Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why I'm Not a Fan

James Donaghy of the Guardian, noting that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan has complained to producers about the impact of 24 on foreigners' perceptions of the United States, neatly summarizes what I dislike about the show: "The Emmy-winning 24 doesn't just tap into American paranoia about the terrorist threat--it pours gasoline on to it, followed swiftly by a flaming rag."

Jane Mayer's story in The New Yorker, from which the information about Gen. Finnegan's complaint is drawn, tells why the show feeds American paranoia: It's produced by Joel Surnow, a self-described "right-wing nut job." Mayer writes:

For all its fictional liberties, "24" depicts the fight against Islamist extremism much as the Bush Administration has defined it: as an all-consuming struggle for America’s survival that demands the toughest of tactics. Not long after September 11th, Vice-President Dick Cheney alluded vaguely to the fact that America must begin working through the "dark side" in countering terrorism. On "24," the dark side is on full view.

But shouldn't we all be able to enjoy the thrills provided by 24 knowing that sane people will return to real life when it's over? It is, after all, just a television show on a network known for its strained relationship with reality.

Gen. Finnegan isn't so sure. According to Mayer,

Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by "24," which was exceptionally popular with his students.

To be fair to 24, misperceptions spread by the Bush Administration are another reason for diminishing respect for the rule of law and human rights.

[Update: Roger Alford and Peggy McGuinness at Opinio Juris have also commented on 24 today.]