I can't watch the TV show, "24." I used to. I watched the first two seasons and it was Addictive with a capital A. But I'm one of those sensitive souls and after several graphic torture scenes, I said goodbye to the show and haven't tuned in since.
Now it appears I'm not the only one. In the current issue of the New Yorker, an article by Jane Mayer titled "Whatever It Takes" explores the use of torture in the show.
The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, “ ‘24’ is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”
Over and over, both protagonists and antagonists use unimaginably cruel torture (Howard Gordon, the show's lead writer calls them "improvisations in sadism") to gain information. Given the recent debate over whether torture - physical or psychological - is an approved method for US troops when dealing with Iraqi insurgents, the show seems to take the side that it's okay, at least when the ends justify the means. The article defines the show's credo as "Everyone breaks eventually." And in every case, except where Bauer himself is tortured, it works.
What are we learning from this? This show is incredibly popular among Jewish bloggers. Does it reflect Jewish values in any way? Or is it popular among Jews because the bad guys get it worse than they give it out in the end?
Is "24" a kind of gritty modern version of Megilat Ester?
While my life's work is tied up in an assumption that most people know the difference between real life and fiction, I am also well aware that values espoused by a fictional story can still influence its audience. In fact, when I write, I depend on that. But my writing perpetuates values of family and human compassion, obligation to self and community and G-d, leaving the world a little better than you found it. What values does 24 perpetuate?
U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and others "had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law [prohibiting torture] must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect."
The show's creator, Joel Surnow, a political conservative, is interviewed exensively in the article and shares his views on 24's political leanings as well as his view on the torture scenes, which is pretty well summed up by his comment:
“We’ve had all of these torture experts come by recently, and they say, ‘You don’t realize how many people are affected by this. Be careful.’ They say torture doesn’t work. But I don’t believe that."You can read the full article here: