More Than a Little Right-Wing Bias?

Okay, so I’ve watched the first four hours of the new season of 24, and I am starting to get seriously concerned. Sure, the show’s the television equivalent of a “popcorn movie,” but I’ll confess that since season one, episode one, it’s been a guilty pleasure of mine. (Yesterday, Tom Bridge posted a tale — from an idea by Mike Krempasky — called “If Jack Bauer Ran a Starbucks...” which had me in stitches.)

But in all seriousness, I’ve found these first episodes pretty damned disturbing, to the point where I’m really starting to think that the show’s producers have an agenda in keeping with the network’s news-station counterpart.

Not that political agendas are anything new to entertainment, but usually they’re either right out there in the open (say, Fahrenheit 9/11 or DC 9/11: Time of Crisis) or pretty clear from the outset (Dead Man Walking or Left Behind, for example). And sure, spy thrillers in general often concern themselves with such right-wing standbys as rogue operatives going outside the law, even violating civil rights to stop doomsday-minded villains (True Lies standing out as the exemplar), but still, there are usually some limits as to what’s expected of the genre.

First of all (and this isn’t new this season), there’s the stereotyping of Arab-Americans, the thing that’s probably made the biggest headlines. Here, I’m a bit concerned, but not rabidly so. The show’s producers haven’t focused solely on Arab terrorists, but I think it’d ring a little false if they completely ignored the Middle East as an origin point for villains. It’s a fine line — and one they’re coming awfully close to crossing this season by portraying a regular Muslim family as secret terrorists.

Next (also nothing new), there’s the rampant use of torture as an information-extraction device. Good guys, bad guys, doesn’t matter. Whenever someone needs information, they resort to torture and — just in time for the next plot point disclosure — they get it. This season, Kiefer Sutherland’s ostensible hero Jack Bauer feels no compunction about bursting into an interrogation room (on a hunch) and shooting a suspect in the leg; the suspect, of course, confesses immediately (despite being a trained terrorist, who only had to remain silent for a few more minutes to accomplish his mission). Later, the head of the conterterrorist unit explicitly orders torture — of an American citizen — without any suspicion of unlawful behavior; the torture proceeds, though it’s downgraded from the injection of a neurological agent designed to instill the sensation of burning to the sensory-overload variety — basically, torture for the more squeamish set. You couldn’t ask for a more explicit justification for torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay: “See, folks, sometimes we have to torture people. And not just terrorists. ’Cause they might just know something we’d like to find out. Maybe.” Positively alarming, even outrageous given the glee with which they resort to this tactic — and the completely implausible success they enjoy with it.

But then the capper: We have William Devane as an eerily Rumsfeld-esque Secretary of Defense — far more aware of the “reality” of the world than anyone who might gainsay him. A cranky old man, true, but so far portrayed as a sensible, sympathetic figure; he even gets his own heroic escape-attempt scene, where he mows down terrorists with a machine gun (“Yay, Rambo! I mean Rummy!”). The parallel itself is bad enough, true, but then we’re introduced to a misguided, rebellious son who plans to speak at a protest of his father’s draconian policies. But when the father comes to speak to the son (portrayed as a sterotypical dirty slacker), whoops! The secretary’s kidnapped by the baddies — who, at least by implication, may be connected to the protest organizers. The message (and I’m only scratching the surface here) could not possibly be more clear — Devane’s character pretty much comes right out and says it: Speaking out against the administration, causing “embarrassment” for the President, is the absolute height of un-American behavior. Say anything against the powers that be, and you’re no more than a useful idiot, providing “aid and comfort” to America’s enemies. Incidentally, the son is the subject of the aforementioned torture scene, adding another element to the message: Oppose us, and we’ll torture you.

As regular readers probably know by now, I get just a bit defensive about that First Amendment — seeing as how that’s pretty much what differentiates us from the regimes we’re allegedly opposing. Without that, you’re no better than a police state. Something the Bush regime is steadfastly working toward, but something I’d hoped would set off more than a few alarm bells in the entertainment industry.

(By the way, if the self-centered, backbiting behavior portrayed at “CTU” is any indication of how the real counterterrorist operations function, then we haven’t got a prayer in hell of either avoiding or even surviving another terrorist attack.)

I’ll stay tuned to see if they do anything to deviate from this overtly fascistic message; after all, they’ve been known to throw in twists that counter easy preconceptions (“Oh, so the Arabic guy’s not the terrorist, his blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American girlfriend is...”). And the “President” of this season is supposedly the “bad” President, who replaced Dennis Haysbert’s “good” President from last season, so who knows what they’re planning? Maybe the Secretary of Defense and the folks at CTU will wind up getting their just deserts.

But I’m half-expecting that I’ll have to scratch this one from my own entertainment agenda. Sure, it’s only a television show, meant to entertain, but reality’s scary enough as it is without catering to right-wing paranoia in the process.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home