‘24’ Decisions Of Real Life Leaders

Susan Page
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Wednesday - January 24, 2007
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24 is back, Jack Bauer is back, and I’m sitting on my backside holding back an exhale. It’s January and we’re back full swing into stress entertainment.

I’m hooked for the next 20 weeks.

I truly didn’t think Fox Network’s 24 writers could dream up a scenario more destructive and devious than last season’s (If you didn’t see it, rent it). Nerve gas canisters being released in malls and in L.A.‘s Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) headquarters was a 24-week nerve-wrenching gasp fest.


I was wrong. They’ve managed to script an even more horrifying theme this season: nuclear terrorism. In short, CTU’s top agent, Jack Bauer (who, by the way, never eats, sleeps or has bathroom calls) has a mere 24 hours to track down and destroy a cell of murderous Muslim terrorists and four remaining suitcase bombs (one’s already detonated). Jack has already had to kill one of his best agent friends, who was thwarting the mission.

And, as we’ve discovered, it’s the mission of 24 creators never to shy away from controversial story lines. It’s apparently not enough that viewers need a cardiac defibrillator within reach. We’re also expected to think.

This season the series plunges full force into the current, ongoing debate over individual rights vs. national security. Characters on each side are convincing and sincere. But just when you think you’ve pegged a patriotic Arab American being cruelly profiled and victimized, a plot twist makes your head explode as it begins to sink in that there are seemingly nice people who would put a bullet into you no matter how many cookies you take to their house.

24 holds up a mirror to Americans and forces us to look at terrorism possibilities only Homeland Security and our spy organizations are willing to stare down. At the same time, their fictional characters reminds us what we already know: Our real-life leaders are only human, and they make their best decisions based on information gathered by others who are also only human. (We also know that Jack Bauer is superhuman).


The series also takes our apathy - our head-in-the-sand attitudes - to task. It makes us ask ourselves these questions: At what point in time am I going to start paying attention? When Chicago is attacked, or San Francisco? Or will it only be when terrorists are coming down my street or when my child is being held hostage at her elementary school? Or when all my personal freedoms are gone? How may freedoms am I willing to give up? How much blood has to be shed before I suspend my sympathy for the one to ensure the safety of the many? Are our military troops the only ones who really understand the price of freedom?

Sometimes it takes a popular movie or TV show to get us to pay attention.

The majority of Americans don’t vote, read newspapers, watch or listen to news shows, or really involve themselves in much more than their own personal daily survival, which often includes viewing entertainment TV. Just maybe they’re watching 24 and are waking up to the fact that there are actually people who spend every waking moment thinking up ways to kill them.

Then again, 24 is only a TV show ... or is it?

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