The Politics of 24

Posted by Mike Merritt in Politics, Television on

The following is an entry I hadn’t yet cross-posted from Poligazette.  It was originally posted January 11th.

Season seven of 24 begins tonight, so I thought it was an appropriate time to discuss it.

For years it has been slammed by anti-torture activists as a show that could only be produced during the Bush years, for its alleged promotion of torture.  There can be little doubt that the show does often portray tortures as a means to an end, and its morality is rarely questioned.  Jack Bauer is always right, after all, and few argue with his methods for long.

However, the portrayal of torture is just one element of the show.  Each season also typically has an underlying political struggle going on with those who are in power and those who want to be in power.  Now, with the torture element, surely this is a show that portrays Republicans as the heroes, strong and protecting the country first, and the Democrats as weak and betraying the country.

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Consider that the most celebrated president on the show was David Palmer, a Democrat.  A hawkish one, to be sure, but a Democrat none-the-less.  Palmer was also a very strong-willed president, not often bowing to pressure from others, even after he was temporarily removed from power during season two.  Palmer canceled his re-election campaign in season 3 due to a scandal that could get too close to him, but continued to be portrayed as honorable and noble until his death in season five.

Contrast this portrayal with that of Charles Logan, a major player in seasons four and five.  Logan was a Republican who was initially portrayed as weak-willed, but then later shown as the mastermind behind many of the events of season five.  Logan’s involvement in the Sentox nerve gas conspiracy almost got him charge with treason, though he ended up being convicted of obstruction of justice.

The other major president of the series thus far, Wayne Palmer, is a Democrat portrayed as weak and unable to make decisions, until he sends off a dud missle as if preparing to nuke a Middle Eastern country thought to be harboring terrorists who set off a suitcase nuke in Season 6. Though Palmer’s missle was a fake, he did it to prevent his vice-president from trying to take power.

There are other things to consider besides government figures on the show.  This upcoming season will have Jon Voight portray a major villain who works for a “Blackwater-type organization.” Blackwater is a private military services and security company routinely bashed by liberals for their actions in Iraq.

So, with all this, I’d have to say that politics wise, 24 is either pretty even handed, or perhaps even a tad in favor of Democrats, given the continued glorification of David Palmer.

Or maybe we should stop thinking of such a TV show in terms of politics and just sit down and enjoy the entertainment is provides for an hour a week (four hours in the next two days), as Michael O’Rourke, writing for the San Antonio Express-News suggested on Friday.

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