It seems like a vast number of people at Villanova, as well as around the country, become enthralled with the adventures of Jack Bauer in the sixth season of the television program “24.” For the few readers who may not be familiar with the program, Bauer is an agent with the Los Angeles division of the Counter Terrorism Unit, a fictitious agency designed to thwart terrorism attacks. As the name of this agency suggests, many people die over the course of a season trying to protect the nation. Another important feature of the show follows its name, as the show occurs in real time over the course of 24 episodes/ hours. The audience is constantly reminded of this by a large digital clock that appears periodically on the screen.
Rather than respecting the audience in an attempt to earn viewers, the show’s nature demands viewing from anyone who glances at the screen in much the same way that Bauer demands information from suspects. An essential element to all television, movie and stage productions is the willing suspension of disbelief; put shortly, we all, if only subconsciously, temporarily allow the unbelievable nature of productions to be forgotten. “24” exploits this in an unjustifiable fashion. The ticking clock represents this exploitation perfectly. Instead of smoothly reminding the audience that the real-time show is only an hour long, the clock and accompanying beeps abruptly invade the screen. The use of real time is not unique to “24”; the film “Run Lola Run” and play “Night Mother” both occur in real time. However, while both employ clocks and time as essential themes, large digital clocks are not periodically pushed into the field of vision.
The show is inherently violent; violence surrounds it, inhabiting every conceivable aspect. As such, I am not going to deny that some acts of violence that appear on the show are somewhat “necessary.” However, at this point some of the occurrences in the show have become as laughable as “Snakes On A Plane.” The former has come a long way to reflect the latter, which was in and of itself a mockery of the overkill of violence in action sequences.
I feel the show has come to represent everything that is most shameful about our society. We have come too far in rewarding immediate results and spectacles. Just last week someone died during a Sacramento radio station contest designed to see who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. What does the death have to do with “24”? We want to watch spectacle rather than any substance. There is the old clichÃ© about watching car racing for the inevitable crashes, but now it seems that our society has come to be one giant waiting period for that perfect crash.
The Fox network is happy to provide several programs which are tailored to our desire to watch the visceral, summed up perfectly with “24.” Instead of watching a car race in vain for three hours before we see a crash, we know we can turn on the TV every Monday night and watch Jack shoot some bad guys.
I fear the worst part of the show is that when people watch it, they think they’re watching something that is mentally stimulating or thoughtfully commenting on an imminently dangerous problem within our society. While terrorism is certainly of utmost concern, the agency that Jack Bauer is a part of does not exist. There is no advanced team to save the day if terrorists strike.
So is that what the show means, that there should be a unit like CTU? Should we breed agents that can simultaneously show compassion toward their families and can also torture at a moment’s notice? The answer is that the show simultaneously preys on our fear that acts similar to those depicted in the show will occur and our hope that people like Jack will save the day.
Television can be a wonderful escape from the everyday. But when television based completely on a visual and visceral stimulation mesmerizes entire nations for what will be six entire days of their lives, something is drastically wrong. I watch plenty more than six days of television within a given year and sadly consider it to be one of my favorite things to do. Hopefully, though, when I watch television I accept the brainlessness of what I am watching rather than succumbing to it.
William McCullough is a senior english and economics double-major from Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]