Tuesday, April 7, 2015

CORE RESPONSE #3 - Torture 24

In Tara McPherson's “Techno-Soap: 24, Masculinity, and Hybrid Form,” she contemplates the way in which the much-praised serialized drama 24 is like a soap opera, even while trying to distance itself from this feminized form. (p. 174). It's not a soap opera, argues the show's creator and executive producer Bob Cochran. It's a quality show that has some elements of serialization. (p. 175).

This idea of hierarchy, that soap operas are trash, and that 24 is quality, is a subjective idea that critics promote and viewers seem to accept without question. It's quality because it has this element of a deadline, 24 hours. It's quality because it has a lot of technology. It's quality because it has a higher budget than a soap opera. Is it also “quality” because it's not geared toward women? Is it quality because it has a lot of violence? It seems creating a “dark” and “gritty” storyline almost guarantees that many people will consider your story “quality” content. McPherson also investigates the way in which calling this series “quality” serves to elevate TV itself as a medium worthy of watching and studying.

Beyond this slippery definition of “quality,” she is also troubled by 24's nationalism, (p. 173) and its “very particular vision of a white, male, post-9/11 hero.” (p.174). Later she writes, “24 consistently offers up rationales for torture and for operating outside the law.” (p. 185). This is a particularly troubling aspect of the show, and one which has been hotly debated.

In a 2014 article in Variety “The 24 Effect: How 'Liberal Hollywood' Carried Water for Torture.” Brian Lowry argues that 24 and other movies and TV series in which both the good guys and the bad guys use torture, helped desensitize Americans to torture in a 9/11 era. “A lengthy 2007 New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer about the politics of 24 emphasized a declaration by conservative talkradio host Laura Ingraham that its hero’s popularity was “as close to a national referendum that it’s O.K. to use tough tactics against high-level Al Qaeda operatives as we’re going to get.”

People may argue that 24 is just a show. That it's just entertainment. To this Lowry replies, “Yet a series like 24 is grounded in reality precisely because that makes such life-or-death situations resonate. And because viewers generally don’t have first-hand experience in such matters (at least, let’s hope not), it’s understandable that their perceptions would be filtered through media – as the New Hampshire Union Leader did in an editorial flagged by the liberal watchdog site Media Matters, which said that Jack Bauer would consider champions of the Torture Report “wusses.”

McPherson sees 24 as a kind of investigation into what it means to be masculine, especially in the 21st century. The picture that emerges from the minds of 24's storytellers isn't pretty. I'd rather watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. (p.187).

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