Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Don't Want to Hurt You

This image is one of the many images of Jack Bauer not wanting to hurt someone...but hurting anyway. And, as I recall, the guy in the scene is his brother.

What is it about Americans and Jack Bauer? We love him! Over 12 million viewers tune in each week to watch Jack kick ass and take names. As a veteran watcher myself, I often wonder what it is that causes me, and millions of my closest friends, to follow the disturbingly violent antics of this barbarian. I can say this for sure: it's not Chloe.

I was reminded of Jack when I saw this new Pew Research Center poll about American feelings on the use of torture by the U.S. military and the 'clandestine services'. The most surprising statistic is that self-described evangelical Christians were among the most comfortable with torture being used in the name of national security. 79% of polled evangelicals believe that, at some point, torture can be justified. The irony of that statistic is self-explanatory, so I'll just leave that alone. (Hint: Prince of Peace. Doves. Thou shalt not exposeth thine enemy's testicles to raw, electric shocks.)

Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, then, by how many people love watching 24. I suspect, though, that a deeper truth lies lurking beneath the surface. Sure, Mom, Dad, Bobby and Sally love sitting around the TV watching Jack shoot terrorists' kneecaps at point blank range in order to get vital info about the location of a ticking time bomb, but I think they allow themselves to forget a key element: in 24, there's always some like Jack Bauer to do the dirty work. Families sit back and watch the carnage, thanking the heavens that there's a real Jack out there who is willing to become the darkness in order to do what 'must' be done.

I think Aaron Sorkin was right on when he wrote Colonel Jessep's speech in A Few Good Men:
"Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You?...I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall...I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it."
The movie presents Colonel Jessep as a somewhat despicable man(although there is simultaneously a sympathetic aura left intact). The real question is, though: Do most Americans really feel that way? Do we really want Jack Bauer on the wall torturing, murdering and hurting in order to keep us safe? And even if we do, should we definitely put him up there with a SIG Sauer and that wacky towel-down-the-throat torture method he almost used on a guy in season 2?

Apparently this question is still alive in the hearts and minds of citizens all across America; after all, the flood of recent polling alone says something about how front-page this issue is. Although the president has at least temporarily officially closed the issue, I doubt we'll settle it any time soon in a personal way. The fear of terrorism and rogue nuclear powers is certainly palpable right now, so I can understand the instinct to protect our families and our way of life. I wonder, though, if some time out from under the burdensome weight of fear might cause us to rethink who we are.

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