Sunday, November 09, 2008

"24" and torture

I adore 24. Watching it isn't a pleasant or soothing experience, but the questions it raises fascinate me. Season 4 and Season 5 particularly, because of the way they highlighted the role of the president through Charles Logan. One of his first "presidential" lines was an outraged "You did that without asking me?" I watch Logan and listen to his claims of omnipotence and, even scarier, the blind deference exhibited by other characters and the cowed submission of the rest -- and I wonder, does anyone really buy all that? (But I'm afraid in reality some do.)

Not the point of my post, however. I come not to praise 24, but to condemn it for its pervasive use of torture.

I think the way the show is initially presented cushions the impact, lulls us into an uneasy acceptance of alleged necessity. When you watch one hour a week over a TV season, a single scene in a single episode isn't overwhelming. And they do an excellent job (usually) of providing a context that permits excusal of the excesses.

That's not how I watch the show. I watch it on DVD, episode after episode, through the entire "day", and season by season up to the present. And viewed in that way, it's clear that, too often, the pretext for torture is unreasonable, inadequate, and morally wrong. Even the "ticking bomb" frameworks often fail to justify the actions CTU takes.

Sometimes, they torture the right person and get the magic clue to proceed to the next scene. And it's those "successes" that has the unfortunate result of convincing us, the audience, that torture is morally neutral and that it can be "right" in some situations.

The characters themselves never question the ethics of torture. The only character that I recall who sort of challenged it was Audrey in Season 4, but I think she was more upset at it being done (1) in front of her, (2) to her husband and brother, (3) by her boyfriend. Not so much against torture itself. And Daddy made it alright with "It's a dirty job but someone has to do it, so don't hold it against him."

It's a dirty job because it is wrong. Torture is wrong. Torture is never right, even for "the greater good".

I'll still watch 24. But I repeat: torture is wrong.


At 10:40 PM, Blogger Schaz said...

Note that I wrote the post above before season 7, which broke the pattern and devoted much more attention to questioning torture.


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