In 2007, while speaking at an international conference on law and security, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited the “hundreds of thousands of lives” saved by Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer on the TV series “24” as a defense of “enhanced interrogation” tactics. And more recently, in a campaign ad, California Republican Senate hopeful Chuck DeVore asked the question, “Who would Jack Bauer vote for?” Like Chuck DeVore and Justice Scalia, I too am a fan of “24. ” And, what’s more, like them, I base many of my life decisions and my worldview on the actions of fictional characters on television. For example, if it wasn’t for Dr. House, I would never have discovered Vicodin. With a full week now to reflect upon the passing of this zeitgeist-defining American pop-culture phenomenon, I offer as tribute to the show some of the important lessons I have learned from the Bauer hour:
CELL PHONES ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS
As with the atom bomb, America must strive to achieve and maintain strict controls over the use of cell phones, PDAs, and BlackBerries. Time and time again, “24” has demonstrated that when used correctly and yelled into with a gravely voice, they can prevent the deaths of millions. At the same time the program reminded us that the shocking proliferation of Bluetooth wireless ear pieces among shady power brokers, string-pullers, genocidal dictators, arms dealers, terrorist madmen, and Goldman Sachs execs could doom us all.
TORTURE WORKS ONLY ON BAD PEOPLE
Probably the most controversial aspect of the show was the relentless invocation of the “ticking time bomb” scenario to justify the use of torture. Critics have complained that the show’s portrayal of torture as an interrogation tactic is unrealistic and dangerous, given its real world implications. These terror-huggers fail to realize that “24” made clear that torture works only on evil people. Terrorists will always tell you where the bomb is, whereas if you torture someone with a clean conscience–like Jack–they will hold out until their heart stops. As an added benefit, this phenomenon, in what passes for real life, makes it always easy to tell good from evil — it’s called “The Salem Effect.”
EVERYONE IS S A TERRORIST
If nothing else, “24” has taught us all to be constantly vigilant about the apocalyptic terrorist threats that completely surround us. Chances are you may already be involved in a terrorist plot and not even know it. So if you suspect that you, your boss, ex-wife, neighbor, co-worker, fiancé, child, or sitting US President is a terrorist, you and they all probably are. How can you be sure? See the above lesson, about torture.
THE HR DEPARTMENT AT CTU IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD
Whoever does the background checks on employees for the government’s Counter Terrorist Unit is either the single greatest threat facing America or is simply fulfilling a covert quota for traitors, moles, and double-agents required by all government agencies. How else to explain a vetting process that seems to boil down to “Are you a terrorist or will you work for the terrorists? Check yes or no.”
A BLACK PRESIDENT DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN THE END OF THE WORLD IS NEAR
“24” gave us our first black president, our first female president, and our second Richard Nixon president. If it wasn’t for David Palmer, there might be no Barack Obama. Yet unlike the usual Hollywood trope of dragging Morgan Freeman or Danny Glover into the White House right before an asteroid or tsunami hits, “24” gave us a black president who doesn’t preside over the what may be the end of the world. (But between Wall Street and the Gulf Coast things may yet work out according to script.)
HOW TO TELL TIME
Before “24,” the numbers that flash in the corner of my television screen during sporting events confused me. Sometimes they would seem to be getting bigger, while other times it looked like they were getting smaller. That was before I had “24’s” tutorial to help me understand that they represented the passing of time. I now get a full 8 episodes of sleep every night.
What I have learned from 24 will live on as testament to the legacy of the show, and will also provide solace, meaning, and protection for me and everyone else who just learned that life is a meaningless sham from the last epsiode of “Lost.”
Will Menaker hearts Chloe O’Brian.