Saturday, March 18, 2006

It's Jack's world, we just live in it

Caution: If you are not hooked on the TV show "24," and if you don't greet each of life's dilemmas with the thought, "What would Jack Bauer do?," then this post may not be of interest. However (as Jack might say), THERE'S NO TIME TO EXPLAIN, but all viewers of "24" are required to read to the very end, NOW! RIGHT NOW!
As someone who believes that American politics and American popular culture are inextricably linked, I can't help but wonder about the apparent sea change in the subliminal ideological thematics of "24" this season.
As any fan of the show well knows, until recently the Fox entertainment division seemed intent on mirroring the rightward tilt of Fox News, by depicting our hero Jack as a one-man torture crew who viewed the Geneva Convention as a pact for wimps; last season, he even juiced his lover's estranged husband, using wires ripped from a lamp. (The guy turned out to be innocent, but, naturally, Jack's lover has forgiven him.) I also recall, from last season, that a thoroughly meddlesome human-rights attorney from an Amnesty International-type group showed up at an inopportune moment to argue for the rights of suspected terrorists (who apparently had him on speed dial). Then there was the Arab family next door that really did turn out to be a terrorist cell, thus giving the lie to all that liberal politically-correct concern about racial profiling.
It was no wonder that veteran conservative activist, and former presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan could write so glowlingly about "24," chortling a few months ago that Jack's liberties with torture are mirrored by President Bush's priorites in the war on terror:
"The left may be right on the law (governing torture), but the people seem to be standing by Bush. Believing the character of this war, where the enemy's preferred tactic is to slaughter civilians with terror bombings, people seem to agree that we have to follow Jack Bauer's rules, not ACLU wonders what liberal Democrats of the ACLU variety would do to a real-life Jack Bauer?"
But hang on -- something new seems to be happening this year.
The entire plot appears to hinge on a neoconservative plot gone awry. A cabal of super-patriots inside the administration - embodied by White House aide Walt Cummings, who hung himself (or so we think) a few "hours" ago - hatched a conspiracy to extend American hegemony into central Asia. The idea was to manufacture an actual terrorist incident, and sacrifice Chechen rebels in the bargain, in order to give the U.S. a pretext to step in, put freedom on the march, and seize the region's oil for the next generation. The whole thing backfired, and now the Chechens (we think they are Chechens, there's always the possibility of a new Mr. Big) are retaliating by aiming their nerve gas at American targets.
In other words, this plot is about the dangers of misplaced U.S. patriotic overzealousness. And the idea of using pretexts to seize a region's oil...that's an accusation about the Bush administration that you can find on any placard at an antiwar rally.
But there's more: now we have a new character, a vice president who wants to boss around the president and circumvent the Congress at the same time. The veep wants to unilaterally declare martial law in Los Angeles, and he argues forcefully - to the point where the new conscience of America, the First Lady (who is off her meds but thinking clearly), has to remind her husband that he should not allow himself to be bossed around by the number two guy.
No need to put a shotgun in this veep's hands. We get the reference.
So I am just wondering. Is "24" mirroring the new political zeitgeist - tilting a bit leftward at a time when Bush and Cheney are down, after years of tilting rightward when Bush and Cheney were up? The only clue comes from the executive producer, Joel Surnow, who recently told the Washington Times that the show has both liberal and conservative writers. I suspect that the long-suffering camp is now in ascendence. Maybe it's just all about expanding the audience, beyond what the WashTimes calls its "conservative cult following." Whatever the shift in theme, it would appear that the new season of "24" brings a new wrinkle to the Fox notion of being "fair and balanced."