, a ticking bomb. So, in a way, the show was conservative national security thought 101: much of the national security establishment, especially the CIA, can’t be trusted because they are career bureaucrats who want to cover their ass and don’t recognize the gravity of the conflict we’re in. And then the rest are actually just explicitly working with the terrorists. But there are some good guys and we need to empower them to do whatever they want.

But, and this is something Kevin Drum first wrote about when the Mayer article came out, 24 wasn’t just a conservative fantasy, it was also a fairly conventional work in the thriller action genre and so it meant a lot of plot devices that are common, namely layers and layers of conspiracies. So, in season 2 “it turns out that a group of shadowy businessmen fabricated the entire plot in order to push the U.S. into war and drive up oil prices” and in season 5 “the hawkish president gins up a terrorist attack in order to give him an excuse to invoke the military terms of an anti-terrorism treaty and secure U.S. oil interests in central Asia.” Drum summarizes  that in the first five complete seasons the “almost universal theme is that hawks are always wrong.” And, similarly, Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings says that the show nearly never portrayed terrorists attacking us because they hate our freedom or anything like that; instead, “the story was that terrorist attacks were being used to provoke us into violence that would serve the interests of the powerful.”

So, yes, the politics of the show were a confusing mishmash of far-left and far-right conspiratorial thinking and a glowing endorsement of violence against evil people. In other words, it was basically perfect for the America of the past decade.

Image used under Creative Commons license and attributed to Flickr user Aubele.