Wednesday, July 11, 2012

24 Addict

My name is Andrew and I am addicted to 24. That's 24 as in the television series starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. I don't like that I am addicted to this show. If you've never watched the show, it's hard to explain. It's like one adrenalin rush after another, each moment and episode waiting for the next tense situation to be resolved. Although I resent it, I have to acknowledge that the writers and producers have created an addictive masterpiece – a show that hooks viewers and compels them to keep watching throughout the season because you just have to see how Jack gets out of each situation – each time wondering how he can possibly survive.

I resent my addiction not only because it keeps drawing me back to watch the show. That's bad enough. But the contents of the show alternately stimulate and appal me. 24 glorifies violence not by making it look spectacular, but by making it look commonplace. We have seen so many depictions of torture in various forms, seen so many sadistic people – terrorists and those fighting them – use means and methods that should utterly sicken us, that we have become numb to them. Which in turn means that in order to keep that adrenaline rush flowing in the viewers, the producers have to keep raising the level of violence. The first season was brilliant, with events building to a single traumatic climax in which all the various threads were resolved, with one new provocation left dangling as a lead to a second season (a lead which, in the end, the producers made nothing of although they did go on to make several more seasons.) Since then we've seen nuclear bombs detonated first in the desert, later in Los Angeles itself. As we started the latest season my wife and I joked that we should keep a body count. We didn't and I'm not sure we could have, given how many people are killed in an average episode. As I said earlier though, it's not just that people are killed, it's the way in which they are killed. Oh for the old days of the original A Team, when people were blown across the screen routinely yet there was precious little blood or actual dying portrayed. With 24 we get graphic displays of pain, suffering and death.

The frequency and graphic nature of the killing in the show is bad enough. The depiction of torture is worse. Introduced in the second season, it has become a common aspect of the show's storyline. Although not a part of every episode, it does seem to come up in every season. I'd like to think that the writers want to open the eyes of viewers to the extent to which torture is used not only by terrorists but by those we consider “the good guys.” If that were their goal, I might feel more at ease about it. I'd like to see a more vocal protest against the way in which our government, particularly under the previous administration, adopted torture as an acceptable form of investigation. Unfortunately I don't really sense that the writers of 24 really include torture as an awareness-raising device. The frequent depiction of it serves more to numb the viewer to what is happening. The more I watch, the more desensitized I become. I have some friends who stopped watching the show over this issue (and perhaps others). I admire and applaud them. Unfortunately I am an addict and can't seem to break the hold this drug has on me.

One final aspect of the show greatly troubles me. In every season we always find one or more corrupt people on the inside. This could just be a useful plot element, but with each season I find myself increasingly angry over the people who put self-interest over the welfare of society. Worse still are those who believe they are putting society's best interests first by perpetrating crimes and murders. I suppose this type of thing occurs in many television series. I never watched West Wing, but I can imagine that you found similar plot occurrences there. But in 24 these acts of self-interest or false national interest result in significant tragedies and losses of life and I find it heart-wrenching to watch it unfold. Being a “good” series, in the end the “bad” guys always end up getting something resembling a just reward, but the journey to that point twists me up inside.

As I said, I'm an addict. I want to turn it off, but I keep watching. Since we're still catching up with past seasons on Netflix, some nights we can watch a couple episodes back-to-back. But I don't go to bed feeling a healthy catharsis. I go to bed feeling troubled by what I've seen without any idea or sense that I can do anything about it. It's like I've been mainlining adrenaline for an hour or two and gotten an emotional rush, but in the end it has left me empty, unsettled and dissatisfied. So why do I keep watching?

I know many who really enjoy this show and I'd love to hear any thoughts on redeeming aspects of it, if there are any. As for those who have wisely chosen to cut off their addiction, I'd like to hear what aspect(s) of the show prompted you to make the break.


  1. We watched the entire first season on boorwed DVD's. We started the second season, but only made it through a few episodes. We found the plot twists unrealistic (especially when you do watch several episodes back to back) and we found the glorification of torture as a "tool" for the good guys to use downright insidious.

  2. I had you and Beth in mind when I wrote this. I commend you for your integrity. If it weren't on Netflix it would be so much easier to ignore it, but ultimately I must take responsibility for my choices.