A reader writes:
To expound on what the other reader said, torture in 24 was, in later years, the first-resort. Moreover, it always worked. The incident I most remember was in Season 4, where the show gave us the "right" kind of torture. By that, I mean there was a clear and imminent threat. There was a direct order through the chain of command. There were medical personnel on hand. There was a clear question they needed answered -- not just "What do you know?" and it was a "humane" form of torture. If I recall, it was some hallucination machine.
It failed. The suspect didn't crack and later gave bad intel. Only when Jack got involved and literally started just snapping someone's fingers, did CTU get the info. This was porn for the Beck crowd.
Another reader offers a nuanced take:
As someone who has watched every season of 24, I don't think its depiction of torture was in and of itself advocacy of torture.
Indeed, in the final season, all of Jack Bauer's colleagues were aware of, and horrified by, his propensity to torture. The statements of your reader are simply untrue, within the structure of the show. Most everybody associated with CTU protested against torture and excessive violence. One of the themes of the show has always been that once Jack gets under pressure, he becomes an unstoppable monster, which is, in the world of 24, the kind of person you want "running point" in these "ticking time bomb" scenarios.
Last season, his FBI protégé, Renee Walker, used a tactic she thought Bauer would approve of: torturing a suspect. She was caught, her career ruined, and was, as we found out this season, suicidal and homicidal. In a pivotal scene, Jack told Renee that she "went to a dark place you can't come back from", and he said it with all the weight of someone who knows they have done heinous things to extract information.
Simply because people use 24 as an example of what we need to do to get our information, does not mean the show is responsible for it. Nobody ever said Jack Bauer was a "good guy," only that he is a "hero."
Another is more blunt:
Oh please, will everyone just get off 24's case? One fact keeps getting lost in the midst of all this criticism: it's a fucking fictional television show! I loved it, my girlfriend loved it, all my friends loved it, even my parents (who are about as liberal as they come) loved it. And we're all intelligent, educated people. And why did we love it? Because it was entertaining and exciting! Am I now confused as to whether torture is evil? Gimme a break. I love to watch Dexter and The Sopranos. It doesn't mean I now support serial killing and organized crime.
This whole conversation is ridiculous. If someone is swayed to believe that torture is actually morally defensible in reality because they watched a few seasons of Kiefer Sutherland dishing it out on TV, how is that the fault of the show? I would say it's the fault of the American educational system and the media at large for not doing what is so simple and easy: telling people that torture is fucking wrong and evil.
In law school, in a legal writing class, a professor passed around a portion of a brief written by a lawyer in which he cited to an L.A. Law episode, right down to the fictional ruling by the judge character, to reinforce an argument for which he had no actual case law to support. We all chuckled at the prospect that a lawyer would be so embarrassingly removed from reality or obtuse that he would think to do so. Years later I watched a presidential debate in which four GOP candidates were favorably citing 24 as support or even inspiration for their proposed national security standards. I had watched 24 and found it an entertaining television program up until that point.
Another points to the most positive legacy of the show:
The first 24 president was David Palmer, played by Dennis Haysbert, who is black. And Palmer wasn't just the president, he was a GOOD president - smart, moral, courageous, loyal, but also tough. A few seasons later he was succeeded by his younger brother, Wayne Palmer, played by D.B. Woodside. Wayne was not as competent or decisive as his older brother, but he was still a smart, decent guy determined to do the best he could for his country.
I have long believed that these two positive portrayals of black presidents helped pave the way for public acceptance of Obama's candidacy.
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