"When they are in pain, people will say anything to get the pain to stop. Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to make you stop hurting them, that means the information you're getting is useless…[it’s al-Qaeda's] way, not the American way."
– Ali Soufan, former FBI special agent & most successful U.S. interrogator
of al-Qaeda operatives
“Those subjected to physical torture usually conceive undying hatred for their torturers.”
-An editorial in the Vancouver Sun
“One must therefore also consider the greater likelihood that American civilians (here or especially abroad) and American troops overseas will be subject to torture (or terror) by aggrieved enemies.”
“Sometimes the consequences of torture are worse than intended, as when victims die prematurely due to the physical or mental toll. From a utilitarian perspective the main problem here is that a dead person cannot give you any information whatsoever.”
-An article by Heimer in Opposing Views
In the eight season run of 24… Jack Bauer kills 269 people and in its first five seasons there were 67 scenes of torture—more than any other show on television.
HOW then does the show 24 get us to root for Jack Bauer, the hero of the show, in which he tortures?? How are we convinced that torture is seemingly okay? Or that it works? How does this show have influence on us and inform our values? The idea portrayed in 24 is that it is the best means available to protect the millions of people who live in the United States of America and thus necessary. It is the greatest good for the greatest amount of people and the ends will always justify the means. The show 24 relies on the value of justice to legitimize questionable behaviors, such as torture and killing, in the name of national security.
The show justifies Bauer’s divisive tactics with a classic ideology: justice. Bauer advocates for violence in order to achieve justice, a widely shared social value. The word justice and it’s implications for us as U.S citizens warrants the use of torture and excuses his behavior which otherwise might be seen as unacceptable. There is an obligation to justice that cancels out the need to explain or define Bauer’s questionable behavior. The justice label provides the illusion of protection in the show 24 by showing positive outcomes where hundreds of lives are being saved. Justice is therefore irresistible. Being tied to this strongly American ideal permits any means necessary to achieving and maintaining it. At least this is how Jack Bauer thinks and persuades other characters to think the same way.
Furthermore, 24 romanticizes violence. You find yourself rooting for Bauer when he tortures the victim (he always has the right bad guy and always extracts needed intelligence). Then you look at the other agents in comparison, who don’t want to physically and/or psychologically torture and don’t agree with his tactics and you might think to yourself that they are wimps or softies. They never get the same results with non-violent, legal ways and it ends with lost time and lost lives. There is barely ever an episode where they decide not to use torture and they get a positive outcome.
How can we be against torture tactics when it’s protecting innocent lives and preventing national disasters at the cost of one terrorist or evil man’s pain? The show suggests it’s almost un-American if we disagree with these tactics. It does this through positive outcomes for the country as a whole, protecting our security and safety, and through the convincing discourse, beliefs, and bad-ass-ness of Jack Bauer. He saves the day in the end and is a glorified hero. His character is a very seductive one. Plus, all the people in the show eventually revert to the use of torture anyways: partaking in it, or coming to be okay with it as an instrument to achieve the desired end goal. Even the characters that were strongly against torture from the very beginning: Senator Mayer, Renee, and Tony are just a few examples of characters that changed their minds.
But what about other American values- like equality for everyone? Respecting the law? And human rights? Should this reach out to terrorists as well? They are human beings too. Even though the show portrays them as the un-human-like bad guys (which desensitizes audiences to violence). The representations of torture as necessary and effective have provoked substantial criticism from human rights campaigners, military bureaucrats, professionals in questioning and interrogation, and even from fans of the television series. Consequently, the PTC (Parents Television Council) threw a campaign in attempt to encourage sponsors to discontinue buying airtime for 24, saying it was the worst offender on TV.
Even so, through the use of stereotyping (purposeful or not) and racial hierarchies (intended or not), audience members can alleviate some of the guilty feelings that arise with torture. In Evelyn Alsultany’s article, Challenging Stereotypes, she says that “most Arab and Muslim terrorists in films or in television shows before 9/11 were stock villains, one dimensional bad guys” and there is a “persistent unquestioned assumption in these TV dramas that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists or linked to terrorism.” The article suggest that if there is an Arab/Muslim terrorist threat in the storyline or plot of the show that audience members might see the Arab/Muslim character in the show as the bad guy and thus more open to the torture they receive. The majority of audience members see Arab/Muslim characters as Islamic extremists because they a.) stereotype the characters but also b.) stereotype the show and the plot itself. They do so by believing that most likely that the turn of events is going to end up with an Islamic extremist as the bad guy and Jack as the hero. What’s interesting is that this show is seen around the world. So then I pose the question of how does this show inform the world about America and our values?
In response to this, the 24 team wanted to make clear that it’s a fiction television show not created to be taken seriously or to accurately represent life, reality, or how the American system actually works. They are not sending any underlying messages or re-prioritizing our values. Even Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who plays Jack Bauer, says the show is “fantastical” meaning imaginative or remote from reality. Sutherland says that torture is used as a “dramatic devise” to show the urgency of dire situations in the plot. The Department of Defense in an attempt to state that their behavior is far different than what is shown in 24 says, “Our policy is to treat detainees humanely. Our men and women who handle detainee operations are professionals. They understand the difference between a TV show and reality.” (Commander Jeffrey Gordon)
-Watch this interview where Kiefer Sutherland talks about torture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-lLv4iR2ps
Yet somehow, this television show is not only teaching, influencing, and informing the norms and values of the fan culture, but also U.S. soldiers. Let me repeat that. TV is influencing U.S. soldiers. CNN gave a news report that soldiers are now starting to copy some of Bauer’s violent tactics to procure information. How is Jack Bauer, a fictional character, teaching torture tactics (say that 3x fast!) to U.S. soldiers? The answer: the valuing of justice. It’s all because the payoff is greater: more lives are being saved, “quality” lives are being saved (like the President of the U.S. in 24), nuclear disasters and breaches in security prevented, deaths of American soldiers avenged, and American values protected. Plus, at the end of the day, being like Jack Bauer, means being the hero…and most likely winning the fancies of a hot babe too. 24 influencing our soldiers shows the power TV can have in creating our values, especially a hugely successful and popular show like this one. It is impacting our government, our armies, and our world.
The news report from CNN on 24’s power over U.S. soldiers:
To sum up my argument I leave you with a part of 24. It is season 7 episode 2 in a senate hearing; after it was established that Bauer tortured a man. Jack and Senator Mayer argue the core opposing beliefs of this controversy.
Sen. Mayer: My only agenda is to get to the truth
Jack Bauer: I don’t think it is sir.
SM: Excuse me?
JB: Abraham Hadad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people 10 of which were children… the truth Senator is I stopped that attack from happening.
SM: By torturing Mr. Hadad!
JB: By doing what I deemed necessary to protect innocent lives!
SM: So basically what you’re saying Mr. Bauer is that the ends justify the means and that you are above the law.
Is torture effective? The show says yes. Reality says no. Fictional characters say torture achieves justice and therefore peace. Real life people believe it… do you?
Heimer, J. “Torture Risks Negative Consequences At Many Levels.” Opposing Views.
Web. Feb. 2014. http://www.opposingviews.com/arguments/torture-risks-negative-consequences-at-many-levels
“Is 24’s Jack Bauer Teaching Torture to U.S. Soldiers?” CNN. YouTube, 8 March 2007.
Web. Feb. 2014.
“Kiefer Sutherland/Jack Bauer Lays Out His Views on Torture.” YouTube, 8 July 2011.
Web. Feb. 2014.
Inc., 24 Apr. 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0%2C8599%2C1893679%2C00.html.