My shocked reactions to watching 24 for the first time:

These conclusions are from watching three episodes, the one from season two and two from season one.

One. It thinks for us, it delivers prepackaged ideas, rather than a complex reality to  think over and draw our own conclusoins conclusions about.

Two. It is very emotionally manipulative and it encourages us to think the worst, most simplistic thoughts. It encourages us to be very afraid of things we can’t control, and to crave the protection of superhero-like batman-spy-Rambo-daddytotherescue entities to save us from certain doom.

Three. It mystifies reality, rather than penetrating it. Instead of understanding the world better, we are left with irrational fears and new myths.

More things the show leads us to conclude:

1. We should trust our government to protect us.

2. We should understand that we cannot protect ourselves without antiterrorist supermen to go find all the bad guys.

3. The terrorists, the bad guys, they are not real people with their own stories. Who knows where they come from or what their motives are. Who knows why they think they are the good guys. Their perspectives are not even accessible, they have no voice, no subjectivity, they are only the archenemies, the soon-to-be victims of our superhero. They might as well be wearing labels on their foreheads: I am the bad guy. I am evil. Kill me if you can, the only thing I want is the destruction of all things good. 4. The show is very emotionally manipulative. It juxtaposes the political narrative of the bad guys and good guys with simplistic, emotionally charged vignettes of a sadistic child beating monster racing after two defenseless young (white) females, or two male predators kidnapping helpless young (white) girls. That way we let our emotions take over and start thinking in simple binary terms: there’s nothing to understand, only the good guys v. the scum of the earth. So the writers decided that the political narrative might be a little too complicated, we might be a little to tempted to think for ourselves. So they decide it must be interspersed scenes of some monster beating up his wife and child, so that we will stop thinking and start hating and fearing, then that way we’ll shift our two-minutes’ hate over to the political narrative of terrorists and politicians.

But this is a play right out of Bush and co.’s handbook: get us thinking about madmen and terrorists, Saddam Saddam Saddam, alQaeda x 4, the Twin Towers collapsing over and over again – okay, quick, now vote. Now make political decisions. Now vote on the Patriot Act. Now stop paying attention to the real world of complicated realities, and certainly don’t think about all the civilians we’re gonna kill or the prisoners we’re gonna torture. Don’t think about these things, they’re too complicated – just think about simplistic violent scenarios, and yes, be very paranoid.

4. Solutions all involve violence – this is the only way to deal with these situations. There is no being reasonable, no talking, no compromise, no trying to understand or come to agreements – whether it is Jack B. and the terrorists or the girl running from the madman who just wants to beat everyone up for no reason we are given to understand. All the scenes are carefully engineered so that all these options, which would result in understanding the other side of things, are foreclosed. Conclusions to be drawn: the world is very simple, made up of evil forces that must be destroyed at all costs, that aren’t worth trying to understand, that have no logic beside evil for joy anyway: they are the equivalent of those male predators driven by sadism or unrestrained predatory impulses.

The other conclusions: spies are good, government is essentially good, the means no matter how ungodly justify the ends, there are giant unforeseen forces (i.e., the devil = “terrorists”) out to get us and our only chance of survival is protection by giant unforeseen forces of good (i.e., God = US government).

5. Journalists aren’t useful things, they screw everything up, and they should really be subordinated to the executive branch.

Some comments:

The acting is rather horrid.

The characters often act out of unlikely motives.

Keifer S. has like a 400 dollar haircut no matter what his life circumstances. In the opening of season 2 he is dressed like a bum, totally down and out, hasn’t shaved in at least a month, yet has highlights in his hair and a perfectly layered cut.

When your kids are trying to have their own experiences, paranoid paternalism and police tactics are the right reaction: hack their email, send spies to check them out.

In the spy agencies portrayed and in the tactics of our superhero, there is a culture of breaking laws if you “think” it’s worth it. In some instances, the Jack B. guy commands his colleagues to wiretap his daughters phone and hack her email, just to spy on what she is doing with her boyfriends. This is the same paternalistic metaphor given by President Bush: he wants to hack his children’s (read: citizens’) emails and telephone lines to follow his hunches about protecting them from “bad elements” out there that we couldn’t possibly understand ourselves, since we’re just “kids.”

But the president is black and his close advisors are nonwhite – so we can forget to observe that the bad guys are all unidentified ethnic Arabs. No racist problems here, and it’s not like uninformed  parochial Americans – like my teapartier aunt – watching this might jump to conclusions about a vague Arab-Islamic conspiracy trying to simultaneously produce: 1. a Russian communist style takeover of the US; 2. an apocalyptic Islamist (Russian style) blowing up of the US.

Finally: be very, very paranoid. Stop thinking.

My conclusion: I hate it. It is ruining the American political imagination. It’s the equivalent of red-scare propaganda that made us fear a Russian invasion or nuclear missile launch…only now we’re supposed to buy pretty much the exact same scripts with the names changed: Arabs for Russians, terrorists for spies. Are we really that simple minded?

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