24 Season 8
May 18, 2010 2 Comments
This season of 24 has gone a little crazy (or should I say even crazier), and as far as I can tell they are setting Jack Bauer up to become a bad-guy – they’re having him do a turn from a face to a heel, if you will – which is why it’s interesting to step back and look at the backdrop of how all these events were set in motion this time: a U.S. President obsessed with getting a “Peace Agreement” signed.
The President on 24 is a woman who we are supposed to have come to respect in prior seasons (for reasons I don’t quite remember). Or you can just think of her as the nice but slightly nosy lady sheriff from Signs, as I do. Either way, the actress and the character brings with her a certain quotient of goodwill for the viewer. It may be due to this that the writers can get away with making her turn so despicable, stupid, and insane right under their noses, while keeping the focus on Bauer’s turn.
In fictional 24-land, where the year is probably 2013 or 2016 or something, there’s a place called the Islamic Republic of Kamistan. We are told there ‘hasn’t been peace there for over 50 years’. The President and her cronies are always giving each other self-congratulatory monologues about how they’re ‘trying to bring peace to a region that hasn’t seen peace for over 50 years’. To this end, we are given to understand that there’s a big UN meeting, with peace talks, and that the Russians are involved, and that it’s important that they be involved.
As the season has evolved, getting this piece of paper signed – by someone (it honestly doesn’t seem to matter much who) – comes to be a Holy Grail that gives license to the President and her hangers-on to do whatever the hell they want, in their minds. Most 24 viewers probably will view this season as one in which Jack Bauer turns bad. I think it’s primarily about a President turning bad. (Bauer was already halfway there and I’m still kinda-sorta on his side…)
But it’s how and why she turns bad that is the fascinating part. In prior seasons 24 has had a tendency to make everything trace back to evil oil-men or Halliburton types; but this one turns bad and Machiavellian in pursuit of a ‘liberal’ goal – to bring ‘peace’.
It’s worth pausing to point out that this obsession of hers, and seemingly 95% of the U.S. Government on the show (which apparently has no actual U.S.-related policies to oversee or implement), no longer makes any sense even on its own terms. The method by which this ‘peace’ is supposedly going to be brought about in this faraway place is that Lady President, and another lady who was married to Kamistan’s President before he was assassinated like ten hours ago, are going to sit in a room and sign some pieces of paper with some dirty Russian pigs and then all have their photographs taken (it is somehow thematically fitting that at this point it’s two women who are going to sign this thing, and who believe that doing so will accomplish something). You see? Then there will be ‘peace’. If they don’t do that there won’t be, but if they do, there will! That’s how it works!, as every highschool kid learns in Model UN.
This is what the President is so obsessed with bringing about, and what is worth bringing about at all costs, right now, today, regardless of all the crazy wacked-out sh1t that’s been going on (to review: dirty-bomb threat against Manhattan, a foreign head of state kidnapped by U.S. mercenaries and assassinated by terrorists, various shootouts in various places dotted across the city). Because this President – like ‘liberals’ in the real world – has a near-magical faith in well-intentioned fancy pieces of paper signed by important people in high-profile settings. She actually can’t conceive of the piece of paper being signed not translating into ‘peace’. How could it not? It probably has the word ‘peace’ on it and everything.
It’s to this blinkered end that she has covered up the fact that Russians were behind the assassination of Kamistan’s President, and it’s to this end that she blackmailed the Russians into participating in the peace agreement. The premise is that the act of signing the piece of paper, by itself, is so important and reality-altering that it’s worth all manner of unlimited duplicity and scheming to get the thing signed. This is impossible, of course, to square with the notion that the region has been beset with lengthy, intractable, warfare. In these ladies’ minds, the supposedly intractable warfare will suddenly become tractable – nay, cease – once the piece of paper is signed, and even regardless of the circumstances under which it’s signed. (That’s how it works! Warfare will just have to stop if there’s an Agreement, signed under whatever conditions of duress, mendacity and trickery.)
It’s also worth noting, if only because it is part and parcel of this magical/schoolage mindset, that just why the Russian participation is so important – indeed, why the Russians are even involved in the first place – is never explained. We are given hints that Russia has economic interests in the country that motivate their opposition to the agreement, but so what? Actually, why the U.S. is involved isn’t even explained. ‘Kamistan’ is presumably an ethnically Arab nation-state in the Middle East. Why does the U.S. care whether there’s unrest or ‘peace’ there. What makes the U.S. so supposedly well-positioned to broker such a ‘peace’. And even granting the premise that they do and are, why does Russia of all places have to ‘agree’ to a peace agreement there for it to take effect. What does Russia, a Slavic country far to the north, have to do with anything? It’s all just supposed to go without saying. And the reason it goes without saying is that the mindset here is magical, rooted in a schoolchild’s understanding of geopolitics. Russia is a big important country so of course they’d have to ‘agree’ to a peace agreement signed between the U.S. and some other country. And as for why the U.S. President is involved and doing all this stuff, well this is an Important World Issue so of course she would
waste spend her time on it. That’s what Important, Smart people do when in power.
And so, because of this obsession with a ‘liberal’ end, the President on 24 veers into deceit and authoritarianism. This is a story arc so unusual in mainstream media that one almost suspects it has to be a mistake, an inadvertent slip on the part of the writers. Or I guess it’s possible that the writers do buy into the basic assumptions about geopolitics they’ve woven into the drama (you need the Russians on board for any/all ‘peace agreements’, peace agreements automatically work if signed, etc) that they don’t think they’re illustrating the craziness of those assumptions at all.